You’ve Got 49 Days: Things Found in Books

I find great, suggestive things in books.  The inscriptions are the private face one person shows another, almost always written in some private language, referring to events and people about which we can only guess.  Sometimes there are items left behind in books that are as fascinating as the book–love letters, a $7,000 check, a 4-leaf clover. 

Here are three things.

#1.  Inscription from Gloria Steinem’s Revolution from Within


It takes forever

When you read one page

A night.  I’m going

Back to the other book

Now.  Hope I live

Long enough to finish.

Talk to you soon—


 As I typed this inscription, the computer automatically capitalized the first word in each line, formatting it into a found, prosaic poem.

 #2.  In a book of religious quotes entitled Thorns and Thrones I found a torn corner of a photograph of a man’s face leaning into the corner.  In the background is the top of a horse’s head and trees.  The man is half-smiling and wearing a gray t-shirt and a Philadelphia Eagles base ball cap. 

He was obviously removed from some other picture, but why?  Was he cast out from the picture, or was the rest of the picture thrown away and he the only face worth saving?

 #3.  In the western, Legend of a Badman by Ray Hogan

I love you, you old shit.

Read slow.  You’ve got 49 days.


We are continuing our feature on prize-winning novels, with commentary by Classics customers–

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides won the Pulitzer Prize in 2002.

Commentary from Classics customers: 

John Calu: “Challenging from the initial premise to the way he maneuvers between different eras without a warning… incredible writing.

Garry R Feltus: “Having been raised in the Great Lakes region, I really enjoy and have a bias toward the ‘coming of age’ component in Eugenides’ writing. His description of and his reaction to the tension of the 60’s in middle America is almost profound. In fact, I see storyline as more a metaphor for old world/new world, adolescent struggle with sexuality and a storytelling bridge than as a study of gender identity and hermaphroditism. It is, nonetheless, a wonderfully told story with a profound respect for family history, response to societal norms and self discovery.

Jan Wigginton: “I think Eugenides is an immensely talented writer and there are many reasons to like this book. Personally, I am a big fan of an “attention grabber” opening and in my book, Middlesex ranks right up there :

“I was born twice: first, as a …baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan in August of 1974. “

With an opener like this you almost have to keep reading (I know I did). I also think his account of Greek family life is absolutely hysterical, and I love how he weaves so much of the history of Detroit into the story of the Stephanides family. Definitely read this if you get a chance — I’m sure you’ll find your own reasons for loving this book as much as I did!

Top Ten Oddest Books

When I go out to eat, I am immediately attracted by the strangest thing on the menu.  If the restaurant is brave enough to offer the weirdest thing, it must be something special.  When I first walked in to 11, at 11 West Front Street in Trenton, New Jersey, for example, I knew I had to try the breaded spaghetti with meat sauce, raisins and broccoli.  It was great!

A friend of mine, Didi Goldmark, was a “connoisseur” of literature the way I am a “connoisseur” of food.  The stranger the title, the more she wanted it.  In her memory, I have collected the top 10 oddest books I have seen.  For purposes of this list, this can’t be books that are intentionally funny or ironic (like the Pop-Up Book of Phobias).  We also eliminated printing errors, like my cousin Mike’s  Zen philosophy primer that was given the cover for Nietzche for Beginners.

For Didi, I present the Top Ten Oddest books:

#10.  How to Avoid Huge Ships by John W. Trimmer.

This book is dedicated to educating boaters on how not to get run over by freighters.

#9.  What’s your poo telling you? By Anish Sheth. 

My friend Alexis says, “the book explains all different kinds of poo and why it happens (like your diet, stress, etc). Pretty amazing!!!”  Several of my friends recommended me include this book, including my friend, Jan, who has it in a one-a-day calendar, and my cousin Mike who describes it as “near mystical.”

#8.  Sun-Beams May Be Extracted from Cucumbers, But the Process Is Tedious: an Oration, Pronounced on the Fourth of July, 1799.

Though the contents are a non-odd criticism of Thomas Jefferson, the title is supposedly taken from a letter from Jefferson to a neighbor.  And it makes me smile every time I see it.

#7.  Over their Dead Bodies.

Though the title is consciously funny, the book is a commemoration of epitaphs from the 19th century. 

#6.  The Clowns of Death by Keith Breese

It is a 209 pg hardcover history of the band Oingo Boingo. 

#5.  Keeping Poison Frogs

#4.  Herd Registry for New Jersey 1908

Very useful in day the days before computers, this is a thick leatherbound volume listing the names, parents and birthdates (drop dates) of every cow in New Jersey.   Drop into Classics to see this!

