Wednesday, December 21, 2011

    Book Love: Handwritten Inscriptions

    I have a thing for used books.

    But it's not their condition I'm worried about, or even their content. In fact, I love a tattered cover and dogeared pages, and I really don't even care what the book is about. No, the thing that makes me fall in love with a used book is a good handwritten inscription. I've spent many hours squatting on the floors of used bookstores and flipping open covers in search of the next great inscription.

    It's amazing the things people will write in books.

    Here are my two favorite inscriptions from my own used book collection.

    I love this first one because it is so sweet, and vintage . . . 
    9/20/48 / For my dearest one on his birthday / With all my love / Helene
     . . . yet, it's inscribed in this book:
    That's right, this is a copy of Dante's Divine Comedy
    On its own the inscription seems so sweet, so loving. For my dearest one on his birthday. That line alone is so wonderful. Do people even write like this anymore? And look at that penmanship! My students tell me they can't even read cursive anymore, let alone write it. The fact that her name is Helene is what really sealed the deal for me. Helene. I imagine her dearest one has an equally respectable name, like Harold or Winfield or Arthur.

    I imagine them sitting in an elegant restaurant, the book neatly wrapped in paper, waiting on the fine white table cloth next to Helene's glass of wine. She looks lovingly at Arthur and he makes a toast to his beloved, his dearest one. They clink stemware. She hands him the package, For your birthday, dear, she says. He smiles and unwraps it, a tear rolls down his cheek as he reads the inscription. He leans across the table for a modest, public kiss.

    And then he reads the title again. The Divine Comedy. Sounds nice enough. He flips through to the first page and finds Canto I: Inferno. Inferno? Gustave Doré's first illustration faces the page, the caption: "Canto I: Dante astray in the Dusky Wood." The wood is not only dusky, it's black. Tangled branches lie in wait. Dante hunches over and turns to look behind himself and out at the reader, his brow creased, his arms clutched to his chest in fear. Arthur's hand trembles as he flips through the rest of the book. His eyes scan the illustrations and fixate on words like evil, torture, and hell.

    Arthur sucks in his breath. Does Helene know? Is it possible? Perhaps she found one of those ridiculous notes Midge likes to slip into his briefcase at the end of the day. He knew it was a bad idea, taking on such a tempting young intern. Arthur looks up at Helene. She's rolling the stem of her glass between the fingers of her right hand, her chin propped lightly on the fingers of her left. She watches him with great interest. He's caught, then.  

    To my dearest one, indeed.


    I love this second inscription for its cheek. I found it in this book:
    A School History of England by Harmon B. Niver, published 1904
    It has many inscriptions:
     But these are my favorites:
    Mark Hirsh, 1909 / to Winston L. Churchill - Return in 2 weeks

    Thanks alot [sic] / Yours truly, / Winston L. Churchill / 1909
    I mean, really--is anyone going to believe that Sir Winston Churchill didn't know the difference between a lot and alot by the time he was 34?

    A for effort, though. This inscription makes me laugh every time I look at it. (And not just because Hyperbole and a Half's post about The Alot is my favorite post on the Internet. Which it is, by the way.) Thanks alot. Cheeky little buggers.


    Anonymous said...

    You should see the things people LEAVE in books. I'll have to take a picture of our wall of the things left behind in books. It's highly entertaining and could easily fill several blog posts!


    Lori Oster said...

    Oooh, do share! I feel a guest blog post coming on . . . :)

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