Used Books and the Chain of Transmission.

Usually, it’s nothing more than an old receipt, used as a bookmark and left between pages after the book left its owner’s shelves. I wonder: was this book’s earlier owner bored or disappointed? Or was she totally engrossed, interrupted by a knock at the door, a barking cell phone, a crying child? Did she think she’d get back to the book, only to find herself swept off into a sequence of moments that strayed further and further from the marked page?  Or was this book from an estate sale – was it half-read at the moment its owner died?

Old receipts, discarded envelopes, post-it notes, scraps of newsprint, paperclips, emptied and flattened potato chip bags: these mark the books I’ve bought. When I find an actual bookmark, serving its intended purpose, I’m happily surprised – particularly so if it advertises an extinct bookstore.

In yesterday’s book, Kohl’s Teaching the “Unteachable,” I found two half-century old fossils. The first is a trifold letter-size prospectus for Kohl’s book.

The second is a full-page broadside, a reprint of an anti-Vietnam essay originally published in Esquire. Both are bruised with age: brownish, yellowish, brittle.

Through them, though, I know something about Kohl’s last reader who, without any reason, I imagine as a woman. First: for fifty years, these papers held her place between the essay itself and Kohl’s appendix. That means she read the essay shortly after it was published. Second: she valued this essay as an object. Though she seems never to have opened the book again, she kept it, the handbill and broadside still inside.

Now I can reconstruct the chain of transmission: Kohl to New York Review of Books; NYRB to a buyer; buyer to her bookshelf; her bookshelf to a box of miscellany at Angel City Books in Venice, and Angel City to me.

Now, me to you.

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