My father has trained us to inscribe every book we present him, and if we forget, he never hesitates to instruct us—insistently —to do so. As a result, I too am in the habit of writing a personal inscription in every book intended as a gift, one that I hope the recipient will keep, treasure, and re-read.
It saddens me when I find books left at the Book Shed (aka our town dump) with their flyleaves intimately inscribed by grandparents or (ex-) lovers. I myself would find it exceedingly hard to part with such a book. Perhaps this is part of the reason why inscriptions are becoming a lost art: our throwaway culture demands an unmarked commodity that can be discarded or resold more readily, without leaving a trace of its past.
Here are a few of the inscriptions in my books, books all the more beloved for them. Each one takes me back to a time and a place and reminds me of the giver, what it meant to him or her and what s/he hoped that it might mean to me.
In A. A. Milne’s When We Were Very Young, sent to Kharagpur, West Bengal, India from England (by sea mail via Suez, no doubt):
In Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women:
bearing the inscription:
Did I say that book inscriptions were becoming a lost art? Some of the most beautiful ones I’ve found today have been written by Nikhil and members of his generation. Theirs are inscribed in my heart and I am reluctant to wear them on my sleeve.