Steven’s Blood Pressure, Rachel’s Ambivalence about Christianity, and the Secrets Tucked Away in Used Books

I don’t know Steven from the man in the moon, but I do know his blood pressure. It is 142 over 94 (or it was in May of 2004). I know this because I just bought a used cookbook from, and Steven left a bit of his medical information tucked between its pages.

I prefer used books to new. They can be purchased for a song, and while that, in and of it’s self, is reason enough, it isn’t the only thing I love about them. I love that there are clues about the previous owner(s) written in the margins, scribbled on the back covers, and tucked between the pages.

Take Rachel, for example. I don’t know her anymore than I know Steven, but I do know quite a bit about her based on a used NIV translation of the Bible I purchased a couple of years ago. I know that her grandparents were still alive in 2007. I know, or assume with good reason, that said grandparents were Christians. That they thought Rachel either needed or wanted a Bible for Christmas that year.


What I don’t know about Rachel is what makes me prefer this Bible to a brand new copy. Does she dislike the way the scripture reads in NIV, or has she no use for a Bible? Is it the lack of thumb index that turned her off? Is she atheist? I like seeing her name and wondering about her. I like sharing a secret with this women (girl?) whom I’ll never meet. But back to Steven…

Steven, it seems, went to a clinic in Laurel, Maryland and was told that his blood pressure was elevated. This was in 2004. This was the year my husband turned 30. The year I stayed home full time with my baby daughter. The doctor gave Steven a slip of paper, a patient eduction flyer, about the ailment. It outlined parameters of normal blood pressure, a description of what the top and bottom numbers represent, and ended with a list of tips for lowering blood pressure: Lose weight if you are overweight. Limit daily alcohol intake. Increase aerobic activity to 30 to 45 minutes most days. On and on. One wet blanket piled on top of another.


Steven wrote his blood pressure on the flyer in ink. He must have taken it seriously. It appears he had good intentions for lowering his blood pressure through behavior modifications. The cookbook I bought from, the cookbook that once belonged to Steven, was a South Beach Cookbook, so clearly he was trying to take a few pounds off. And knowing that, knowing so much private information about a complete and total stranger, makes me want to know more.

Did Steven get his blood pressure under control? Did he have to go on Lisinopril? Did he get any weight off? Did he sell this book after mastering the skill of cooking food with a low-glycemic index, or did he get rid of it because he never used it?

The notes we make in our books, the makeshift bookmarks we leave between their pages, are good stories. They are stories within stories and totally worth a ripped dust jacket.

used books


18 Comments on “Steven’s Blood Pressure, Rachel’s Ambivalence about Christianity, and the Secrets Tucked Away in Used Books

  1. My Mom found a letter from the author of a book to someone else inside a used book. She tracked down the person (at an assisted living facility about an hour away) and brought the book to him. He told her a bunch of stories and all about the author. Used books are fun 🙂

  2. That’s a great story! Sadly, these discoveries will be lost with all the ebook readers. I do write in my cookbooks and we often all rank a new recipe. So at least whoever gets it next knows what the klunkers are!

    • Yeah, you’re never going to stumble upon a five dollar bill or forgotten risqué photo of someone in an ebook. (And I would probably not trust someone else’s opinion on which recipes were klunkers, but I would value the rating system all the same!)

  3. Lately, I’ve been finding John D. MacDonald books at my local used book store. They usually cost about a dollar and I love the idea of them having come from the same time in history as he was writing in. Every time I find one, I buy it even if I have a new edition of that same book. It just feels more legitimate. I haven’t come across any cool bookmarks yet, though it’s only a matter of time I’m sure.

  4. He died of a heart attack and his books went through his estate sale. 😦

    (I sell used books on Ebay….sometimes get some interesting things in the books I buy.)

    • It crossed my mind that perhaps he’d kicked the bucket and his kids had sold this with the rest of his library. And yeah, I bet you come across some oddities with that side occupation.

  5. Back in London I spent a lot of time browsing charity shops (thrift stores), street markets, and secondhand shops for old books, building up quite a collection. It’s a great pastime, as is reading them. Though I preferred my books to be unmarked, your piece gives and interesting new take on the hobby.

    Occasionally, I would fnd a photograph or a receipt for something or other, and they did get me thinking a little, as they were bookmarks, marking the page where a former owner had stopped reading, for whatever reason. That alone can start the brain ticking.

    • Exactly. And it is this intimate thing, because the book, the object itself, is this object that you hold close to yourself. Plus, assuming you and the previous owner read the book, you share the experience of reading/processing/contemplating the same ideas.

  6. My most treasured books are those I have picked up for a dollar in thrift stores and book sales! Have you been to McKay’s in Chattanooga? if not, we need to go! Also, how sad that Rachel sold her Bible from her grandparents!

    • I bought Rachel’s Bible at McKays! I wonder if she even opened it. If she had looked inside, she’d have seen her full name and grandparents names and cut those identifiers out before selling it or trading it in for used CDs (surely).

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