A friend loaned me a book today. Rosemary Gladstar’s Family Herbal, and between the pages was one perfect pressed leaf. Once home I flipped through the book, not looking for specific herbs, but looking for mementos of a well-loved book. Or a well-used book. Which is probably the same thing. I found leaves I recognized and others I didn’t.
Many years ago when I started baking bread, one of my sisters gave me the Tassajara Bread book. I opened it to old bits of flour, squished and petrified bits of dough, and scribbled notes throughout. She knew that this would mean more to me than a brand new version. The recipes stood for years of her not just following them, but learning, tweaking, and experimenting. I still have the book and still use it.
I found a book at the second hand store that I haven’t read yet and really don’t have any desire to. I bought it because, throughout the pages, there are little tart comments in shaky, elderly lady handwriting. Rather like one of my books that is full of my grandmother’s commentary in the margins.
Do you write in your books? Do you leave mementos? Do you dog-ear a page that has words that mean something special? Do you make the book your own?
I don’t do that with all the many, many books of fiction in the house. But I write in books on writing and other non-fiction books. I mark pages I learn from, pages that grab my heart and pages that sing to me with beautiful language. Oddly, Barry Lopez’s book, Arctic Dreams is heavily highlighted, underlined, starred, and dog-eared. I say odd, because I did not expect a non-fiction book on the Arctic to read like poetry.
But it’s more than just signs that someone was moved by something on that page. The pressed leaves, the bits of flour, the fading penciled old-lady words are like ties that bind me to the readers. There’s a connection with that old lady, even though I will never know who she was. The herbal with its pressed leaves shows me another wonderful personality trait of my friend. It’s like walking an old path with companions, touching what has been, sharing the words.
I’m sure I’m going to enjoy the herbal and learn from it. But what warms my heart and makes me love the book before I even start reading, are the leaves that someone took the time to pick up, dry, press, and lay between pages, with the words, waiting.