things found written upon books
May 14, 2007 9:35 AM   Subscribe

We've discussed odd bookmarks, but what about the humble inscription? Start with two lovely efforts to collect inscriptions, including the Book Inscription Project and Inscripticateded Dedicated to the One I Love, which tracks inscriptions found at used book stores. Read up on the history of inscriptions at the Library of Scotland's wonderful Private Life of Books, and discover how inscriptions change the value of books. And pity the poor author, who often has to come up with interesting inscriptions for book tours. Have you seen or written any good inscriptions?
posted by blahblahblah (22 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Another great post from Metafilter's most consistently outstanding poster, blahblahblah.

My mother taught me to love books. As a child, I was taught to never beg for a toy or a sweet, but if I ever wanted a book, I could have any and all that I wanted. So I had an amazing collection growing up. My mother inscribed every book she gave to me (and anyone else to whom she gave a book). That practiced carried over to me. I always inscribe every book I give (unless it is a collector's piece). Sure, it probably ruins the value of the book, but I don't ever give a book with the idea that it will be sold. It's a gift to the person. Some of the links treat inscription as something done by the author only, but viva la inscription by the giver!
posted by dios at 10:06 AM on May 14, 2007

Great post, thanks. My father gave me a Complete Works of Shakespeare and signed it 'Yours mathematically,' which remains a valued snip of his wry sense of humour.
posted by peacay at 10:15 AM on May 14, 2007

Some things that happen in books should stay in books.
posted by washburn at 10:20 AM on May 14, 2007

The Darth Vader inscription is pure gold. Great stuff, blah.
posted by wemayfreeze at 10:28 AM on May 14, 2007

My friend got a pretty funny inscription in copy of "Naked" by David Sedaris at a reading. It reads:

Dear Glen,
So glad to finally meet you.
David Sedaris
posted by puddsharp at 11:11 AM on May 14, 2007

You're right dios, blahblahblah, does create really interesting posts. This one too.

What a cool site!

Love those images of books with writing and inscriptions in them. Always enjoyed people's notations, thoughts and writing of any kind in a book, as part of the book's meaning to somebody, both the giver and the reader. Like bookmarks, I find the writing in books evocative, part of the treasure of the book itself. And it's neat knowing where these books-and-their-inscriptions were found, "Found in the O Street Mansion, DC. March 2007" on the street or wherever.

Sad somehow: "“Happy Father’s Day 1995
You’ve always been
like a father to me,
and I love you for it.

A 1995 copy of LIFE With Father.

Found at the Stone Ridge School book sale in Bethesda, MD. April 2005"
posted by nickyskye at 11:18 AM on May 14, 2007

Really nice links! I have to get this deadline monkey off my back before I can really explore them, damn... just wanted to say thanks for now.
posted by madamjujujive at 11:57 AM on May 14, 2007

"Keep on Truckin'! Love, Jesus".

Dude, I always knew Jesus and R. Crumb were simpatico.
posted by mckenney at 12:01 PM on May 14, 2007

My mother inscribed every book she gave to me (and anyone else to whom she gave a book). That practiced carried over to me.

Me too. It's a good practice. These links are surprisingly poignant, and make me want to give books to people and write nice inscriptions in them. It usually makes me feel sad to see a small window into the past.
posted by lostburner at 12:32 PM on May 14, 2007

Great post.

One thing I always do is write my name, the date, and the place where I bought it in every book I buy. Not an inscription per se, but I recommend it because taking old books off the shelf brings back old times and places too.

Best inscription I ever got: "Raise more hell!" in my copy of Molly Ivins Can't Say That, Can She? It was at a regular book signing, of course, but she looked like she meant it.
posted by sy at 1:08 PM on May 14, 2007

Evelyn Waugh was a brilliant inscriber of his own books. My favourite example is the copy of his war novel, Men at Arms, that he sent to Cyril Connolly. (Unlike Waugh, Connolly had not served in the Army, and his sole contribution to the war effort had been as a fire-fighter in London during the Blitz.) The inscription read: 'To Cyril, who kept the home fires burning.'

