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Thursday, January 5, 2006

Chapter Seventy-Nine, in which Inscriptions are examined

The more respectable cousin to marginalia is the inscription. An inscription from Aunt Henrietta on a rare book might decrease its value, while an inscription by Scott Fitzgerald might make a dreadful romance worth quite a lot. And who can resist the beautiful script of a nineteenth-century book fancier? Sometimes they can be to-the-point, and other times cryptic. Rob likes to invent a history behind inscriptions he discovers.

In the bold and provocative Chapter Sixty-Seven, we read how books make great gifts. We can share a story that touched our heart, we can give inspiration with words that led us through our bleakest hour, we can introduce an old friend to a new one--"Doug, I'd like you to meet Diggory Venn." But we don't just wrap it up and say, "Happy Fill-In-The-Occasion." We make sure we add our own words to the mix.

An inscription is another necessary act of devotion. Written from the heart, an inscription in a book makes the gift ever more personal, and marks in time both the event, sometimes the place, and certainly the relationship between giver and recipient. Even better when written with a quill in Italian ink. This is as close as one can come to giving a work of art that one has created oneself, without having to engage the tantalizingly fickle Muse. The book is no longer just another item on a wish list among toasters and coasters, nighties and knick-knacks. No one inscribes a pair of socks, "Jen, here's to keeping our tootsies warm this winter. Bev"

Do you, Dear Reader, write inscriptions in your gift books? Do you expect them? If not, why?


  1. You know, that's a tough question for me. I've always been someone that shied away from marking books in any way. I don't like notes, or creased pages, or broken spines, but an inscription is a little different. If it was a personal message from a friend, I'd probably appreciate it. I don't tend to write inscriptions in books myself, but that might just be my natural OCD about keeping books in "good" shape.

  2. Found you via Julie at Bookworm...

    I only like inscriptions if: 1) the book is meaningful in some way (ie, my mother in law gave me her 1947 copy of Little Women; didn't mind the inscription there) or 2)I'm sure I'm not going to return the book. I hate it if someone writes in a book, and I don't like that particular book. Then, I'm stuck with it.

    If you had to ask my preference, then, I'd say don't write in the books. Let me do that.

  3. In general I do not write inscriptions unless I give a book for a special occasion (other than birthday or holiday). However, when I buy used books it is always interesting if there is an inscription. It makes me wonder why Mary thought Jane would like this particular books so much and why Jane didn't keep it.

  4. Do you know that part in "84 Charing Cross Road" where the bookseller only puts his inscriptions on loose pieces of paper inside the front cover? That is what I do. I am petrified that some book I give a loved one for their birthday will turn out to be rare and valuable except that my goofy ink inscription makes it worthless. I doubt my handwritten mis-spellings and poor grammar will ever increase the value of a book; on the other hand, I certainly don't mind owning inscribed books. Interesting question.

  5. Ella, I think that is a fine solution.

  6. I love when people inscribe the books they give to me. My grandma always did. That's how I know that this year is the 30th anniversary of my first reading of Little Women.

    However, I almost never inscribe books for other people, because that means they can't exchange them.