You can learn so much from a person by what is tucked between the pages of their books. Some mark their spot with the standard bookmark found on racks at the front counter in every gift shop. Others use receipts, post-it notes, and forgotten to-do lists. But some make it more personal by using photos of loved ones, prayers, and postcards from favorite far-off places. Some don’t use anything at all.
In my work at a university library, I am always amazed by what is left in books that people deem unworthy for their own collections so they are donated to ours. The hardest, and most interesting, items come from the library of someone who has recently passed away. Their literary lives are frozen in time—half-finished books, forgotten letters, and grocery lists never shopped for. What forgotten memories do these items hold?
I have found political brochures from the 1950’s. A list of deceased family members to be prayed for. Postcards with no return address. Military coins. Dried flowers. Stamps. Divorce papers. Plane tickets to Paris. And of course, bookmarks.
I always wonder if their soul will ever find out how the story ends.