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Reading the Times: What's Hidden in Your Books?

In the December 21 issue of the NYTBR there was a backpage essay by Henry Alford, "You Never Know What You'll Find in a Book," about the odd physical objects people find stored in books: strange correspondence, a lipstick-smeared napkin (the lipstick smear coming from actress Vanessa Redgrave), the slice of fried bacon Reynolds Price once found. The article got me thinking, and it really got me thinking when it came to Sherman Alexie, who it turns out used to stow small bills in books during his alcohol-infused college days as a primitive savings account, protection against spending it all while on a bender. When he'd come across the money later, "It was like winning little jackpots," he informed Mr. Alford in an email, adding, "I'm sober now, have been sober for many years, and I keep my money in banks."

Winning little jackpots...

That line had personal meaning for me. I used to win little jackpots. For the better part of the years 1983 to 1994, I was an independent bookseller and buyer. Retail does not traditionally pay buckets, but it was a family-run business in an affluent town and I was paid a reasonable salary plus full medical benefits, had even worked up to four weeks paid vacation a year. Back then I used to travel a lot. And, reluctant to incur credit debt, I saved before going. Each week when I received my paycheck, I'd take out one-fourth of what would be needed to pay the coming month's rent and regular bills and that would go into checking; what I'd need for the coming week in terms of food and fun, which would go in my pocket; and $100 that would go in a special spot: page 100 of Overcoming Depression by Demitri Papolos, M.D. and Janice Papolos, which I kept beneath a pile of bras in a dresser drawer. When I got up to $500 saved on page 100, I'd start saving on page 200. I don't remember now why I used to scatter the money throughout the book in this fashion. Did I think that if a thief were to break in and somehow find my secret savings account, I'd be somehow preventing him from finding it all or at least that I'd be making him work for it? Regardless, that secret savings took me far. I saw England. I saw Italy. I saw Iceland, Luxembourg, France, Belgium, and Germany all in one trip - just $229 rountrip air on IcelandAir! (I was also good at finding deals back then.)

At some point and for whatever reason - and no, I don't think it was because I was making so much money I no longer needed cash from my bra drawer; that was certainly not the case - I simply forgot about my on-the-side savings account. Life had changed a lot. Distractions had got in the way of the things I used to like to do with my life. One day, while going through my dresser in the hopes of getting rid of some stuff - did I really need to keep that sweatshirt from fourth grade with the sleeves cut off? Yes, I did, because I am short and it still fit - I came across the Papoloses' book. And when I opened it up, looking for inspiration for my mood, a thousand dollars came fluttering out.

Winning little jackpots...

Well, that's the last time that ever happened. Please do not break into my home in the hopes of finding some cash, because there isn't any. Since 1994 I've become a writer, which means there is no more surplus cash to hide away in books and no books called Overcoming Depression can help me now.

So how about you: Have you ever kept or come across anything interesting, monetary or not, in books?

Be well. Don't forget to write.