#3.  All About Scabs by Amanda Mayer Stinchecum and Genichiro Yagyu

If you thought scabs were worth only a paragraph in a larger book on health, think again!

#2.  How to Start your own Blood Bank

One of the greatest books in Didi’s collection.  I laugh out loud every time I think of it.  Who bought this book?  Goth vampire wanna-bes?  Or did somebody in Iowa actually open up a blood bank in their basement?

The #1 Oddest Book

How to Live Through a Famine






I love the cover art with the dying stick figures in front of a pretty flower from the 1970’s.

My friend Mary’s favorite paragraph in the book is

“For an individual who has no alternatives, he should scatter what food he has, wherever he can. If one has a sack of flour… He should deposit the flour in whatever containers he can find- pop bottles, shoe boxes, coat pockets, anything suitable.”

Mary pictures people walking around with coat pockets full of flour.  Can that be a good container?  Why not keep it in the sack?

How Used Bookstores are Saving the Universe

The Environment

I couldn’t find any numbers for books alone, but about 54.3 million tons of paper and paper fill American landfills every year.  Among that 54 million tons are countless libraries worth of books that could be kept in circulation instead of weighing down our waste infrastructure.

When you buy used books, you don’t just help keep them out of landfills; you also help preserve our natural resources. It is estimated that 24 trees are needed to produce one ton of virgin printing paper.

Used book stores are such a part of the fabric of American life that it is easy to forget that they are as important environmental centers, as important as newer (and therefore more visible) reuse centers like TerraCycle in Trenton.

Save the environment.  Support your used bookstores. 


Used books improve education by providing low-cost options to fill a home with books. 

Not only are used bookstores already a fraction of the cost of new bookstores, some (Classics in Trenton NJ for example) provide books for FREE for local kids.  You don’t get lower-cost than that!

What impact does having books in the homes of kids have?  Especially books in the homes of low-resourced families in struggling school districts like Trenton?

The following is from “ScienceDirect – Research in Social Stratification and Mobility : Family scholarly culture and education”

Only 40% of children from bookless homes with unschooled parents can be expected to finish Year 9, compared to 88% of children with unschooled but book-rich parents, a huge 48 percentage point advantage.

A home library is also a big advantage in getting children through high school, for illiterate and university educated parents alike. For unschooled parents, the advantage of a large home library is 33 percentage points, about the same as the 37 point advantage for primary educated parents, 40 for incomplete secondary parents, 41 for parents with high school education, and 38 for university educated parents. 

Classics Used and Rare Book in Trenton (117 South Warren) has consistently handed out over $4,000 in FREE books every year to Trenton kids through their Books at Home Program.

Support education.  Support your used bookstores. 


Far more than other businesses, used bookstores are meeting grounds for the community to meet and discuss matters of community importance and then taking action.  Random collections of customers at Classics Used and Rare Books, for example, have volunteered to help restore a vandalized mural, provided back-to-school backpacks for foster kids, and knitted helmet liners for soldiers serving in Afghanistan.

In addition, used bookstores, far more than other businesses, provide space for community groups to meet.  Classics in Trenton, for example, has opened their space for Peoples and Stories, BOOST, the Urban Studies Group, the Trenton Scrabble Club, the Trenton Kids Books Club, Trenton Knit and Stitch and other community groups.

Support your community.  Support your used bookstores. 

Arts and Letters

Used bookstores are on the vanguard of supporting regional authors with booksigning opportunities and consignment sales to which chain bookstores can be insensitive.  In addition, cutting-edge used bookstores, like Classics in Trenton, find ways to offer additional support.  Classics published the Trenton Review, which features Trenton artists, authors and subjects including Pulitzer Prize-winning Trenton poet Yusef Komunyakaa and the infamous Trenton rock hall, City Gardens.

Support local arts and letters.  Support your used bookstores. 

Economic Development

Like they do in supporting local authors, used bookstores are far more receptive to selling products of local business people.  Nowhere besides Classics, for example, can you purchase Trenton bridge tee-shirts done by a Trenton artist, candles from two local candlemakers (Ana Candles and Messiah’s Candles), note cards depicting the Battles of Trenton, outlandish ties made by a Trenton seamster, a DVD on tomato pies produced by Trentonians, and music CD’s by Trenton artists like The Blue Method, Clarice Sabree and the musicians of Trenton2Nite.

Support local micro-businesses.  Support your used bookstores.