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.