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Surprises Found In Library Books

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Josh Hanagarne

Staff Writer

Josh Hanagarne is a public librarian in Salt Lake City and spends his time at work trying to convince people that Nicholas Sparks is not a genre of one. He also knows how to tie a bow tie. Follow him on twitter: @joshhanagarne

While we at the Riot take some time off to rest and catch up on our reading, we’re re-running some of our favorite posts from the last several months. Enjoy our highlight reel, and we’ll be back with new stuff on Monday, January 11th.

This post originally ran August 4, 2015.

I work in a large public library in Salt Lake City. The collection is over one million items strong. Occasionally, when these items are returned, they are…not the same as they were when they left.

To wit:

It was not so long ago that I opened a copy of a horror anthology, only to find a crisp piece of bacon that was apparently being used as a bookmark. Perhaps it was an honest mistake. None can say.

I found a condom (unused, thankfully), in a copy of Guns, Germs and Steel of all things. Perhaps the optimistic reader had thought that Jared Diamond’s scintillating thesis on Eurasian civilization would close the deal, and once they hit the smallpox segments they’d be hitting the sheets shortly thereafter.

Marginalia is common, but often uninteresting: arrows pointing to peppy quotes from self help books, accompanied by scrawled phrases like “So true!!!” You can always tell when an eager college student has taken home a copy of Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy because the whole thing comes back underlined.

The most peculiar addendum I ever saw to a library book was when I checked out a copy of Nabokov’s Invitation To A BeheadingAt the end of a chapter was a penciled missive. Whoever wrote it had done so while apparently watching a woman in public. I’m paraphrasing, but it basically said “I’ve been watching you for days. You have no idea how lovely you are, and I wish I could come talk to you. But you want to talk to other people instead. I don’t like this. But I’m not them. If I could become them then maybe I…”

You get the idea. It went on for a few hundred words, spilling onto the margins and bottom of the next page.

A copy of The Dangerous Book For Boys was found beneath some shelves, wrapped in a pair of large white underpants.

I’ve found several fortunes from fortune cookies. None of them came true and were obviously intended for others.

There are entrepreneurs who come in wanting to post fliers for their events, inevitably held in local hotel ballrooms. Our communications department is pretty picky about what folks can advertise here, and for-profit fliers generally get the ax. This doesn’t stop them, though. I’m constantly finding adverts for people who can balance your chakras or help you make millions of dollars. Their business cards are always stuffed into Suze Orman and Dave Ramsey books.

An author who had self-published a book about hypnotically retrieving memories of living on a spacecraft came in recently and demanded to have his book placed on the library shelves. There’s a process, but he didn’t want to send it through the proper channels. He left in a huff and I stopped thinking about. Yesterday I found his book (novella length) stuffed inside of another book about hypnosis.

Inside a copy of Love in the Time of Cholera I found a ten page, single-spaced letter addressed to President Obama and the Vatican. It was about the library not carrying enough religious books. It also contained a line about how the “good old American holiday of Christmas” was not being talked about enough. This may be true, but I don’t know which metrics we should use as our social barometer.

My favorite things to find inside the books, as always, are the words, the stories, the enrichment, the beauty, the terror, and the joy that is reading. These remain the same, despite the occasional blemishes of bacon grease.

Please support your library and don’t return books wrapped in underwear.