Thursday, September 16, 2021
Sept. 16, 2021

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Strange items often left in books: Pop tarts and pickles nestled in poetry and prose

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I don’t mean to get too personal here, but here I go: What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever found in a book? Maybe in a library book, or in a used book you bought, or even in a book you’ve had on the shelf for years and had forgotten about?

And what is the strangest thing you’ve ever tucked into a book, perhaps as a makeshift bookmark?

I’m thinking about these things for two reasons.

The first reason is that a reader named Bonnie Anderson wrote me, wondering if other people find remnants of food in library books, as she often does. (I have to say, I sincerely hope not. And I’m guessing that librarians also hope not.)

“I often find evidence of things that previous readers have been consuming while they were reading,” Anderson wrote me.

“I try to guess what the substance was: Doritos (the most common debris item found), coffee, cola, breadcrumbs. I thought this would be a funny question to ask your readers: What is the most common thing that previous readers of a book have left a residue of?”

And round about the time that I got Anderson’s email, I also saw a story in the trade journal Kirkus, in which it was reported that a librarian in Pittsburgh discovered a very disturbing bookmark left in a book. The bookmark was (brace yourself) a dead snake in a plastic bag.

That is definitely worse than Doritos crumbs.

The Kirkus story also referenced a story in the AbeBooks newsletter about other unusual things librarians have found in books – including a slice of bacon (raw, I think) and a fried egg (different book, even though you’d think they be together).

Once I started down that rabbit hole, I couldn’t stop. I found a Publishers Weekly story from 2017 in which librarians were asked what they found in books – oh, long-suffering librarians!

Their report: so much food. Pop Tarts, a raw shrimp, French fries, bologna and pickles. Also, an entire taco.

They also found personal and sometimes incriminating stuff: tickets to plays, paychecks, divorce papers. Also, money. Sometimes quite a bit of money.

Deeper into the rabbit hole I went. (Nobody has reported finding a rabbit in a book, by the way.)

The Paris Review has also written about this, mentioning plenty of disgusting things I won’t repeat but also this rather charming find: a copy of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” “written in the spidery hand of someone either very old or very young.”

I know that books are not sacred objects, exactly, but I also know that despite all of the lovely bookmarks I’ve been given over the years (including a brass Frank Lloyd Wright bookmark just this past Christmas), I usually end up stuffing whatever I have at hand into the book to mark my place.

This never includes snakes, or Doritos, though. Certainly not shrimp, which I would definitely eat.

For me, it’s usually a photograph, a greeting card, a news release, a subscription card that fell out of a magazine, or a grocery store receipt. Where is that fried egg when I need it?

And I am almost afraid to ask you these questions now, but I am going to ask anyway: What’s the oddest thing you’ve ever used as a bookmark? And what is the oddest thing you’ve found in a book?

Write me at books@startribune.com and include your name and city and I’ll include your confession in a follow-up column.

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