Being nosy in a charity bookshop

belle-books-gif Book collections tell you a lot about a person.

I volunteer at a charity bookshop in my spare time, and one of my favorite things to do there is sort through the big donations. I'd like to say it's the writer in me, enjoying constructing stories about the people who've donated these books. In reality, I'm just super nosy, and even a person's unwanted books reveal a lot about who they are.

Like the female minister who liked visiting museums and had recently got into decluttering. Or the crime novel reader who owned a camper van and liked hiking around the UK. You can see people's hobbies and interests, their careers, their aspirations, major events in their lives... these donations are the detritus of their lives, parts of collections being decluttered or entire libraries being passed on after a person's death.

We get novels from the 1940s and 1950s that were clearly bought brand new and kept for all these years. Gorgeous original Penguin classics. Children's novels from literally a lifetime ago. Collections of people's interests over decades. Some have related newspaper clippings from the 1960s held between the pages, or postcards from friends in the 1970s that were used as bookmarks. Sometimes they have people's thoughts scrawled in the margins -- we can't sell them if there are too many notes, but they're still fascinating to see. And of course, there's the modern stuff. The speed with which people go through books. The number of crime novels that people buy from us, read in a few days, and then re-denote, over and over again.

But my favorite donation, so far, came in last week. They were sheet music collections, for piano, available for a few pence every month. Only a newspaper-y pages, kind of like monthly magazines, the sort where you need to buy them all to have a complete collection. This set spanned from April 1896 to June 1897. I don't know whether then decided they had enough music or just lost interest in buying them. But they were beautiful. Really old and worn now, stained by age, but still intact. Honestly, I don't know if they were in good enough condition for us to sell them. I'm always surprised by how many really old books aren't really worth anything, at least monetarily. But it was amazing to sort through these and know that 120 years ago, someone was going out every month and buying them new, then taking them home and practicing them on their own piano. These weren't just antiques. They were magazines, something someone specifically bought every single month for at least a year. Part of someone's long-gone life in 1896.

I'd like to think they made that person happy. Or the person just kept buying them out of the hope that they'd motivate them to learn piano, and never actually did. If it was me, it'd probably be that second one. And I hope that, wherever they end up, they bring someone as much joy as they brought me in that back room when I discovered them, lurking in a Sainsbury's plastic bag underneath a pile of other books.