It certainly is rare that one reads a book from cover to cover in one sitting. That’s where bookmarks come in. Perhaps only in the form of folding the corner of a page, dog-eared as they say, or by using a slender bookmark with reference to another book by the same author, or perhaps by using whatever you have on hand.
Even though it is close to midnight, I decide to read a few more pages in the book where I had found those notes on Egypt and Flaubert. As I open it to see where I had left off the day before, a note falls out. Strange that it hadn’t fallen out then. Had it been used as a bookmark when whoever it was had stopped reading? The book had no annotations or underlining, not even a dog-ear. Perhaps, like me, the reader had grown up with the idea that books were sacred and shouldn’t be defaced. I used to borrow books from the library not far from the college where my father taught. Obviously, you couldn’t mark up books that weren’t your own.
If I find that a previous reader has left some sign of their existence and thoughts in comments or underlining, it makes me wish I could answer or confute some of those criticisms. I would treasure the opinion of a third party, a conversation between me, the author, and whoever had read the book before. It is one thing to simply put a slip of paper as a bookmark in the place where you had found your attention wandering and thought it best to turn off the light and pull up the blankets.
There were things yesterday’s handwritten pieces of notepaper hadn’t told me. Who had written them and why. And now where did this new piece of paper come from? Was it simply that the person reading had decided it was time to call it a day? Whoever it was, they seemed to be reaching out a hand to help me solve the mystery. I know, they tell me, you were wondering who I was. Well I’ll give you a hint. I’m sure you can figure it all out if you look carefully at this flimsy piece of paper. We left it there on purpose. The print is rather faint and I guess that the ink cartridge was almost empty. Yet that piece of paper, not hand written but printed, is not all that flimsy for it has survived for 8 years.
On December 19, 2015, a group of friends were sitting in a restaurant in Florence. They were in four and one ate meat, three had different kinds of fish. Then there’s the wine. A third of the total is for wine. I surmise it might have been red since we are in Tuscany, although with a prevalence of seafood it might have been white. Aha. Vegetarians, I think. So I begin to wonder. I know a couple where she is a vegetarian, but will eat fish, while her husband loves steak and might have been the meat eater. Since he is also a voracious reader, I may be right in thinking that they may be the ones involved in this mystery. After all, they do often come to Italy and that’s where I met them. I’ll have to get in touch, wherever they may be now, and see if I’m right.
Such are the marvels of the Internet that I find confirmation in less than a day. Yes, they did have dinner on the 19th of December in 2015 together with another couple in Florence. Covid hadn’t yet reared its head. And the book? They figured I would like it, for our literary tastes often overlap. Since I’m cruising on the web, I also decide to investigate the “rebellious pope” who was apparently quite a personality and was, in a sense, the object of a rebellion, but not himself rebellious. I expect to get a detailed correction from my scholarly art historian friend. But then I am not up on popes or even Italian history.
I come to the conclusion that my friends were indeed the ones who took these notes on Egypt. My next step will be finding out what prompted them to be particularly interested in Egypt. Perhaps best to wait till we meet again in person. After all, one thing does lead to another and while distances no longer mean all that much, there’s nothing like a person-to-person encounter.
3 thoughts on “Postscript”
Well done Sherlock! There is the seed for the plot of a thriller in this little anecdote.
I like this piece for a number of reasons. There is a lovely little book by Anne Fadiman called “Ex Libris” whose first chapter is “Never ever do that to a book!” She understands that the world can be divided into two groups: misguided “courtly readers” like my husband, who would never dream of writing anything in a book, and “carnivorous readers” who cannot bear to read without bending down pages, underlining, and filling the margins with comments. Fadiman’s is one book that I will never give up because when I asked her to sign it, the author showed that she immediately got my number:”For Diane, Please feel free to drop muffin crumbs and spill coffee all over this book!”
In general, I like seeing evidence that I’m not the only one to have read the book I’m holding—especially if the comments are interesting and are penciled discreetly in the margins or rear of the book where I like to mark page numbers and notes for further elaboration. Sometimes a faint check mark alongside a key passage will do, and I’m not against dog-earing, either.
But perhaps what I like best about this piece is the coincidence that I, too, loved reading about Flaubert’s adventures in Egypt via his letters. He and I discuss this in the letter I wrote to him in my own Letters to Men of Letters. All this is to say that as is often the case, you and I are “on the same page.”📚✍️📬