Tony Vagneur: When obtuse questions and books with marked pages collide |

Tony Vagneur: When obtuse questions and books with marked pages collide

Sitting among an interesting array of varied and eclectic books, one specifically caught my eye, and I pulled it off the shelf, saving it for later reading.

One seldom knows what a never-before seen book might bring and it was several hours later, with a certain amount of ambivalent curiosity, I finally cracked it open.

The left side of the paper outer-cover had been inserted between pages 148 and 149, a bookmark technique many people use. A cursory glance revealed that it wasn’t the kind of book that could be started in the middle — no, one must wade through it from page one to truly interpret the writing within.

The book had been on a shelf in a friend’s recently purchased house, a book the previous owner had left and something about it piqued my curiosity — who had been reading this tome, interested enough in its blarney to mark the last page read, waiting for the reader’s return?

At the time, did the person realize that it didn’t matter, that he/she would never return to finish the book? Did fate intervene, taking the reader away with a catastrophic medical event or was there a debilitating accident? Maybe it was a powder day or a new love that compelled a break from reading. At this point, it could have been whatever my imagination says it to be.

If you don’t know, and you might not, books that have been bookmarked by someone else but are in our custody can give us a lot of information that cannot be gleaned from the book, but important information nonetheless.

Take for example a book I’ve been wondering about for six months or so, a book whose title doesn’t speak to me, but one that has held a place of significance in my office bookcase. It just showed up one day, carelessly and innocuously tossed there, creating an enigma of mystery for me, a whodunit as yet unsolved.

It’s a paperback, on the surface a materialistic view toward evolution, a paean to Darwin, even claiming to understand the origin of species, something even the “Saint of Science” himself couldn’t do.

A pen inserted between pages marked the reader’s last place, and a quick glance through the book up to that point revealed copious note taking, including questions the text had created in the reader’s mind. The penmanship was difficult to read, mostly impossible, and that in itself said something about the reader’s personality, but the most critical question it brought to the fore was how did it get into my house in the first place, let alone into my bookcase?

Communication with any and everyone who might have visited me in the previous month provided no answers although the fact that I have notoriously never locked my house left open the possibility that someone (an interloper needing quiet refuge?) might have been alerted to the sound of my returning vehicle and fled out the nearest door in a panic, carelessly leaving the book behind. (You can be assured, in case you were wondering, I now religiously lock my house, even when out for a short stroll.)

Almost as mysterious was the book that inexplicably appeared at The Aspen Times office in my name about 11 years ago. There was no return address, no card, but acknowledgements of the author and an introductory note within its thick, expensive cover. With over 800 glossy pages of text, photographs and illustrations, it weighs more than 10 pounds and its dimensions are similar to those road map atlases that hang out on grocery store racks. It too has a bookmark placed between pages 540 and 541, a receipt from The New Yorker, put there by whom, a mystery, as well.

Such a book would cost several hundred dollars in a bookstore, but yet it was delivered to me unsolicited. It was rumored that all of the columnists at The Times got similar, but different volumes, a significant investment by someone.

Unlike the book about Darwin and evolution, this bigger one is about creation and debunking evolution, but also includes a huge amount of philosophy and future thinking. If taken together, both books provide a conundrum to the reader; both well-written, both claiming to know and understand the origin of species from different perspectives.

The latter book talks about the brain and its relationship to reality, conjecturing that maybe what we take to be, that what we see or feel, is an invention of our imaginations.

So, as I alluded earlier, perhaps my imagination provides the reality that mystery longs for, particularly when it comes to obtuse questions and books with marked pages.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at

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