The inspiration for this blog came from an unusual place, at least for me. I was working on a job application and one of the requirements was that I write about what I considered to be the most interesting publication of the last year. My first thought was S. by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst because of its original (and very cool) concept, but that’s not the one I landed on. I had to be concise and professional in the application, and my creativity felt a bit stifled, so I decided to write about the book I chose here. I didn’t get the job, but at least I got this blog post out of it.
I ended up choosing a wonderful little book I had sitting on my desk waiting to be gift wrapped for my friend’s birthday. It’s called Dedicated to… The forgotten friendships, hidden stories and lost loves found in second-hand books and is a beautifully designed collection of inscriptions discovered inside second-hand books which author W.B. Gooderham has spent years compiling and preserving. Each inscription is faithfully reproduced in the original handwriting, transcribed where necessary, including full colour cover images of the books in which the dedications were found. The book cover is beautiful and the author’s introduction is presented on aged and worn looking paper. In case you hadn’t noticed, I think the design and production team over at Bantam Press knocked this one out of the park!
I find it interesting for several reasons. In the age of the ebook and digitised content, it underscores the continued significance of books as physical objects which can be given as meaningful gifts inscribed with the giver’s sentiments. It nurtures the idea of second-hand bookshops as treasure troves of the personal histories and memories of the books’ former owners. These inscriptions reveal additional layers of meaning to these books which transcend, and sometimes seemingly conflict with, the content within. For example, in a copy of George Orwell’s dystopian masterpiece 1984, is a dedication not of fear and oppression, but of hope and love. It reads: “This book was published in 1949, it was about the future 1984. I have given it to you with love in 1994, the start of our future.” Sentiments such as this provide a fascinating insight into the different ways in which books are interpreted and valued by their readers.
Not all books are given with such romantic intentions, however. Imagine opening a copy of A Book of Surrealist Games given to you by your girlfriend that simply reads: “For Ted – my period is 3 days late. Xo. d.” Not the most sensitive way of dropping that bombshell! Of course it could all have been a joke, given the choice of book it was written in, but that’s one of the great things about these inscriptions: you can’t know for sure what the writer’s original intentions were.
Some inscriptions are more obvious, and some are just plain cute. One of my favourites was found in a battered old copy of the British children’s classic Worzel Gummidge. It read “If this book should ever roam, box its ears and send it home.” It may not have made its way back to its original owner, but at least W.B. Gooderham gave it a good home and shared its message with other readers.
I have to wonder why these books were given away in the first place. Did the relationship which inspired the 1984 dedication break up? Did Ted discard the reminder of an insensitive joke or the beginning of an unplanned journey into fatherhood? How did good old Worzel lose his way? These questions will most likely never be answered, so, like many great books, this one will leave it up to the imagination to decide.
I wrote my own dedication to my friend when I gave her this book. It seemed appropriate. I’m sure she won’t mind if I share it.
Author W.B. Gooderham continues to collect inscriptions from second-hand books and posts them to his blog. You can check it out here.