This is a guest post from Melissa Baron. Melissa lives in Chicago, and works as a copywriter and proofreader for a media production company (she thinks it’s pretty cool because she gets to work with educational publishers, but also because they celebrate things like Pi Day and feed her pie). She is a former English major and graduate of the Denver Publishing Institute, and has never met a semicolon she didn’t accidentally abuse in some fashion because she loves them a little too much.
In her spare time, she does freelance copy editing and proofreading, explores Chicago (especially its rad architecture and art), goes on literary-themed road trips, and hangs out with her cat, Denali. She is incapable of stepping foot on public transit without a book in her bag, and it’s most likely a Stephen King novel, the latest Maggie Stiefvater book, or a volume of Warsan Shire’s poetry. Follow her on Twitter @MelissaBaron4.
Her name is Sarah.
We’ve never met. She doesn’t know my name. I know that Sarah flew from New York to Orlando on September 23rd in an unknown year, at 4:55 p.m. She chose American Airlines, and she boarded at gate D8. I know nothing else about her.
Sarah left her boarding pass folded in the back of a used book that ended up in my hands, and it went undiscovered until I decided to read the book after it sat on my shelf for months. I had to be in the right frame of mind for this novel, so I picked it up when I needed it, when I was ready for it. Sarah and I have one thing in common.
We have both read the same copy of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar.
When her boarding pass fell out of the pages, a mystery presented itself to me (and I love a good mystery). I turned it over and over in my mind like some precious gem, exposing each facet to the light for each new question and possibility.
Why did Sarah let this book go? How long did she have it? Why choose this book to read during her flight? What did she get out of it? How many other hands exchanged this book, touched it, was moved by it, and then passed it along? I thought of the lifespan of a book, especially a book that leaves its original home and finds its way into used bookstores. Although many, many people have read The Bell Jar, a smaller pool of people read the copy that came into my possession from Better World Books. Perhaps Sarah and I were the only owners of this copy.
She stayed in the back of my mind as I read about Esther, and I developed a certain fondness for this total stranger who owned my book before me. I used her boarding pass as my bookmark, as she had done (not a bad second life for a boarding pass). I wondered if Sarah saw something of herself in Esther, as I did. I wondered if she considers the many paths she could take that would alter the way her life could turn out, and thinks of figs. I don’t know how not to anymore.
The Bell Jar is now in my personal lexicon; it spoke to me in a way only a handful of other books have. I hope Sarah had a similar experience before she sent it off for another reader to enjoy. I’d like her to know that it’s in good hands, well loved, and much appreciated. I can’t think of a greater gift than bequeathing a novel to another reader, and hoping someone else is moved, engaged, and touched by it. She doesn’t know it, but she gave this reader a new language in which to know herself, through Plath.