“Dear Cecil, I hope you enjoy your 1st term at school. This book got me through my first term at Prep and I am sure you will love them too. Love always Uncle Charles”
That was written in an old 1952 copy of PG Wodehouse I picked up on EBay a few months ago. I used to react when I saw inscriptions in books with a desperate sigh “oh no, that’s spoiled the book”. The more I thought about this over the years, the more I have taken the opposite view now.
I am now a collector of these ‘inscriptions’ or at least I am as still as keen to buy a book regardless. You do know what I am referring to? You must have seen them or received one yourself. Most inscriptions usually are written on the top left-hand corner of an inside cover. I always imagine that the ink knows it should not be there and is just hiding in the cover asking to be ignored.
The handwriting is almost always in a beautiful cursive hand, as most who wrote, wrote joined up. In a time before technology made us all children again. I am one for a story so I often try and imagine the life of the reader after the dedication was read for the firs time. Did Cecil get through first term ok? Did he love PG Wodehouse and become a life long fan as I have done? They are a handwitten story within the story or a story before the story more accurately I suppose.
Several of my books with inscriptions in them were written just before WW1 and from a parent to their son. It does not take much for me to be moved to tears. Did he make it through the war? did this book find its way back to the UK with the owner?
The second hand books I now seek have a life and an energy not possible with a brand new book, and I am desperate to become a part of it for a moment or two. They are a timeless connection between me and a reader long since here. We lived vastly different lives but were at least for a few hours or days united by the same book. They held it, read it to themselves under the midnight oil, perhaps they too fell asleep reading it just as I had.
I need to log off the screen and go to bed but before I do let me finish with a request. Next time you purchase a book for a loved one or a friend, write a dedication it. By writing in it you will be giving a gift for the intended recipient and an eternal gift for those maybe not even born yet.