The Vagabond Book (First To Find It Wins)

I have just finished reading Blackmoor, by Edward Hogan. It is a book neatly summed up by a phrase that comes right near the end of the story: ‘…loss far exhausts blame.’

I picked the book up from a second hand bookstore in Shudehill, Manchester, for the princely sum of £2.

In the middle of the book, placed between two pages, was a cash receipt, for unknown items, from an unknown shop, dated 2010.

2010-four years ago. Was that the last time this particular book had been read before it came into my possession? Had the receipt been placed there to mark out a significant sentence? Was it the place in the novel that the reader had reached, only never to return? Or was it merely the place of a random, forgotten, settling?

On the front, inside cover, was a name written in ink, partly scrawled out. The first name was Jenny, the surname was illegible. Next to the name was written ‘£1.’ Buying the book at such a discounted price didn’t cause me to bemoan the  fact that at some time (maybe four years ago?) the book was sold for half the price that I had paid for it.

On the inside, back cover was written, in pencil, ‘Scope. Whitley Bay.’ So, at some point the book had resided on a charity shop’s crowded shelf in Whitley Bay, some 112 miles away from the Shudehill shop where it had tantalisingly caught my eye. That’s some journey. But there is nothing to indicate that Whitley Bay was its starting point. Had the book been passed along a network of eager hands, finding temporary homes along the way in various refuges such as charity shops, book stores, market stalls, and homes of the erudite?

Kindles are good, they are practical and convenient, reducing space and search time, but with them you don’t have that sense of shared ownership. The compulsive responsibility to pass things on. How many people had held this paperback in their hands before me? Sometimes, though not every time, you get clues. Cash receipts, bus tickets, scrawled names and place names.

This afternoon I added my own contribution to the book, writing ‘Manchester, 2014’ beneath the Whitley Bay legend, and handed it into the RSPCA shop in my home town.

Long may its journey continue.

Imagine one day that I’m browsing in a coffee scented shop, overlooking the sea, down south in Cornwall, or maybe finding respite from the rain up north in Inverness, and I pick up a copy of Blackmoor, maybe moved by nostalgia, or curiosity, or something else that comes into play when you are promoted to act out of instinct, and inside the back cover I find written ‘Scope. Whitley Bay,’ beneath that ‘Manchester, 2014,’ and beneath that a descending list of other place names, and dates, added in chronological and geographical order, providing a traceable route and history all leading to that very place.

How freaky, how amazing, would that be?

Odds, anyone?

Keep looking people-that itinerant book is out there somewhere.



11 thoughts on “The Vagabond Book (First To Find It Wins)

  1. I used to work in a second-hand book shop and one of my duties was to removes any odd bookmarks and bits of paper from the novels before they were placed on the shelves. Needless to say, I have a grand little collection of my findings! They really do spark an infinite amount of curiosity and interest. 🙂


    • I think we’ve spoken about that before, haven’t we? I bet there’s some inspiring stuff in there-the hints and bare bones of the stories behind them.


  2. My sister-in-law and I like to go to secondhand bookshops. She picked up a book in which was the inscription, “To Quinn with love from your mother.” Hopefully the book at some point meant something to Quinn (but not enough for him to keep it). We had to laugh though because the book was about a mother’s love for her son.

    Still,it’s interesting that you found that book. My guess is that the person didn’t finish it and sold it. I often use book receipts as bookmarks.


  3. I have to get one of those electronic book things. I guess mainly because my books will be available on them next year. Or maybe download the app thing, whatever that is. Most of the books I read come from thrift shops. I’m cheap and it’s an adventure to glide along the jumbled shelves never knowing what will pop to my eye. I too have found some interesting things in these books. grocery lists, a note to “Mars”, mustard stains and one that an elderly hand had made laborious notes and comments that seemed to be for some other book.
    I have a dozen of the orphaned finds waiting for me that were rescued on recent trips along with my lovely bride’s excursions into the glassware rows. I wish I had more hours in the day to both write and read but maybe next lifetime.
    Oh, and my wife’s mum was a war bride from Widnes. She insists we are to go there before too many more years. Maybe I can deduct it as an expense if I write a book about war brides of the 8th Air Force.


    • Yeah I got a Kindle purely for practical reasons-I’m running out of room for books! But I do prefer the real thing, and there’s nothing better than stumbling across a second hand bookshop when you are away somewhere.


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