I was reading H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald on the train this morning and I was struck by the passage above and how it relates to working at Oxfam.
Often when we get donations of books there are mementos left by or from previous owners of the book. This can range from an owners inscription to items that are left in books such as photos, bookmarks, etc. (see our Lost and Found post). Macdonald asks her friends about objects that gave them a sense of history and her description of how her friends feel regarding objects such as ‘clay pipes’ or ‘dancing shoes’ is exactly how I feel towards many of the donations that we receive in the shop.
By looking closely at a book and often its contents it is possible to get a sense of who the person was who previously owned and read the item. Some people write their names, some leave messages for other and some write notes in the margins. All of which help to build up a picture of who the person was. And if you have more than one book this sense of the books history build into a sense of the person through their reading habits – you become au fait with their interests, you discover who they are/were through the books that they read. If they were, like me, the type of person who uses whatever is to hand to mark their place. You then have an idea of journeys, of their taste in cards, of whether they pressed flowers or not.
Books can tell us so much about the individual and it is my role at Oxfam to allow others to share the same sense of the history of the book by caring for the books and passing them on to a new owner who will in turn add their own history to the book.