See also:

Reading a Book's Life Story Through Readers' Marks in Books
Towards a History of the Manicule (on instances of fingerposts)
John Adams's Forty Most Heavily Annotated Books
Marginalia and Other Crimes (previously, and further)
posted by verstegan at 2:34 PM on May 14, 2007 [2 favorites]

Nice post! My most annoying inscription-related experience involves my oldest book, a battered, rebound copy of De rebus gestis Alexandri Magni regis Macedonum. Liber tertius by Quintus Curtius Rufus (Philippus Giunta, Florentia, 1507). The last page has an illegible owner's signature and the date 1539. Whatever jerk rebound it at some point cut the pages so drastically that the annotations in the margins, in lovely Renaissance script, are chopped in half. Abi in malam rem!

Me, I put my name and the month and year on the flyleaf, adding the place if significant ("June 1988, Athens"). And I write my own annotations in pencil, so a future owner can erase them as desired. (I refuse to buy books with notes in pen or—far worse—magic marker.)
posted by languagehat at 3:43 PM on May 14, 2007

For more on the subject of inscriptions and marginalia, I recommend the book Marginalia: Readers Writing in Books by H.J. Jackson.

According to Jackson, Boswell's Life of Johnson is the the most marked on book of all time and the poet, Coleridge, was famous in his time for elevating marginalia to an art form (many people desired books marked by him). Her descriptions of marginalia by T.H. White were especially poignant.

Ever since reading this book, I ask at used book stores for marked-up books -- so far to no avail. Also, I want to have my books printed and bound on demand to my specifications with wide page margins (just like the old days). Also, I have many stalled projects of creating books with inscriptions and marginal notes as gifts for friends (more difficult if you can't get books printed to spec).
posted by rw at 3:44 PM on May 14, 2007

Previous thread on marginalia (with bizarrely emphatic remarks by Faze leading to much discussion).
posted by languagehat at 3:46 PM on May 14, 2007

Nice post. I particularly love picking up second-hand books with inscriptions from partners (of the time), especially if they are dated long enough ago that I can imagine either or both of the erstwhile couple either married with kids, or dead.

I am reminded also of this: she: "What? You haven't read any [author]? Here, take this...oh, hang on..." *scribbles out dedication*
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:33 PM on May 14, 2007

My favorite inscription is "To my Dream Wife! Happy Birthday!", written in a used copy of Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany.

The book was a gift from this nice guy I was working with at a dig in Arkansas, given to me at my birthday dinner five days after we first met. It was a reference to a dream one of our co-workers had the night before.

It's my favorite because we really did end up married! ;)
posted by gemmy at 6:01 PM on May 14, 2007

Thanks for the compliments, and the great links. I meant to also include this list of expensive signed books online from AbeBooks, which you can compare with the most expensive books of 2006. I treasure my signed copy of The Power of Light by Isaac Bashevis Singer, though I also have a copy of Mr T Comic #1, signed "I pity the Fool - Mr. T," so there's that.
posted by blahblahblah at 6:33 PM on May 14, 2007

Apropos to the discussion - Billy Collin's poem Marginalia.
posted by zamboni at 1:27 AM on May 15, 2007

It's called the National Library of Scotland.
posted by Lezzles at 7:17 AM on May 15, 2007

Best head-scratcher in my collection is a Ross McDonald private eye novel with careful penciled annotations through the first half of the book... "Dec. 17", "Dec. 18", Dec. 20"... and so on through to February, each a few paragraphs apart. And then they peter out. I was rooting for the guy to make it.

"Ex Libris Memphis Book-Lending Society"
"Property of the U.S.S. Forrestal"
"With 'Love'" (heh.)
The infuriating "To a lovely fan, [illegible]" (on a 1920's Tarzan novel)
"With a tip of the deerstalker, August Derleth"
posted by ormondsacker at 8:18 AM on May 15, 2007

I have an old Penguin paperback of Kornbluth and Pohl's Wolfbane where someone has kissed the inside back cover while wearing (now very faded) lipstick.

I think I've mentioned this before, but I also have a copy of Madame Bovary with every reference to footwear underlined. Pity the poor thesis advisor on that one...
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 8:25 AM on May 15, 2007

Wonderful post. Most of the inscribed books I have are from author signings I attended or those which were inscribed by the person who gave them to me, but I have a couple I found in used book shops. It seems like I get a little extra gift if I find a book at the second-hand store with an old inscription in it. Makes it feel as if I've found a once-loved, but now homeless, book and am giving it a new home.
posted by aine42 at 4:07 PM on May 15, 2007

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