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From Me, to You, to Someone Else: The Secret Life of Second Hand Books

October 13, 2011
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Second hand book stores are a veritable treasure trove for literature lovers and, in these financially difficult times, come as a saviour when the price tag of a shiny new book hits the pocket with a little too much force for many of our likings. Amongst the cavalcade of recycled and recovered stories tons of hidden gems are waiting to be discovered, surprises that you may never have even considered reading (or in fact never even knew existed) before, or that elusive novel you’ve been trying to track down for ages. Yet it’s not just the printed words that tell a tale; many passed-on books reveal entirely separate stories in the form of handwritten notes and dedications, creating a chain of previous owners and gift-givers, and imbuing the book with its own profound personal history.

Opening a book to discover it comes with a surprise scribbling might be an unexpected novelty for most of us but it became a regular occurrence for Wayne Gooderham, freelance writer and frequenter of second hand stores, so much so that he set up a blog dedicated to, well, dedications within books that have been cast-off. While reading through the collated written notes is certainly very entertaining, each of them is also enlightening in their own way. Wayne’s own fascination with finding annotations and asides has much to do with the extra layer of emotion that a personal dedication adds to a singular book. Each note, no matter how laconic or lengthy, humorous or heartfelt, is a visible thumbprint, a mark showing that the book has belonged not just physically, but emotionally to another person. More often than not, they also indicate that a book has been purchased and passed along for a specific purpose – and whether the reasons were well received or lessons learnt, we can but speculate (perhaps it’s not a good sign given that they have been given away by their dedicees).

There does seem to be something inherently sentimental about dedications, in any form but especially when it comes to books, the purchase of which is a decision loaded with many different factors (maybe that’s why the search for a book containing a special message is a plot device in at least two rom-com films I have seen in the past…). Amongst those on the Book Dedications blog there are certainly some which tug at the heart-strings, perhaps the best example not drenched in overt sentimentality but one containing clear emotion from a father to a son, who credits the book in question with being responsible for the son’s existence – a gift in more ways than one. Of course, there are plenty of far more frivolous instances too – including one which involves ‘naughty young ladies’ and ‘woolly bloomers’ (best to leave that one there) – and a straightforward but simply great ‘present, from me to me’ – which is often the best kind. Whatever they denote,  all demonstrate an indelible record of something vital that for us, all books contain – a connection between people. Whether the connection has been broken due to the relinquishing of the book, or whether the book has strengthened the bond between two people and it has been passed on in hope of doing the same for someone else, the various dedications are testament to the importance of literature in our lives. And reveal the multiple lives literature possesses…

Wayne has another literary blog, Three Score and Ten, which we have previously featured.

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