I’d bought the book, an autobiography of an outspoken 90s basketballer, from a Salvation Army store for $3; a far cry from the big money he would have seen after inking the book deal. Even though I knew he’d never see a cent of the money paid and thus, would never know I (as a reader or a sales figure) existed, I was still looking forward to reading his opinions on issues ten years gone. Perhaps I’d find the time to knock it over during a slow shift at work, or inbetween writing sessions for my screenplay…just as long as the baller’s policy of keeping it real didn’t seep its way into my work – heaven forbid. But things didn’t work out that way, and before long the paperback had been relegated to the bedside table. There, it could boast that it was the last thing I saw before turning off the light each night, but I imagine that’s not exactly a fulfilling purpose for a book.
It was during one of these nightly exchanges that I noticed the dog ear.
There it was, about halfway through. It’s not exactly a tome, this book (I guess his views only stretched as far as his editor was willing to read, or he’d shrewdly saved the really juicy stuff for the sequel), so the tone of my imagination as it began to form an image of the book’s previous owner became somewhat patronising. You only got halfway? And was that in one sitting? But as the portrait became clearer, I started to experience the self-doubt and inferiority complex that accompanies second hand ownership syndrome. Had they paid full price, and in doing so become a blip on the author’s radar, at least moreso than I was? Surely someone willing to pay full price for a brand new paperback wouldn’t then proceed to ruin the book’s condition by dog-earing it. Surely someone that decadent would have a bookmark, perhaps one with a tassel. Perhaps in living so rich, they had led a busier life than me, so finishing the book in one sitting wasn’t as feasible, despite all the first class flights and departure lounges? Perhaps they needed glasses, and those glasses had not been available for the entire duration of the book’s value to them, rendering the pages blank and useless. What if the original owner had cared more about basketball than I did, and this was a signpost along a second, third or even fourth read-through?
What if the book was being used for some higher purpose, like research? And this dog-eared page contained information vital to that research?
Suddenly, my trivial, impulse purchase of the book felt like a petty, almost tawdry episode in the book’s imagined lifespan. Would it remember me on its deathbed? Would I make the will?
Why had the previous owner gotten rid of the book, anyway? And was I somehow second best because I’d picked up their refuse? Did all this analysis say more about me than about either the owner or the appeal of a paperback full of someone else’s opinions?
The weight of it all was crippling, I needed to end the madness. What was on the page?! I turned to the marked chapter…
…only to discover that the dog ear was made up of two or three pages folded over together; classic wear and tear. No one had ever dogeared this book. Worse still, perhaps no one had ever read it. The realisation makes our nightly routine that much more bittersweet. Maybe one of these nights I’ll read it. I’ve been saving a bookmark for just such an occasion.