The Stranger’s Book That Belongs To Me

Back in the 80’s and being the youngest of five siblings there was never anything left at the end of the week for such treats as books. I would be given them as presents for my birthday or Santa would leave a few wrapped neatly in a pile beside my stocking on Christmas morning. I would devour the pages before the big day itself was over and my tired eyes would try to stay awake long enough for just…one…more…page. It was usually the solid boom made by the book hitting the floor that would jolt me awake, I would then have to summon enough energy to find my book mark before nodding off to sleep again.

We lived not far from Leith Library so we would all traipse down the road like a gaggle of geese, our used books cumbersome in our bags as we hurried as fast our legs would take us. The cruel edges of the books would snap and clutch at our tights as we walked in formation down the long, busy road. Not far now, we would cry. It always felt like miles and miles but it wasn’t really.

I was always the one that would pick the largest and heaviest book, my thought behind it being that the bigger the book the longer it would take me to read. It never worked. I was fooled every time. And my arms would ache carrying it back, vowing never to renew it again. But I did.

Buying books is a treat I have never grown out of. Yes, I love handbags and shoes and coffee cremes but books are my main expense, my main bad habit. There is nothing better than the feeling of brand new crisp pages beneath your fingers. The long-awaited sequel from my favourite author or perhaps a debut novelist that everyone has been talking about has now arrived in store!

I love the smell of the paper as each parchment fans open just a little. I can’t wait to see what literary treasures lie in wait. However, I can’t afford as many of the lovely new books that used to entice me into the big book shops in town. Sometimes I head to my nearest, and dearest, charity book shop instead and devour the books in there. I have been very fortunate so far with my frugal spending as I have managed to acquire most of Judy Blume’s novels from my youth, a spattering of EB White and some brilliant picture books thrown in for good measure – all in the year they were published and in full retro-covered glory.

There is one thing that I have noticed when buying from a second-hand shop, a lot of the books are personalised. They all have a name written neatly at the top of the first page. I remember doing this as a child whenever I received a book as a gift. There I would be, tongue out to the side in deep concentration, deftly writing my name as neatly as I could followed by the month and the year.

‘Debbie Smith’ is printed in one of my recent purchases – where are you now Debbie? What are you doing with your life? Do you still read? Are you still alive?

‘Jean Anderson P5 Sister Mary Francis’, says another. Where do you live Jean? Do you have a family? Did you finish this book?

What would I say to these strangers if we were to meet? I would tell them that their books are doing fine. They are safe in my little world with me. They have a home. They are loved.