I’ve been reading some entertaining novels by Rebecca Wells. The first one I enjoyed was called Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood and now I have moved on to Little Altars Everywhere.
I spend a lot of time exploring books—first I read them, and while the story seeps deep into my bones I appraise the structure. Just as an architect sees different layers of meaning in a house than a layman might, a writer notices details about a book that someone else might not. These books have interesting structures to them—they’re not strictly linear the way many other novels are. I’m also exploring the ephemera left between the pages.
The last person who read the Divine Secrets marked the pages with a luggage claim check from the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee. I hope she got her suitcases back. The other book has a self-help article neatly folded between its pages. I’m sure that whoever left it there will be fine without it. Most of us need much less help than we think.
I’ve seen coffee rings and jelly stains next to the odd little notes that people mark in the books. You can tell who was studying the text, dissecting it for a term paper, and who was just cuddled up for a good read. Occasionally I’ll find a correction of an errant section of grammar. I’ve been known to put these into my own books occasionally. I can be a persnickety little thing, and sometimes the editing beast escapes her monitor with red pencil waving. It’s really best when she minds her own business.
Some of the traces left inside books are little stories of their own. I wonder what possessed the person who read The Man in the Ceiling (a fantastic book by Jules Feiffer) to write these words inside the front cover: “9 spaces, 43 letters, 1 punctuation, 12 words per line. Always multiply by 12.” It makes me wonder, and since curiosity is at the heart of imagination I count that a good thing.
I also wonder who left the Disneyland ticket in the mystery book I just finished. Were the rides so boring that he needed to entertain himself? Or was the book that gripping? Perhaps he stands off to the side and runs the coaster all day. One book contains many stories, and I intend to read them all—and add my own.
Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
141. Look carefully next time you read a book. Is there another layer of stories within its pages? Explore some books this week.