Yesterday’s post on Walter Benjamin’s The Arcades Project mentioned a surprise that came with the book. It’s not that unusual to find odd things in used books – old bookmarks, inscriptions of past owner’s names, slips of paper – but this was truly odd.

The surprise is that this book was once given by a man to a woman as a Valentine’s Day present.

Well, I’m not sure of the wisdom of giving a woman a heavy, scholarly tome for Valentine’s Day. Might not even an intellectual feminist prefer chocolates, flowers, or jewelry? I don’t know.

The guy who sent this was risky but thoughtful in some respects. It’s hard to say without knowing the girl but there’s this chance that she might have tossed him and this book onto the used pile.

There are various reasons why a book ends up on the used market…usually the owner sells the book, but sometimes other things just happen, leaving a mystery as to why and how this book and its forgotten contents ended up being discarded.

Anyway, the letter that comprised the Valentine which I found between the pages of the book was quite touching. And it does provide a great description of the book. I’m including it below, but am omitting the names of the recipient and the sender.

Dear **** – I thought you would like this book as much as I do. It’s fun to just flip through and read things at random, but the individual sections also point to pieces of a coherent vision regarding the growth of a dominant bourgeois sensibility and the development of Paris in the nineteenth century. It tends to assume an elaborate working knowledge of the history of Paris. Not having such background knowledge, I end up reading it as simultaneously history and critical history. I think you’ll be most interested in the sections on Hugo and Baron Haussman – but all the sections are interconnected. The other fun game to play with the individual notes is to try and determine whether Benjamin was on hashish when he wrote them. All in all, this is my favorite book in a long time, and I thought you would enjoy it as well. Let me know what you think.

Happy Valentine’s Day.