Oh, the places you'll go
Do you ever think about the journey books go on? I do. When I go into a second-hand bookshop. When I see someone reading a book in a cafe or on a train. When a friend lends me something to read because they enjoyed it so much, or I then pass it on to someone new. Think about life from a book's perspective for a second. Books can live longer than us, travel without passports, and spend endless hours with sets of eyes intently taking them in, sparkling with delight or shimmering with tears over what they see. Think of the hands the pass through. The connections they forge. The places they see. The significance they hold for countless individuals, all with stories to tell. The part of different stories that these stories themselves play a role in.
It is this romantic imagining of the journey a book can take that made me pick up one book in particular. It is called 'Dedicated to... the Forgotten Friendships, Hidden Stories and Lost Loves found in Second-hand Books.' The unique collection paints the most gorgeous portrait of the moments, relationships and emotions that make us humans. The author's introduction reads thus:
As a habitual reader of second-hand books, I came to notice that I was accidentally accruing a rather interesting sub-collection of books containing inscriptions. These messages ranged from the awkward scratchings of adolescent infatuation, to the resentful recriminations of a love affair gone sour - and all elicited a certain frisson at reading something private, often highly personal, and patently not intended for my eyes. I like to think these dedications offer tantalising glimpses into their host books' secret histories, imbuing the physical objects with an emotional resonance quite independent of - or intriguingly linked to - the actual texts. At their most basic level, all are records of human connections - or at least attempts at them - given added poignancy by the fact that all have been discovered amongst the shelves of second-hand book shops and, for whatever reason, are no longer in the hands of their original readers.
I leave you with a snippet of my favourites from the collection, and perhaps the curiosity to flick through the first few pages of the any title you pick up the next time you find yourself in a second-hand book shop...
"Since I cannot wrap up the sunshine here are the poems that always made it happen for me. Just like you do."
(The Sovereign Sun: Selected Poems - Odysseus Elytis)
"If this book should ever roam, box its ears and send it home."
(Worzel Gummidge - Barbara Euphan Todd)
"Dear Kim, I thought that visiting your friend might get you a bit down. Hope you enjoy this book, it is the most life affirming book with the most perfect ending."
(Cannery Row - John Steinbeck)
"For Rebecca - in case you have any ideas!"
(The Penguin Book of Infidelities - Stephen Brook)
"Dear John, when I was twelve or thirteen years old Grandma became increasingly alarmed at my philistine preoccupation with science and agriculture. I remember being whisked off to the bookshop in Bury, where on my behalf she selected 'Mister Johnson', my first 'adult' book. It was an inspired choice - it amused me, introduced me to the joys of literature and also to the notion of an overseas colonial service. The book thus had a profound influence on my life; without it you may not have been born thirty years ago. To it you probably owe your existence and it is high time you were introduced. I pass it to you in turn with much love. Dad."
(Mister Johnson - Joyce Cary)