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Used Books

There is often an added joy to reading used books. And I mean that "added" literally, as in "whomever owned the book before you, took out their pen and added something to the manuscript."

In the book I'm currently reading someone has helpfully located and corrected every typographical error. (The phrase "Over may dead body," for instance, has one of those curlicue deletion marks through the "a" in "may".) Many used books have definitions for all the difficult and obscure words scrawled in the margins or inside the back cover. One textbook I purchased in college had the previous owner's name, address and phone number written on the title page, and seemingly random words highlighted throughout the book. Finally I got so exasperated at trying to figure out why certain words were and were not emphasized that I just called the guy and demanded that he tell me his highlighting schema.

The flip side of used books is that sometimes the prior owner removes something from the book instead. I once owned a copy of Rebecca in which three words in the text had been completely blacked-out by a marker. (I later compared my copy of Rebecca to a pristine version to discover that each and every instance of the word "spider" had been obliviated.) And one Perry Mason novel I read was missing the very last page -- the page in which the murderer was revealed. Although the perfectly round hole in the mud outside the homicide victim's second-story window leads me to believe that the pole vaulter was the killer, I guess I'll never know for sure.

Posted on April 06, 2002 to