I made a mistake. After all my talk of streamlining my library, tossing out the old, letting in light, I winnowed too much. Books, as I wrote a few days ago, are not just about reading, but about your relationship with the volume, your history with what you hold in your hand.
I nearly threw away some vital history. After packing that big old box with dozens of titles and dropping it at the local branch library, I went home feeling liberated. My shelves were mine, filled with awesome novels and nonfiction, all the collection dusted and shiny.
Around midnight yesterday, my eyes popped open. I remembered that amid the floods of paper and cardboard around me I had held a silver-foil-covered book in my hands, turning the pages. As I stood there, I recalled reading it. Stieg Larsson’s The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. I’d liked it. I was over it, though, now. Into the box with the others.
But with the wee hour night thoughts closing in, I now remembered something else: a name on the first page, a small, careful signature in blue ink.
The name belonged to a friend of mine, who had presented the book to me when I was rehabbing after hip surgery three years ago. She had bought me the other two novels in Larsson’s series in paperback, but this one, in silver foil, a hardcover, belonged to her. I want that one back, she told me. We sat together in this dungeon-like rehab center, the unattainable sun outside the windows. She was one of the few friends who made it all the way there. When she left I gobbled down Larsson’s energetic creation, his tattooed girl, one volume after the next, in a slight haze of percocet, finishing the long, twisted, potent narrative before my two weeks of healing were through.
Not long after she gifted me with the Larsson trilogy, my friend passed away. Breast cancer took her way too soon. I kept the silver-foil-covered book she’d loaned me on my shelves, by now forgotten under a stack of other books. I want that one back, she’d said.
This morning I drove to the library where we’d left the giant box. The books had already been brought to a back room for sorting, the reference librarian said. We’re so sorry, she said, consoling me for the loss of the book. I felt I should be apologizing for causing so much trouble. She led the way back. Gil and I searched and searched, through stacks of hundreds of books. No silver foil. That tiny little connection, through a pop novel gift of my friend to me, had floated into the ether, and I wouldn’t see it again.
Driving home, my phone rang. The library. We have your book. Come back.
And so I reclaimed the silver foil – it had already been put on the sale cart – and brought it back to my home library. First, though, even before getting in the car, I cracked the spine and inspected the first-page signature. The hand of my friend, extending out of a book.