Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Incidental Reader

Occasionally I’m a bit strange.

I suppose you expect an example to prove it.

A few years back I was reading a used paperback I’d picked up at the used bookstore Martha frequents. I was reading away, just as happy as a book-reading clam, until I turned the page. Or tried to turn the page because it was stuck to the page behind it.

Usually, the reason two pages are stuck together is because they weren’t fully cut during the manufacturing process or, if the paper is extremely thin, it’s probably static electricity (although I’m not an electrician). But that applies to new books, and I was reading a used book.

So, innocent that I was, I peeled the pages apart. And screamed. Staring at me on the page was a glob of grayish-greenish-yellowish STUFF that was quite possibly dried snot or worse, petrified loogie. Leftover pizza is not grayish-greenish-yellowish. Even after a week (trust me, I know). M&Ms are not grayish-greenish-yellowish because they don’t make a gray color.

No, dear readers, I was convinced I was looking at human effluvium. I had the good sense to scream again and throw the book across the room, but then I went into mental meltdown. Who (or what) had been reading the book before me? Worse yet, how many who (or what) had been reading the book before me?

I don’t believe in the boogeyman or Freddie or Jason, but I believe implicitly in human slobs. The kind with hair on every inch of their body (females included), terminal dandruff, and those who make odd grunting, groaning, and snorting noises. The kind who smell bad, talk with their maw open whilst eating so they spit dead goat or whatever all over, and those who don’t ask their public toilet mates for toilet paper if their stall has none.

The kind who dripped or hocked into a perfectly good book that cost me $1.25. The bastard.

Martha, who grew up on a farm and therefore finds very little to disgust her, told me to get a grip. “Just read around it, for Christ’s sake,” she said. But it was too late: I was in the back yard burning it and standing well upwind of the smoke.

So now, I’ll tell you why I’m occasionally a bit strange.

I absolutely refuse to read a used book, and I haven’t read one since that incident in 1978. Even when I purchase new books, I never take the top one: that’s the browser copy and therefore it’s USED. Rather, I dig way down into the pile for a fresh copy, hoping hoping hoping it’s untouched by a who (or what) . . .


Kim Ayres said...

That's what happens for going into a used book store. You should have gone into an unused, pristine, not yet out of it's packaging bookstore. The moment the bookstore is used, you must go and find another. I understand these things.

Charlie said...


That's what happens for going into a used book store.

Consider me duly chided. I also don't use the public library for the same reason.

And I don't use public toilets for the same reason, whether or not they're in a used bookstore.

Lola Magnolia said...

I have NEVER bought a used book and I certainly wouldn't after reading that!! Even when I borrow a book from someone, I tend to spray a light coat of Lysol over it. And I'm the same way when buying a book, I never take the first copy on the shelf. I do the same in the supermarket with taking the second or third product shelved 'cause I know it had less of a chance of being touched than the one right in front. What can I say?! Germs suck!

Meg said...

I read used books all the time and rarely make purchases unless they're just that good, but I can totally understand why you won't read another one. Kinda like that time I found a worm in my tomato. Haven't eaten one since.
When I worked at the library, we'd get books back all the time with unidentified nastiness crawling on the cover, suspicious brown and green patches on the pages, dead bugs pressed between pages... I even got a contact high once. I washed my hands after every book came in.

Charlie said...

LOLA: I'm glad that you've been spared the trauma I went through. And as far as the grocery, I'm more concerned about what's inside the package or can than the outside: Can you say, "No quality control?"

MEGAPHONE! I don't blame you about the worm in the 'mater. I wouldn't eat another book if I found a bookworm in it.

Did you lovely librarians perchance wipe down the book covers before reshelving them? Hmmm?

Mary Witzl said...

My sister is a librarian, and I have heard some hair-raising stories about the stuff that turns up in books.

I am fairly scrupulous about hand-cleaning, and I don't pick my nose while reading library books or have any other nasty, book-contaminating habits. But while I used to have the same reaction to used books (and some library books, come to that, after hearing my sister's stories), travel has pretty much beaten this out of me. If you can bring yourself to use one of those hole-in-the-ground toilets which hasn't been emptied since God knows when, then beat your way out of it through swarms of flies thick as mud, not to mention fumes that would knock over an ox, you find yourself wonderfully immune to things like boogers in books.

Yep, travel broadens the mind. And puts a real dent in a well-established OCD.

Stinkypaw said...

I know what you mean, I will read a used book only if it's a friend's book. I find books to be very personal, in the sense that we touch them, we breath on them and whateverelse we do with them, besides reading. I don't know many who sit at a table to read and do just that.

As for buying a new book, magasine, newspaper or anything else for that matter, Hubby always takes the one below, the "untouched" one... so you're not alone in your weirdness... ;-)

Charlie said...

MARY: We all thank you for not picking your nose while reading a book. I mean, there's a time and a place for everything.

And as I've said before, I refuse to use public toilets. As Stinkypaw will attest, men can pee anywhere; in emergencies, I have adapted the anywhere rule to going number two too. In the great Northeast, we had moose maple leaves as soft as Charmin, but you'd better recognize poison ivy and oak!

STINKYPAW: Yes, I'll read a friend's book, as long as that friend is Martha. After all, we've been swapping spit for a lot of years.

And it's nice to know that your hubby (Mr. Stinky) is as discerning as Kim Ayres and I.

OneEar said...

vote COCO!

Charlie said...


Sven said...

I have some magazines with the pages stuck together.

Charlie said...

SVEN: You win. I'm speechless.