I love books, but I hate buying books.
You will not find me haunting the aisles of Barnes and Noble or the other book supermarkets, breathing the expensive air (in fact I resent them deeply for killing off the funky little corner bookstores that once graced every Main Street, where you might find who knows what musty old volume). You won't find me ordering shiny books with untattered jackets from the likes of Amazon, either. Buying a nearly $200 textbook for my son's semester at Iowa State last weekend is enough of an investment in the written word to last me all year. A month's groceries is $200. A basic new lawnmower is $200. A small "smart" TV is $200. A really good pair of boots that will last 20 years is $200. Five tanks of gas is $200. A book should never be. We're not talking Dead Sea Scrolls here. It's just paper.
"Found" books are better anyway. A book that's been around has a soul. People are that way, too, sort of.
I like to imagine a book has logged some miles in a bicycle basket, or maybe in the glove compartment of an old pickup. That it has been to the beach or ski lodge, in the backpack of a student in line early for a college football game, or the waiting room of a maternity ward.
Books deliver adventure, why shouldn't they have a few of their own?
A couple of times a year, the local historical society has a big used book fundraiser. It's like Christmas and Mardi Gras all rolled into one for me. Go on the last day and you can leave with all you can carry for five bucks. Take that, Iowa State!
There's always a box of old books at every garage sale and auction that you can dicker loose for a couple dollars. Or you simply beg, borrow and steal them from your friends, your friends' relatives, your friends' relatives' friends' relatives, relatively speaking.
My go-to source however, is the library fundraising table. If you have a book you don't want, don't throw it out - take it there. The older books that are trimmed from circulation go there too, and get sold for a quarter or fifty cents. Heck, you can't buy a bottle of pop for that.
I have pulled treasures out of those stacks.
To the person who left Peter Matthiessen's "The Snow Leopard" there - bless you. It, and its story of a spiritual journey through the Himilayas, has got me through the past week of winter that has felt like a month. Thanks to you, I am currently scaling a mountain in Tibet! Namaste.
To the person who left the dog-eared copy of the racy road story, "The English Major," you rock. I relish it slowly, like a fine wine, a few pages over lunch each day, making it last. The protagonist flees farm life at age 60, flinging state pieces from a U.S. map puzzle symbolically off bridges as he passes through each on a tangled path. You know those red maps everyone posts on Facebook, bragging about how many states they have visited and thus filled in? Same kinda deal. I, who rarely ventures father than Alta, am officially jealous.
"Hardly anyone rows a boat anymore," the book muses to me. And it's right. As a boy I rowed miles against the current in the Mississippi River backwaters, now oars are only painted pressed-fiberboard things that they sell for $80 in the fancy gift shops at Okoboji. Wouldn't get you to Scout Island and back. Without finding the book, I wouldn't have found that thought.
Unlike new books, in a found book I feel like I'm sharing in something. How did the person who read this before me, who I will never know, feel about this sad passage. Did they cry? Did they laugh out loud at this funny bit, or just smirk a bit so nobody would think they were crazy? Why did they put an asterisk at this particular spot with a pencil - they wanted to remember something... did they? And that spot - how good was that chocolate bar, I wonder.
I am fascinated by a trend in Europe, where village residents cope with a shortage of libraries by turning old phone booths into book exchanges. People bring a book, borrow a book, sit and read for a spell.
What a place to wait out a rain squall. Such simple projects turn a small town into a special place. I have forwarded the idea to the local library. A found idea, for found books, that may just find you, someday.