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Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014

The stories they tell and the places they've been

Posted Friday, October 15, 2010, at 11:10 AM

If there's one thing I love more than just reading a book, it's reading an old book. Whether it comes from the library or a second hand book from a shop or flea market or yard sale, I love the thought that someone else has gotten some use out of a book as well.

And so my wife probably dreads going to yard sales with me. She knows if I find things I like, we're probably going to be dragging home a bag (or worse, a box) full of old books or vinyl records (which I also love).

It's not that this habit hasn't paid off over the years. When my next-door neighbor back in Williamsport passed away, I went to the estate sale and as rooting through some old boxes of books. I found an old one that interested me, so I bid and got the box for $60.

My hunch was right. The book that interested me turned out to be a first edition of "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn." It's in bad shape, so I'm not sure what it's worth. I'm pretty sure it's more than 60 bucks, though.

Last weekend while perusing the books at the Bainbridge Improvement Society community garage sale, I found a hardback of Ernest Hemingway's "Islands in the Stream," one of only a handful of Hemingway novels I don't own. So I picked it up and figured it would be a good read one of these days.

And then this morning I opened it up and found some writing in it:

To Joseph

From Grandma Pat

July 1973

To get you ready for Key West!

Seemed incidental enough, except when I thought back to my own trip to Key West in July 2002. I knew I was going to a place where one of my favorite writers had spent a significant amount of time, and I wanted to connect to him in some way. I checked out the plots of some of his books before going out to buy "To Have and Have Not," since it was set primarily in Key West.

So, even though it wasn't a gift, "To Have and Have Not" served the same purpose for me some 29 years later. It got me ready for Key West. I started the book before the trip and finished it sitting either on the beach or next to the pool on one of those hot afternoons in the Caribbean.

And now I know, every time I look at that simple, little paperback on the shelf, that book has two stories. It's the story of Harry Morgan in Key West and Cuba, and anyone can see that. But it's also the story of Jared Jernagan in Key West, and only I can read those tales.

Maybe my "new" copy of "Islands in the Stream" has a similar story. For all I know, Joseph never read it, and it simply sat on his shelf for nearly four decades. Perhaps the book didn't even come directly from Joseph. Instead, I might be its fifth or sixth owner.

But I genuinely hope that this book has similar tales to tell -- one that can't be found on its pages. I hope it's been read, digested, pondered. I hope it's been packed away with swimming trunks and khaki shorts and made the trip to my favorite island and back home.

That's what I'm choosing to believe, anyway. I like it better that way.



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...and the beat goes on...
Jared Jernagan
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Jared Jernagan is a 2003 graduate of Wabash College and has been in journalism since 2005.