One of the things that I enjoy when I read an old book is what I might discover inside. I’m not talking about the plot, or the story, or how the characters develop; I am meaning the odd bits of random paper ephemera, which often get caught up between the pages of secondhand books.
Occasionally, I will encounter flowers, long since dried, desiccated and flattened; the pages being made use of to absorb the moisture from their petals and leaves, deliberately positioned to utilise the book as a press so that the flower can be saved for posterity.
More often, though, the items I find are those that have been used as makeshift bookmarks: old shopping lists; scraps from letters; a postcard, all inserted and then forgotten, just to keep the reader’s place. Sometimes it will be a business card, another time a clipping from a newspaper. I’ve come across old postage stamps; antique photographs of dubious probity; poems; receipts; and travel tickets.
Each found item lends an extra layer of character to the book; records a small amount of personal history about some of its previous owners. I prefer this way of recording ownership rather than actually writing an inscription in a book, or sticking in a bookplate, both of which end up permanently damaging the book in some way. The very joy of the found item is its very transience; the fragile and often perilous connection that it maintains to its host book, a connection that can be so easily severed by a casual shake or a hastily flipped page.
I like to carry on the tradition of placing things in books. Whenever I donate a book to a charity shop or pass a copy on to a friend, I usually stick some random piece of paper between the pages. Literary littering? Perhaps. But I hope that at some time in the future my little scrap of ephemera might bring as much pleasure, or intrigue to a new reader as my discoveries have given me.
© Fergus Longfellow
Sometimes all that Fergus Longfellow finds between the pages is bookworm.