If you're not a regular visitor to this blog, you should know that I sell secondhand books on the internet (on behalf of cheridee) and spend my working day sifting through hundreds of titles. Most of the books are worthless, but there are enough titles of value to make the whole thing worthwhile.
If I decide to sell a book, I have to check it thoroughly to assess its condition and occasionally, as I flick through the pages, something falls out. These ad hoc bookmarks are usually just scraps of paper, but sometimes I find photos or letters that give tantalising glimpes into the lives of strangers.
Here are some recent favourites:
My name is sarah i live at twenty one enest road kot i live with my pearonts and my to ugly brothers...
This probably took a long time to type - I can visualise a little girl trying to fathom out the mysteries of the QWERTY keyboard. Today she'd just use spellcheck.
This photo manages to be poignant, touching and a little depressing too, bringing Hardy's quote about life being 'tragic with comic overtones' to mind. On the face of it, an overweight woman in late middle age is standing in front of a hideous pair of curtains in what must be the room of a bed and breakfast, or a cheap hotel. Is she coming or going? Why did anyone take a photograph of such a mundane scene?
The temperature control panel of the Dimplex convector heater has been left open, suggesting grey skies, wet pavements and dark evenings spent in an empty dining room.
But this photo could mark the beginning or end of what felt like a great adventure. If we look beyond the clashing patterns and cheap furniture, this photo might have been taken because someone wanted to bottle the happiness of the moment.
This fell out of a 1929 American book called Plotto, which claims to enable would-be writers to produce a virually unique plot. The book reads like a slightly more sophisticated version of Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone's Fighting Fantasy books from the 1980s, where the reader can choose their destiny from a set number of options.
On this piece of paper, someone has written: 'A, a fugitive from justice, prevents B from committing suicide. B is a classy prostitute.'
Oh, that old chestnut.
I wonder if it ever became a finished novel?
This extract from a 1969 letter needs no explanation or comment. You'd have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by the grandfather's expression of love.
Finally, a notice from Christina Foyle, apologising for sending the wrong title to a book club member. She refers to some 'difficulties', which is a slight understatement, given that the year was 1943.