I love second-hand books and second-hand bookshops, and I love that moment when you find an inscription written inside a pre-owned book – so I was intrigued when I came across Dedicated To….. The book describes itself as an ode to ‘the forgotten friendships, hidden stories and lost loves found in second-hand books’. Some are poignant, some are funny, and one particularly memorable inscription serves as a very stern poke in the eye.
This is a beautiful little book, illustrated with some fabulous book covers – and each of the inscriptions appears in the original handwriting alongside a printed transcription. As the editor W.B. Gooderham states in his introduction: “The right book, given to the right person at the right time, can work wonders…A book can say I miss you, I love you, I forgive you; I never want to see you again.” How true that is. I know I love giving books as presents and I never miss the opportunity to write in them either. A four-line rhyme written in the first book I ever gave my now-husband (a Penguin Classics King Lear) gained me a look I have never forgotten, and I love picking up an old book from my shelves and seeing a note from Lovely Mum (who always writes in my books), perhaps from Christmas 1998. It’s like a little slice of the past.
So we’ve established that I’m sentimental about my books. I have to think something is truly worthless to give it away once I’ve read it. I generally like to keep a complete record on my shelves. I’d be especially unlikely to give away a dedicated book, so before I give you my favourite inscriptions from Dedicated To…, I’d like to say how sad I found it that all the books featured therein had been given away. Advice spurned? No longer needed? Altogether forgotten? We can only speculate on that, and on the journeys these books have taken. Gooderham considers the matter too, and also notes the “added poignancy” given to the books as a result of their having been passed on.
Anyway, here are some of my favourite inscriptions:
Bawdy Ballads, Xmas 1989
“Mum says it is disgusting: I say it may encourage you to learn the piano.”
The Penguin Book of Infidelities ed. by Stephen Brook
“For Rebecca, in case you have any ideas!”
A Book of Surrealist Games ed. by Mel Gooding
“For Ted – my period is 3 days late. x.o.d.”
Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie, 21st December 2008
“To my darling husband – we have now been married for 6 very special months. Enjoy memories of our wonderful honeymoon as you read this. Anita xxx”
Jungle Lore by Jim Corbett, May 1958
“To John Hughes. Go shoot yourself. Henry”
Words by Jean Paul Sartre, September 1973
“For Mummy – may you read it all – clearly and without prejudice – right to the end! Lots of love, Hetty x x x
(The cover of the book is printed with the quote ‘I loathe my childhood and all that remains of it…’)
Mister Johnson by Joyce Cary, May 1991
“Dear John, When I was twelve or thirteen years old Grandma became increasingly alarmed at my philistine preoccupation with science and agriculture. I remember being whisked off to the bookshop in Bury, where on my behalf she selected “Mister Johnson”, my first adult book. It was an inspired choice – it amused me, introduced me to the joys of literature and also to the notion of an overseas colonial service. The book thus had a profound influence on my life; without it I may never have gone to Africa, and you may not have been born thirty years ago. To it you probably owe your existence and it is high time you were introduced. I pass it to you in turn with much love. Dad”