Saturday, April 27, 2013


Opening a book in this house is to find surprises. Inside there are book marks, and marks in books. Cuttings from newspapers and magazines, not necessarily relevant to the books they inhabit. Reviews of the books themselves. An obituary of the author. An advertisement for a concert now long past. A strip torn off the edge of a magazine page with a note scribbled – no, AJ never scribbled – written on it because there was nothing else handy at that moment when a marker was needed.

Forgotten photographs of people, looking too much younger, slip out unexpectedly when disturbed. Postcards – remember them? They used to arrive from friends and family travelling overseas, before emails and skype made them redundant. Here is a postcard from my brother in Hong Kong, another with a picture of a gracious old ruin of a castle from Northumberland, and here a card from a poet in New Caledonia.

Other memories hide in our books. I found a home-made card from the grandchildren, full of hugs and kisses and hoping that Grandad would soon get better. Another treasured card for me, with a clip-art cartoon on the front and a message saying that they had heard about old people losing their marbles – little monkeys! – but never one that kept losing the dog she was walking. There are bookmarks I've cut from old Christmas cards – colourful, glowing ones – and some of them still have fragments of sentences on the backs: ... remember the ... happy Chris ... to send you ... the view fro ... always kno ... be back ... There are old mugs containing such bookmarks in several places around the house – anywhere that I might settle to read something and need to keep my place.

It's not just bookmarks that I find in our books. AJ would have killed anyone who turned down a corner of a page to mark a place, but he often wrote in the margins. With a pencil, naturally, never in ink. He declared himself to be a member of the Lead Pencil Club, an "informal, international organisation concerned about the influence of computers and assorted electronic inventions on our lives".* AJ's notes and comments were short and often pithy. Even when they were simple marks – a tick, a vertical line, an exclamation point, a question mark – they were his reactions to what he read. I come across these marks all the time as I pick up this book and that, and sometimes add my own – in pencil of course. You can tell which are AJ's and which are mine. His marks are small and neat, mine are big, careless and sloppy. AJ would not have been surprised about that.

* from the back cover of "Minutes of the Lead Pencil Club" edited by Bill Henderson, Pushcart Press, N.Y. 1996


  1. One of those great moments was the arrival of a secondhand book from the States. To my astonishment, the inscription on the flyleaf told me that it had belonged to Banning Blanchard. Not only did he found the New York Yacht Club, but I had written extensively about the young wife he carried off to sea on the sailing ship Bangalore. But - wait for it -- he had bookmarked the book with photos, including one of the Bangalore. What a treasure trove.

  2. You couldn't invent that, could you!