I recently purchased two stories by Raymond Chandler, “The Big Sleep” and “Farewell, My Lovely.” Two stories, one book. Keep in mind that these stories are quite old. Raymond Chandler was born in Chicago in 1888. In 1946 The Big Sleep was adapted for the big screen, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Farewell, My Lovely is on my list, but so far I’ve only finished The Big Sleep. Inside, on page 189, I found a business card, presumably from the previous owner. Besides being cheap, this is why I almost always buy used books, to share an experience with someone else across time and space.
Usually there is a name or a date written in the front cover. Sometimes, if the book was a gift, there will be a note. When I bought Dune, for example, a note on the first page read: “Tired of all the other ‘boy messiah’ series? Give this one a try. Happy Birthday, Owen.” Owen gave it a try, then gave it away.
In this particular case, there was a business card. The card belonged to Lela Goodell. Miss Goodell, a quick Google search revealed, passed away just over four years ago at the age of 86 in Honolulu. Born in Iowa, died in Hawaii. Sounds to me like she moved in the right direction. Professionally, she was an archivist. After retiring, she served as a librarian at the Mission Houses Museum Library, a research library containing rare books and manuscripts focused on the history of Hawaii from 1778 to 1900.
The card is a weathered yellow with all black print. A blurry picture of a town spotted with palm tress and towering mountains in the backdrop occupies the top third of the card. Next is her name in all capital letters: LELA GOODELL. Below that, her academic qualifications: M.L.S. That is, Master of Library Sciences. Next, divided onto two lines:
Professional Indexing Services
Specializing in Hawaiiana
It’s funny sometimes the things that connect us. As far as I know, I never met Miss Goodell, but in a way I know her more intimately than most of the people in my life. She liked The Big Sleep, or at least she read it. There’s a good chance that private detective Philip Marlowe was one of her favorite fictional characters. Philip Marlowe is already one of my favorite characters. That, in and of itself, makes us strangely close and connects us forever, since we’re both members of a relatively small club.
There is a bookstore in my neighborhood in Brooklyn that each day places two double-sided racks of used books outside. Each book is one dollar. In the past few weeks, I’ve taken full advantage. I stopped in with my cousin this past weekend. In addition to a collection of Aesop’s Fables and The Mind of a Mnemonist – a true story of a thirty-five plus year study of a Russian man with a virtually limitless memory and an examination of how those abilities affected his life, professionally and socially – I purchased The Plague by Albert Camus. Until reading the back cover, I never knew he died in a terrible car accident in his early forties. Why is life so persistent in exterminating some of the brightest minds before they peak? Or is that just some sort of justice, equal randomness, true impartiality?
Being used as a bookmark, I found an old Urban Outfitters receipt. On the back of it was a note. I’ve randomized the phone numbers, so as not to rattle anyone, but here is what is said otherwise, in sloppy cursive:
347 612 2819
for my 12-8
take my shift
It’s hard to put my thumb on why exactly I find any enjoyment in discovering these types of notes, but I’ll try. Maybe because it’s proof of other lives, other worlds constantly in progress that I’ll never be a part of, most likely. They’re windows, however small, however meaningless they may seem, into other people’s worlds.
We all share a common world, but each of us also lives in our own world. No two personal worlds have ever been, could ever be or will ever be exactly the same. In that sense, seeing into the mundane day-to-day of someone else’s life is the closest I’ll ever come to traveling through space in search of alien life forms. There are already over seven billion alien worlds right here today for me to explore.