I feel like Andy Rooney this morning.
Not dead. Just a bit cranky.
One of the sybaritic joys of visiting Oregon is to sit in the hot tub during frosty mornings reading The Sunday Oregonian on my Kindle while eating leftover Chinese. At my age, my pleasures are simple.
But newspapers have their own special way of flying joys right into the ground. And it happened this morning.
The headline was simple enough. “Spare the scribbles and leave those pages pristine.” The topic was books. Writing in books.
We have heard that drill before. No dog ears. No notes on pages. No highlighting. Anyone who has ever bought a used textbook knows the danger of annotations. The prior owner always seems to be aiming high for a C. All the wrong sentences tend to be highlighted.
But the Christmas advice we get from Douglas Yocom is a bit more prissy. He is not writing about mutilating books. Instead, he warns us against those little gift greetings written on a book’s endpaper.
Let me give you a taste.
”Unless you authored the books, don't ruin them by writing pithy little messages such as ‘To my lovely grandson, with all my ....’
“Chances are, the books will pass through the grandson's hands. The next owner -- if anyone else will accept the book -- won't want the personal message.
“Give a volume to friends on their wedding, anniversary or birthday. Fine. But write any inscription on an accompanying card, not on an endpaper or on the half-title page.”
There it is. Writing in a book that it is passed along to someone with love, ruins the entire book.
Well, Mr. Yocom, I happen to believe that relationships and the joy of books is more important than the future value of a book. And I have a bit of experience that tells me he is simply wrong.
One of my favorite books is Amigo: Circus Horse. “The adventures of a circus boy and his horse.” OK. It is a piece of fluff. But for a 6-year old boy, it was a fascinating tale about circuses. And a boy-horse friendship. I even learned an appropriate ceremony for burying a dead parakeet.
But the story is not why I keep this book on my shelf 56 years after I received it. It was a Christmas gift in 1955.
I know that only by the inscription on the endpaper. “Christmas 1955. To Stevie. With love. From Karen.”
Karen was my half-sister who died in childbirth in 1972. The book is my only physical contact with her. She knew how much I loved books. Nothing could have shown her love better than that book -- or its inscription.
If Karen had followed Mr. Yocom’s advice about a note card, I would long ago have lost it. And probably have forgotten how the book happened to be resting on my shelf.
Now and then I buy a used book that has similar gift inscriptions written on the endpaper. They always make me wonder who the people are behind the names -- and if they had a similar relationship like Karen’s and mine.
To be fair to Mr. Yokom, he is a seller of antiquarian books. The buyers of his wares may have little concern about who owned a book before it came to them. And that is a bit sad. Believing that a stack of bound paper has more value than the people associated with it.
Well, Mr. Yokom, I think you are dead wrong. I encourage people to buy books as gifts to be fully inscribed with sentiments as rank as can be. Because that is the spirit of Christmas. Our expressed love for one another.
Rant done. And I feel a lot better.
I'm afraid that Mr. Yokom has no soul (I don't mean the biblical kind of soul - I mean the emotional warmth kind.) Half the fun of used books is finding interesting inscriptions.
That's not a rant. If it is, it's a good one. I've never considered writings in books bad or boring.A pristine book doesn't show much character.
I'm on your side.
I'm on your side.
He did sound a bit like a spoilsport in that column. I keep thinking I know him, though.
I always enjoy reading other people's comments -- as much as I enjoy reading them here.
And I am most pleased.
I agree with you 100%. I have a number of books that were given to me over the years, and I am in much the same situation. Some were gifts to my father when he was young, and these links to relatives I never knew mean a lot to me. I may not have kept the books were if not for the loving inscriptions.
I also have found inscriptions by unknown persons in used books to be intriguing and sometimes very heartwarming. Also valuable. I once found an obscure book that was inscribed by its first owner, and by doing a little research I discovered that that individual was linked in a very interesting way to the story, increasing both the value of the copy and my interest in the content.
I wouldn't inscribe or write a name inside a rare or old book, but there is no good reason not to inscribe others.
I learned a life-changing lesson fifteen years ago--people are more important than things.
I like books with their own history.
I think value is in the eye of the beholder, to paraphrase. I have a few books in my library with inscriptions. The inscriptions make the books very valuable to me.
Hayek could not have better summarized the purpose of the free market.
I was going to get you a Kindle Book (or pot holder) for Christmas. Since I can’t inscribe the cover it won’t have any heart or soul, so I won’t bother Brother.
Loved the rant. Well founded and very much appreciated.
Interesting point about the Kindle by Darrell. It seems they would do well to design an inscription page to be use by gift givers.
I used to never sign greeting cards so they might be 'regifted' - in a manner of conservation of paper resources OMG! I have never been bothered by books with inscriptions to another. I have cut a few from some that were directed to me - I will leave that there. ;-)
I used to haunt the nooks and crannies at Cameron's Books and the most delightful finds usually included an inscription. The inscriptions make you think about where the book has been and the people who have loved it and read it.
Mr. Yocom might recommend a tasteful email to accompany it.
And I am still looking at that Fire.
Thank you very much. Age improves rantability, in my experience.
Sentimentality tends to be one of my non-libertarian characteristics. I suspect the Objectivists would stone me.
I understand exactly.
I'm with you and most of your readers. I find such inscriptions in used books to be kind of charming. And depending on who has written the inscription, it can actually make the book more valuable.
Where we think provenance adds texture to the history of a used book.
I tend to agree with you, Steve. However, I lived a long time ago in a small town that had a large used bookstore. I purchased a book that had a long and endearing inscription between 2 friends that I knew well. I was embarrassed that the recipient ditched it. But not enough to not buy it.
Thanks for your insight Steve
I bookmarked this page for future reference.
i soooo agree with you. i buy used books all the time, or rather, i did when we were back home. the inscriptions always seemed full of love and bring memories of giving books to my own kids. i still have the books they got from teachers over the years as gifts.
Texture. Good word.
Thanks, John. See you soon.
I wish I had more.
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