Yesterday, my sister, her friend, and I went on a small adventure to a nearby used book and record store. It’s a neat little place, small and cozy, stacked floor to ceiling with shelves and boxes and piles, and it smells beautifully of memories. While my sister and her friend went for the records, I went straight for the books.
One thing I found interesting while leafing through the books was the the traces left behind by the previous owners. Some books were marked on the title page with names and dates, others were dog-eared, and others had bookmarks left in them–some real, some improvised. I saw one bookmark that was a photograph of chocolate, with “YOU ARE HERE” written on it with marker, and another bookmark that was a Pokémon card.
These signs of previous love makes me wonder. When you buy a new book from the big-name book stores, there is no previous love. You’re the only person to have opened the book and enjoyed the story within. No one else has shared the spirit of your book, which makes it very personalized, but also very lonely I think. When you buy a used book, though, you’re living through a story that someone else experienced just the same, and you’re sharing the spirit of the book.
There’s some kind of magic behind sharing a book’s spirit. Books can create a bond between countless people who don’t even have to meet. Whoever owned the book before me has had the very same experiences I’m about to have. Without contacting each other whatsoever, we’ve made a connection.
In the end, I picked out two books: Muddle Earth by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell, and The Smartest Man In Ireland by Mollie Hunter. That night, before bed, I took some time to read the first chapter of each. Something that struck me right away was how different their beginnings are.
Muddle Earth, the longest of the two, started out with description, setting the scene for the adventure and introducing some of the characters. With quick strokes of colour and light, the world of Muddle Earth was presented well enough that I consider myself sufficiently acquainted. It was an introduction purely made to create a scene, and not describe any action or plot.
The Smartest Man in Ireland, a much slimmer book, had quite a bit happen in its first few pages. I was quickly introduced to the main character and his family, told of a certain exploit where the protagonist tried to cheat leprechauns, watched the ensuing conflict unfold, and viewed the resolution and aftermath–something that could have taken up an entire novel if expanded, all told in one chapter. This introduction made the most of the space it was given and cut straight to the adventure.
These are very different approaches to the beginning of a story, and it makes me think… What will the beginning of my new adventure be like? Will I start with description, or just jump right into it? It’s hard to say. It’s as much unknown to me as if I was opening the cover of a new book to read chapter one.
And so I ended my day’s adventure with satisfaction and anticipation for two promising new stories, but my sister’s adventure was a rather different experience.
At one point while I was buried in the books, she and her friend went to a shop nextdoor that sold urban apparel. They were there just to look at the graphic t-shirts, and she said that there were quite a few cool designs. She didn’t stay for long, however, and I doubt she’ll ever go back, thanks to a certain encounter she had in the back of the store.
The pair of them were just walking around, minding their own business and admiring the clothes, when they came across a set of cubicles that had been brightly decorated with graffiti-style designs. Curious and not sure what the cubicles were for, my sister and her friend wandered towards them. That was when a tall, burly man with heavily tattooed arms came striding out, and they realized it was a tattoo parlour.
My sister, you see, is pretty small and wimpy (love ya, sis), and her friend is even smaller, and so they were intimidated by the presence of a large man with a tattoo gun.
“They didn’t advertise tattoos on the sign at the front of the store!” my sister told me afterwards, completely aghast. “How were we supposed to know it was a tattoo parlour?”
In any case, they said that the man was pretty friendly. “You girls don’t look old enough to get tattoos,” he said good-naturedly, “So I’m assuming you’re just looking around?”
My sister and her friend didn’t stick around after that, basically turning tail and fleeing as fast as they could. To top off their unusual adventure, they even witnessed an unwanted sight while heading for the door.
“There was a shirtless man coming in to get a tattoo,” she told me, “and he was giving us a dirty look!”
Their afternoon was somewhat terrifying, but at least it gave her a good story to tell.
I find it funny that we can go to the same place and yet have such different experiences. Every story has two sides, and sometimes they’re much different. You never know what you’ll find between the covers of a book or in the back of a clothing store, but that’s part of what makes life interesting.
What double-sided stories have you experienced? What about events that were funny for you, but not so much for someone else?
May you always see both sides of the story, and may they always have a habit of surprising you.