Paperback Mysteries

Books are recyclable works of art that have transference of ownership. And I love making discoveries in the pages of used paperbacks—books that have been discarded from public libraries, purchased at garage sales, or pulled from bargain bins.

Case in point: my gently used copy of the novel Body and Soul by Frank Conroy. The bildungsroman tells the story of musical wunderkind Claude Rawlings, starting from his childhood in New York City in the 1940s. The late Conroy, who had served as director of the Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa, is known for penning the influential memoir Stop-Time.

Body and Soul by Frank Conroy.

I read Body and Soul several years ago when residing in Phoenix, Arizona. I bought my current copy on Amazon. And stuffed between the pages, I found vestiges left behind by the previous owners—a bookmark and two notes. The first note is dated Oct. 13 (year not included). It’s from CB and addressed to Kristen: “Here’s the book about the piano protege I mentioned in Balto.”

The second note is written on a piece of red paper cut into the shape of a fish. It’s addressed to Rosa from Adam. “Awesome job this week! Keep up the good work. Thanks for listening so well. Have a great year + hope to see you again.”

Multiple scenarios run through my head. I’d like to know more about the people who touched the book I now grasp. I’m curious about the relationships between Kristen and CB and Rosa and Adam. Is Kristen a musician and is “Balto” short for “Baltimore?” Was Adam a teacher and Rosa his student?

I know my questions will go unanswered and the paperback mysteries will remain unsolved. But on the bright side, I still have Conroy’s story to explore.