Lessons Learned by Reading Book Inscriptions

In Theodore Dalrymple’s essay “Eternal Youth, Eternal Kitsch,” we learn of the dangers of inscribing a book to just about anyone. Of course, the reason a book has been discarded and subsequently found in a second-hand shop isn’t necessarily singular, so you might dedicate a copy of Love Everlasting to “My Dearest Wife without whom I could not live” and find that you no longer have the space for it in your library (or that the story was pretty awful) and, despite the love note, discard it. I find the book in a second-hand shop, I am not forced to conclude that your love did not last. But there are other lessons. (via Anecdotal Evidence)

One of the lessons it teaches is that one should never inscribe a book intended as a gift with a poem of one’s own, for it is sure to be bad and probably pretentious, ridiculous in the eyes of anyone other than the person one wishes to impress with it. Bad poetry fulfils a social function, of course, for reading bad poetry is an easy way to learn to appreciate good poetry; but still the rule holds that if you feel a compulsion to inscribe a gift with poetry, it is best to quote someone else’s.

2 thoughts on “Lessons Learned by Reading Book Inscriptions”

  1. As a pastor, whenever I find a good deal on a nice hardcover or padded cover devotional, I buy a dozen or two to use as Confirmation and Graduation gifts for the children of my members. I always inscribe the front with the recipient’s name. I then stick a Ten or a Twenty (if I’m feeling really flush) between the pages about a quarter of the way into the book. That way the student will be doubly rewarded if they make use of the devotional book, first through the daily reading of Scripture. Second, by finding a little extra cash a month or two into the process. In the past ten years I’ve never had a student mention the cash in their thank you note that their parents make them write. But I’m guessing that some thrift store reader somewhere has been blessed.

  2. One of my favorite books is an otherwise forgettable volume of juvenile military history (entitled: Our Four Great Wars). What makes it special to me is that it was inscribed to a young man on my birthday, but in 1899, exactly 70 years before my birth.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.