Message in a Bottle
Snooping Through Scribbles

Nancy Drew

I’ll be honest. I’m a snoop. I love opening up an old copy of a book and finding notes written in the margin, or any other sort of clue as to what someone else felt while reading. Roger has some really cool old editions tucked around the store even though they’re not for sale. Next time you’re in Island Books, ask him about them. His stories will be worth your time.

Sometimes I get so wrapped up in new books coming out that I forget to look at the old ones, but the other day I was straightening up at home and found myself staring at the bookshelf in this picture. These old Nancy Drew books belonged to my husband’s mom when she was a kid. Since she’s no longer with us and I’ll never get to meet her, I got this idea in my head that maybe, just maybe, she had written something in her old books.

A few hours later, I realized that she must have been far too polite to tarnish the pages. All I could find was her name, written in clean cursive on the first pages. I was disappointed, but not surprised.

Then I turned to another shelf and zeroed in on my dad’s old collection of Jane Austen novels. He’s still around, but even he can’t read his own handwriting. (Yes, apparently my dad had to read Austen in college. Men do occasionally pick one of these up! Although I don’t think he had regrets about giving his copies away.) Look how old these editions look.

Another hour wasted as I sifted through more yellowing pages, looking for clues. Here, I had more luck, sort of. He underlined phrases and made notes, but the problem was, his handwriting is, and always has been, illegible. I think he might have even scribbled a grocery list in there, although I can’t be sure if the first word was “beloved” or “bread.” The most legible writing was this list comparing Emma’s character with Miss Bates. The pencil was so faded it was difficult to get it to show up in a picture, but I tried. Don’t give yourself a headache trying to read it.

From what I can tell, he noted that what Emma and Miss Bates had in common was that they were both unmarried and smart. That’s where the similarities ended. Emma was clever, attractive, and proud, while Miss Bates was simpler, plain, and humble. On the next page (not shown here), he drew an elaborate chart that seems to show how their character traits influenced the direction of their lives. The problem is, I couldn’t make out what it said. Frustrated, I gave up and started reading the book myself (for the eighth time), because if you can’t coast by on someone else’s notes, might as well make some of your own, right?

Enough about my own library. Will you take the time to share some of the best scribbles you’ve discovered in old editions?

—Miriam