Sad Postcard in a Sad Book (Gass/Pancake)


A book, you would think, is not a pocket, a purse, or a wastebasket, but people dispose of their sniffle-filled Kleenex between unexposed pages, their toothpicks, too, dirty where they’ve gripped them while cleaning their teeth—such in-decency—matchbooks with things written on the underside of the flap, usually numbers, of telephones, I suppose; or they leave paper clips and big flat mother-of-pearl buttons—imagine—curls of hair and all sorts of receipts as well as other slips of paper they’ve used to mark the spot where they stopped; and they file correspondence between leaves as if a book were a slide drawer—do they do that to their own books?—or they tuck snapshots, postcards, unused stamps, into them, now and then a pressed bloom—they stain, I’ve seen leaf shadows—one- to five- to ten-dollar bills, you’d never guess, yes, rubber bands, a shoelace, candy and gum wrappers—even their chewed gum that I have to pry out with a putty knife—people—people—I dee-clare—and newspaper clippings, often the author’s reviews, that are among the worst intruders because in time they’ll sulfur the pages where they’ve been compressed the way people who fall asleep on the grass of a summer morning leave their prints for the use of sorcerers like me to make our magic.

–From William H. Gass’s novel  Middle C.

I leave stuff in books all the time. In fact, I almost always leave something (a movie stub, a photo, a note, a picture my son or daughter drew, something) in each book I finished.  (I even wrote about it a bit last year). So I guess Miss Moss, the old librarian in Gass’s Middle C, would be royally pissed with my habits. I read this passage a day or two after a visit to my favorite used bookstore, where, looking for books by Grace Paley, I came across an uncracked copy of Breece D’J. Pancake’s super sad super terrific collected stories. I own the book, but in a different edition (fox on the cover), so I grabbed it out. Lo and behold, a postcard!–and of a scene straight out of Pancake’s own semi-beloved West Virginia, no less! The note, a token of friendship, accompanied an inscription in the book itself—is there anything sadder than an inscribed book abandoned to a used bookstore?

I left the book, postcard in it, easily resisting the initial temptation to slide it into one of the Paley volumes. Destined for another reader.


2 thoughts on “Sad Postcard in a Sad Book (Gass/Pancake)”

  1. I love the history that one finds in books and I love passing books on and receiving books. I get a real buz knowing that the book I’m reading started life at point A has travelled across the world to point B and then travelled around the country to point c. I imagine the hands that have touched it before me and the story the pages could tell apart from the story written on the pages. I’m sad that Kindle has killed that passage.


  2. “is there anything sadder than an inscribed book abandoned to a used bookstore?”

    How about a book, inscribed by The Author, donated to a thrift store? I have found a few of these — the most humorous being a copy of Michael Eric Dyson’s “Making Malcolm” inscribed to the then-chancellor of the University of North Carolina, and a collection of pieces by a local newspaper columnist inscribed, with great enthusiasm, to his pest-control man.

    Can’t help but wonder if the folks who donated these books even noticed they were signed…


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