June 2008

Summer reading

By David Feela

We were shopping at a rather upscale thrift store on the way to Glenwood Springs. Our usual strategy to uncover the best thrift-store bargains is for Pam to scout out the housewares, appliances, knick-knacks, the clothing racks (both women’s and men’s), furniture, tools, crafts, electrical devices, music and videos, textiles and linens, seasonal bargain racks, and of course, the glass cases where you have to ask to touch any particular item.

For my part I go straight to the book section. In about a half-hour we meet (usually in the book section) to confer about what we found that deserves a second look.

“They have a ceramic humidifier for the top of our stove, but they want $30.” A heavy sigh follows the quoting of price.

“Oh, go ahead and buy it,” I reply. “I found a book of love poems that I’m taking home.”

Then I hold the book out for her to see, open to the page where I discovered a $50 bill masquerading as a bookmark. A smile spreads across her face. Once again, we found a good deal, a book for a buck with 49 additional reasons to love poetry. Pam’s expression is priceless.

A person who reads can probably explain how ideas get into books, but I doubt anyone knows how the other stuff gets in there. Mostly it’s forgotten memorabilia – pressed blossoms and four-leaf clovers, stubs from concerts and airline tickets. All of it tells a story the author never intended, one we may never fully understand. Still, it’s great fun speculating.

Once at a Durango thrift shop I had picked up a copy of Yoshikazu Shirakawa’s “Himalayas,” one of those big coffee-table books, lush with fullpage color photos of nothing other than the Himalayas. The price was $3, but since the book wasn’t a first edition, I doubted I could trade it off to a book dealer for much more than my cost. I decided to let it go, so I set the book back on the floor and leaned it against a bookcase, which is when I noticed the sign hanging from a shelf: All books half-price.

I snatched the book back up. In the short minute it remained unclaimed, two shoppers had already made their way across the room to hover near me, no doubt coveting my mountains.

At home that evening I flipped through the book, admiring many aerial shots of the world’s highest peaks. To my surprise, some of the color plates unfolded to create double-page panoramas. The effect was extraordinary, and I’d have easily paid the full $3 for the experience, but what I found next more than doubled the effect. Hidden among the six panoramic pages was a cache of $2 bills, 13 of them, all in mint condition. Someone must have thought of the book as a hidden safe. No complicated combination to memorize, but you do have to remember which book you are using as the safe.

I’ve uncovered many author’s signatures on title pages, including Richard Nixon’s, and I have an envelope with a matching sheet of stationary from a luxury hotel. The Potter, formerly of Santa Barbara, California, opened in 1903. As a major American beach resort, the hotel could house up to 1,000 guests, some of them wealthy enough to arrive in their private railroad cars. My stationary has a preprinted date line that reads “190__.” Folded inside it, flat as the paper itself, is a 100-year-old pressed flower. The hotel burned down in 1923; my flower may be all that’s left.

Of everything I’ve found, though – and I’ve cracked more than a few spines in my time – one discovery stands paramount to all the others. It was a story, simply the best I’ve ever read. I could tell you where I found it, but it’s more interesting when you do the hunting yourself.

David Feela writes from Lewis, Colo.