Finding Hidden Treasures in Used Books

Books Crosspost Entertainment

I think everyone would agree that books and the stories they contain are treasures.

Even old used books, with worn covers and torn edges, still contain fresh, new tales to those reading them for the first time. This is one of the many reasons I love to explore used bookstores. I have picked up books for $2 by an author I never heard of and been just as thrilled and entertained as I have to get that new copy of a book by a well-known favorite.

There is also always a promise of mystery and the unexpected that comes with my used bookstore finds, particularly in the little “extra treasures” found within these old or second-hand books.

My husband and I love travel books, and he recently brought home a guide to Seoul Korea printed around 1983. Within the pages was a still pretty nice looking Polaroid photo of two young boys taken in front of what I believe is the historic site Gwanghwamun Square. This is the kind of thing that sends my mind down the rabbit hole of questions.

Who were these kids? They are holding pieces of paper, so they might have been on a school trip. Where are they now? I was 13 in ’83, and I would gather they are around two or three years younger than me. I bet they would be in their early 50s now.  How did this visit inspire them? Was it just another assignment, or do they still look back on this visit fondly? Who took this picture? Was it a family member? A teacher? A tourist just trying to get a picture of the famous gate? I also noted the father and child walking in the background at the right of the photo reminded me of the many times my own dad used to grab my hand tight to keep me safe when visiting big places. This one photo was cooler to me than all the beautiful professional images contained in the book because it was someone’s real slice of life and piece of history. I might be the first one to pick up this photo since it was left in the book by the person who took it.

That is one of the simple treasures that connects complete strangers, from the former owner of the book who likely took the picture to the boys in the photo… to me!

This isn’t the only time I have discovered cool items in used books. I have found bookmarks for independent bookstores and coffee shops across the United States, in Mexico, and one from York, England. Thanks to the internet, I was able to look each one of them up and do a little armchair traveling.

Last year, I wrote about making a quick road trip to pick up an autographed copy of a book by Bruce Campbell… because I discovered it by accident on a back shelf at a used bookstore.

From photos to cool bookmarks to surprise autographs, it is always a treat to run across little hidden treasures in used books.

I have found business cards and hand-written notes. I have seen ribbons and homework assignments doubling as bookmarks and, in one case, a $100 bill (albeit a fake one with Shrek’s picture in place of Ben Franklin). My youngest found a plane ticket from Australia to Korea in a Korean/English Dictionary. Someone out there was getting ready for their own travels to Seoul!

These silly discarded items only help make an old book even cooler to me. One of the most unique things I found was a baseball card inside a graphic novel. It was one of these customized novelty photos made for a little league team, complete with the name and age of the player, the year, and all the cool stats for him and his team. Because there was so much there, the old investigative reporter gene in me was ignited. I looked up the name and city where the photo was taken. It is amazing (and frankly a bit scary) what you can find out from just the info on a novelty photo card. I found a photo from a local business under the “our team” images and there was a thirtysomething guy with the same grin (and even the same haircut) as the kid in the photo. He was in graphic design. Guess his love for graphic novels paid off.

One little card, one little treasure from the past.

I lived in the Gulf Coast area for some time, where the Cajun-French word “lagniappe” was popular. I meant “a little something extra.” You know, something good, something free, and something unexpected being tossed in with everyday experiences.

That is the word that always comes to mind when I open an old book and find a little ghost of its own past pressed between the pages. A little something extra. A treasure within a treasure.

As for those two kids playing in front of Gwanghwamun Gate, whoever they are and wherever they are today, I hope their lives are filled with little treasures as well.

I will never know who these two kids are, but it is cool to have this moment of theirs in my armchair travels. All images: Lisa Tate
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