Books that people leave behind

One of the fun things about renting a vacation house/cottage/cabin from VRBO or similar, is the possibility that the owner and previous guests have left behind books. In the past, this has led to some interesting situations. In one case I reorganized the shelves into fiction and non-fiction and then alphabetized the fiction by author. In another, at a house in Tuscany, I spotted a lesser-known Willa Cather novel that I didn’t remember reading before. When I opened the front cover I was confronted with my own name and the date I finished reading it when we had stayed at the house two years previously. Always traveling with plenty to read, it is rare that I actually find something that I want to read. Although it was a cheap pensione in Florence where I found my first Brookner. And at a hotel in Phuket I picked up and devoured Her Fearful Symmetry. There are also the situations where a I want to steal books from the room as I wanted to at the George Hotel in Rye. You can read about that incident here.

This year the house we stayed at the first week in Maine had lots of books to ponder. And they were nice and old and eclectic. I resisted the urge to tidy them up. I kind of wanted to, but this time we had John’s family staying with us and I didn’t want to expose them to my mania. Plus I was also kind of relieved that I could resist the urge. Felt like a very grown-up moment.

The second house we stayed at was a huge let-down on that front. In the first place, there was no ledge or shelf where books had been left behind. There was one sad little spot under a table where they had some books, but it didn’t have the same effect. Even more problematic was the fact that someone (the owner?) was clearly trying to proselytize with 90% of the books being religious devotional and self-help books. I guess its fine for those who like that kind of thing but it seemed like a hostile, anti-literary act. Especially when some of the books were by Charles Swindle Swindoll. I found it such a dire condition that I refused to leave behind the couple of books I had intended to leave behind. Even though I no longer wanted them, I felt they deserved better company.

Needless to say, all of these photos are from the first week.

This little shelf was at the bottom of the staircase. Of course my eyes went right to the Anita Brookner. Owning it and having read it already, I just picked it up and fondled it a bit before replacing it. I was kind of tempted by the Blyton. And if I had been there with no books of my own and got really bored, I might have picked up the Binchy or Iriving.
That ocean book is probably what I would have read. But maybe I would have been happier with Mary Higgins Clark. I’ve no clue about her except she seems prolific.
There is plenty here I might have read. A Rebecca West. The Buchan. I would probably have skipped the MItford non-fiction, and now I am curious about Goody Hall by Natalie Babbitt. I also see a lot of John P. Marquand when I am in certain types of bookshops and have been tempted to take a chance on him. But now that I see that at least three of his novels are about New England I am more tempted to take the plunge.
This shelf is probably more for looks than content (for the owner) but I think the Pepys would have been a fabulous thing to dip into on a rainy day. (We had none.) I can’t believe I didn’t even put the Pepys volumes in order. They have numbers right on the spines. I did, however, pull out one of the volumes and a Polaroid of a woman’s bare bottom came fluttering out. If you look closely you can actually see it between the first and second Pepys on the left. I took this pictures on the first day and didn’t find the photo till the end of the trip.
Upside down volumes next to a Merck manual next to Willa Cather. How did I resist the urge to organize?
I own that copy of Catalina but haven’t read it. The two to the left of it seem kind of interesting, especially No Time for Sergeants.
Does anyone like Thackery that much?
I was kind of interested in The Deserted Village by Oliver Goldsmith until I saw it was poetry. I’ve never read Sir Walter Scott (Waverly Novels)
I could have been tempted by The Hare with the Amber Eyes or possibly Loon Lake by E.L Doctorow.
There were plenty on horses, boating, and books in French.

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13 thoughts on “Books that people leave behind

  1. Dottiemi September 3, 2016 / 8:57 am

    How interesting to peruse the shelves with you. Out of sheer sentimentality I would have devoured Blyton regardless of the weather or itinerary.


  2. Karen September 3, 2016 / 3:36 pm

    I couldn’t get into Scott’s Waverley (1814), even though it was assigned reading for a course. A few years later I picked up Redgauntlet (1824) and loved it. I’ve thought about trying Old Mortality and/or The Antiquary – both published 200 years ago.

    I totally get the urge to organize a book shelf!


  3. Nicola September 3, 2016 / 6:26 pm

    Fascinating post. Blyton would do me fine. I love Rebecca West – what is the title?


  4. quinn September 4, 2016 / 8:06 am

    So much fun. Thank you!! It might not seem like a treasure trove…but I have seldom found even this great a stash anywhere in my travels. There were at least some titles you actually would read and enjoy if you didn’t have your own books. Now you have to keep taking vacations in Maine so we can enjoy the adventures.


  5. Elle September 4, 2016 / 9:29 am

    The Pepys set!! I might have tried stealing it all.


  6. Deb September 4, 2016 / 1:40 pm

    A few weeks ago, we stayed at a rental on Grand Isle, Louisiana (a setting in Kate Chopin’s THE AWAKENING), and there was one book in the whole place: a Sidney Sheldon. Oh dear!

    I think you’d enjoy John P. Marquand (a truly forgotten author these days). I always say that John O’Hara (another forgotten writer) and John P. Marquand between them described the entire arc of mid-century America (Marquand primarily covering the WASPS and O’Hara focusing more on the second-generation Irish and Italian Catholic experience). If you read Marquand, I’d recommend WOMEN AND THOMAS HARROW or SINCERELY, WILLIS WADE. His most famous novel is THE LATE GEORGE APLEY, but that IMHO is not typical of the bulk of his work.


    • Thomas September 8, 2016 / 8:04 am

      The Awakening is one of my favorite books. I found it immediately spellbinding. Good info about John P. Marquand. The next time I see him for cheap I will pick up a volume or two.


      • Deb September 8, 2016 / 5:20 pm

        My husband and I became a couple because of YHE AWAKENING. We were coworkers, but had only a nodding acquaintance. Then one day he came to ask me a question about a project just after lunch and I still had my book out: you guessed it, THE AWAKENING. We started talking about it (he had read it in college) and that was the start. Long story short, we’ve been married almost 28 years and have three adult children. But, oddly enough, this was our first visit to Grand Isle. Next time I’ll take a copy of THE AWAKENING to leave in the rental unit!


  7. Anthony Catanzariti September 4, 2016 / 10:01 pm

    You should give The Hare with Amber Eyes a try. I read it earlier this year as I am now teaching it. It’s good but requires a pretty significant investment of time.


  8. Liz Dexter September 5, 2016 / 3:26 am

    What a lovely selection to find! I was pleased when returning to a guesthouse in Iceland to find some books (I had enough) but none of the ones I myself had left two years previously.


  9. Travellin'Penguin September 6, 2016 / 8:33 am

    I stayed in an old hydro town in fairly remote Tasmania several years ago. Once the hydro scheme finished it was a ghost town. All vacant houses turned into tourist places to stay. The one I stayed in had 3 old hardcover first edition Doctor Doolittle books. I admit I stole them and they now have a good home. I don’t think the tourist venture lasted and things were thrown out there. I kind of equated my actions to militant animal welfare groups, these books about animals written so long ago. Besides they weren’t in prime condition.


    • Thomas September 8, 2016 / 8:05 am

      I wouldn’t use the word ‘stole’. I would say you rehoused them.


  10. Ruthiella September 7, 2016 / 12:31 am

    I love the idea of leaving books to be read, swapped or borrowed in vacation homes, youth hostels, cafes, etc.

    I think I would have at least taken a look at the Enid Blyton. I read only a handful of the Famous 5 books as a child and have been curious about the Mallory Tower books.

    Mary Higgens Clark was a favorite of mine many years ago. She sort of writes the same book over and over, but I thought it was fun to read until eventually I got tired of it.


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