Old books, previous lives

Friday night last week I had knocked off work earlier than usual and was making my slow way back ‘home’, in no hurry to get there. It was overcast and cold, a cosy winter’s day. Searching for any excuse to delay I stopped in Balwyn near the theatre and stepped into a bistro where I had a glass of Heathcote shiraz. I left and on the way back to the car stopped by a second-hand bookstore.

I love second-hand book shops. You never know what you’ll turn up, and often times you’ll find some gem long out of print. There’s a different too. These books have had a previous existence. They’ve journeyed from the publisher to the hands of another, and here they sit ready to continue their onward journey with someone new.

I browsed through the books on the table outside and straight away found a book that interested me. I’m into self-sufficiency, not because I’m a greenie like everyone else, but because I like the process of providing for my own needs, and with some elegance if I can. I’d love a decent veggie garden, I’ve cured my own meat and made my own cheese, and would like to do much more of that. And so I carried the book inside and paid the princely sum of $10 for it.

I only just picked it up today sitting in the shop, and found inside the front cover this inscription:

Happy Christmas Alannah. Hope this is useful in our gardening hopes and efforts. Love R xxx Dec 2012

I don’t know, but I felt immediately sad when I read it. There seemed something poignant in such commonplace sentiments from only 18 months ago. I wondered what had happened – how had the book ended up here? The writing was spidery and elegant, an old person’s script. I wondered if someone had died – had Alannah passed away? And who was R?

I don’t know and I’ll never know, and the reality is the truth is likely to be a lot more mundane than that. The book is in good condition and seems hardly used – perhaps Alannah gave up the gardening? Whatever the truth of it this little story encapsulates much of the fascination for me in old books.

Here it goes on, a new life with a new owner, for how many years to come no-one knows.

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