One thing that I love about buying secondhand is all the traces left behind by previous owners. What is so neat about these impressions is that they are completely unintentional. They are pure and unconscious, made by someone who wasn't even thinking that some weirdo might come behind them and try to glean insight from an ordinary object. Sometimes there are no actual physical traces, but the very fact that I know there was a previous owner is enough to spark my imagination, thinking about who they might be or what the thing might have meant to them. I love these traces, because they act as tiny threads between strangers. There is a connection between me and this unknown person. I've been buying and donating so long that I imagine a whole web of threads connecting me to people all over the world.
One of my favorite traces is the used bookmark. People read books, and they use whatever scrap they have on hand to mark their place. Or maybe they just shove a bit of paper into a book as a place to keep it. Then they forget all about it when they donate the book to the thrift store, and it is there when I pick it up. I have found some amazing bookmarks. A boarding pass for a flight to Kenya, a hotel receipt from London in the 60s, a written itinerary for a pheasant hunt, a book report on Washington Irving. Maybe I'm weird and most people would just think this stuff was trash, but I love the unintended documentary aspect of it. It's a little capsule of a particular life at a particular time.
Once, I was in Josh's library, and I found a bookmark. I excitedly showed it to Josh, who also thinks that kind of thing is neat, but not with the same enthusiasm as I have. He told me, "You know, whatever bookmarks you find in my books, you can keep." And I was just floored, like this was the most amazing gift anyone could ever give to me. I was genuinely touched, even as I realized that he had given me to the right to keep pieces of trash that I found in used books. And yet, maybe that's one of the reasons we are so good together - the match of a lover of secondhand books to a lover of the things found in them.