I hide money in books. Always have. Certain correspondence, too, though the need for that has lessened in the past decade or so, what with the digital and the family-man lifestyle. When I did them, I hid drugs in books, in foil and wax paper and glossy magazine pages, creased and folded, stuck deep between a book’s leaves, edged up against its inside spine. Nowadays, I hide money out of habit, mostly. It’s not like someone’s trying to thieve it. This past year, though, I had a purpose: to save for Christmas, I hid bills of varying denominations in a number of books. But because I can never remember which books are holding, my kids got shorted.
Over the years, there’s been little rhyme or reason to which books get how much money, why A Hundred Years of Solitude, say, got, this past year, two twenties and a ten while Slaves of New York got but a fiver. When I started the habit, in adolescence, I split my money between my sports books (Ball Four, Bang the Drum Slowly, etc.) and a kind of book on my mother’s shelf (Fear of Flying, The Joy of Sex, etc.). I can’t remember how I reasoned that my mother wouldn’t open her books and find my dollar bills and wonder how they got there. It’s possible the thrill for me was just too much to pass up of opening a book to find both money and sex. In those days I never had money enough to worry about which book got more than another. It was all a dollar here, a dollar there.
I think a lot about the Frank O’Hara poem “Ave Maria.” It’s probably not a great poem and I think I can see where it lets itself off the hook easier than it should, but it’s one of my favorite poems and I think I understand it as profoundly as it can be understood. It’s a poem, I mean, that informs my life. So when I had a few twenties to hide it made sense to pull down O’Hara’s Collected. When I needed them, surely I’d remember that the bills were pressed hard against “Ave Maria.” But my mind refused to conflate O’Hara and money, and so it was that when I wanted an O’Hara poem I found it online, and when I wanted the money I searched all over but never in the O’Hara. I came across the money much later and unexpectedly, as I was loaning the book out. Discussing O’Hara with the borrower, I flipped through The Collected’s pages. Down floated the twenties.
I sometimes think I could create a chuckle, even if just for myself, by hiding money in Marx or Adam Smith. I’ve never hidden money in either, though. I like them both so much as writers, as stylists, especially Marx, and so think a crass easy joke would somehow be inappropriate, even unkind. Ha ha, I hid $100 in The Communist Manifesto! See what I mean? On the other hand, I’ve found it perfectly acceptable to hide money in All the President’s Men. I’ve done that more than once.
I have a friend who organizes her books by color. At first I thought less of her for it. What serious reader thinks of her books in such a way? But after some time and reflection, I’ve come around. I haven’t yet searched her books for money. When I do, I’ll start in the greens.