Feb. 12, 2023: Book Inscriptions
Book lovers and reading enthusiasts adore having a book autographed by the author. If we got to meet the author when they signed the book, all the better. But those are not the only valuable book inscriptions.
Many people write inscriptions in a book they may be giving to someone as a gift. In some circles however, this may be seen as a negative. For example, the book becomes impossible to return or exchange, and according to some websites devoted to book collecting, “inscriptions generally devalue a book unless they are pertinent to its history”.
Isn’t every inscription pertinent to the history of the book?
I recently began to think about this when I had a student ask about a book in my classroom library. They had opened a copy of E. B. White’s The Trumpet of the Swan, and found the inscription that my parents had written in the book in 1987 when they had given it to my daughter on the occasion of her Kindergarten graduation. The note made mention of this being the first of many graduations. And it was. She went on to graduate from elementary school, middle school, high school, college and even law school. I shared that this was originally my daughter’s copy of the book when she was younger, given to her by my parents. The student stared at the words, then gently closed the cover and said, “I am going to read it now, and I promise to be careful with it.”
The inscription had helped the student to understand how books connect us.
In my family, it is expected that you pen some sort of message inside a book you are giving as a gift. At almost every Baby Shower I attend, I give a copy of Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses poetry book. I share my own memories of reading that book as a child with my grandmother, of reading a copy with my own daughter, and then my grandchildren. My wish is that the book continue to build relationships among those reading this book with their own child.
Messages written in books show the connection between book giver and book recipient. Inscriptions also usually have a date, which puts the relationship into context.
I remember when my grandfather passed away and my dad was dealing with his library of books. The first thing he did was collect any books with inscriptions, and offer the books to the book-giver. I gratefully accepted the ones that I had given to my grandfather over the years, and they now are part of my own home library. They are a peek into our relationship, and the topics, ideas, and interests we shared. A copy of an art book of Norman Rockwell’s paintings, a biography of John F Kennedy, a travel book about Key West.
Yes, all inscriptions are pertinent to the history of a book.