To add to the list of odd items found in books, as chronicled so far by Alex Ross and Our Girl in Chicago, my best find was at the 42nd Street branch of the New York Public Library. In the pages of a 19th-century belletrist, I found a bookmark dating from World War II with detailed instructions on how to save lard. Once you had a nice potfull, you were supposed to turn it in at a local collection center. (Obedient dupe of the system that I am, I returned it with the book to the shelves, an act of improvident good-citizenship I regretted almost immediately. I’ve requested the title again several times since, but the library has so many copies that they’ve never sent back the same one.)
My next best find was at an estate sale held in a Catholic church in Philadelphia in the mid-1990s. Somewhat incongruously, the deceased had been a collector of early 20th-century books on sexuality. I skipped the ones in German, which was most of them, but I snatched up the 1922 edition of Huysmans’s Against the Grain. On the inside front cover, the owner had written, very neatly, “First edition in English. Translation completed.” He had pasted in his own translations, typed onto onionskin paper, of passages that the American publisher had found too naughty to include.