Dedicated to...: The Forgotten Friendships, Hidden Stories and Lost Loves found in Second-hand Books by W B Gooderham
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|Dedicated to...: The Forgotten Friendships, Hidden Stories and Lost Loves found in Second-hand Books by W B Gooderham|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: Photos of the things people write in books they give to people that then get given to second-hand and charity shops don't sound like the most edifying subjects, but this is a true book-lovers book. Pass it on…|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 192||Date: November 2013|
|Publisher: Bantam Press|
Sometimes it is just impossible to choose an opening paragraph with which to start a review – and here is one of those times; I humbly submit two.
I have found many strange and unusual things in second-hand bookshops. I have done one or two strange and unusual things in them as well, but that's a different story. Twice now I have managed to find a second-hand book, completely signed and dedicated by the author, yet discarded by the recipient, and have been able to present the author with the edition at hand and get it re-dedicated. (If I'm not mistaken, the discarders were a neighbouring babysitter, and a teacher of the author's children.) I'll admit that's rarefied, however, and on the whole the scribble you find in second-hand books is from the person who bought it, and gave it as a gift, not the person who wrote it. But even so, the dedication of the donor can be immensely fascinating and open to all kinds of interpretation, as these examples show perfectly clear.
Poetry should be made by all. Lautreamont said that, and the only reason I know that is that it was quoted on the cover of A Book of Surrealist Games, and one volume of that got defaced by someone, who gave a copy as a gift, having written in it For Ted, my period is 3 days late. X o. d. While that surely is the harshest, most gulp-inducing writing, many people, willingly or otherwise, manage to create a sense of found poetry in their fly-leaf messages, and this fascinating photobook shows us how.
I did slightly baulk at this when I first received it from the book reviewing gods, having not realised it was such a simplistic idea in full flesh. But the fullness of the flesh is the key, and this really is a nice volume. Our compiler, the unpronounceable W B Gooderham, has trawled through bookshops and found discarded volumes that have been inscribed by a donor, and the result is at times ridiculously emotional. Hetty gave her mum a copy of a Solzhenitsyn and a Sartre, and our author found them both when they turned up on the market, the messages from Hetty to her mum presumably ignored. I would have loved my parents to have bought me Bawdy Ballads, or to have been Sonia. But I can't for the life of me forgive the friends of Robert and Marie-Helene – two people who both put their hand to writing a dialogue announcing their engagement into a copy of Much Ado About Nothing. To see a book dedicated with love on the discard pile that is the second-hand market is just heart-breaking.
That's where the found poem idea comes in; the sense that these people contribute a meaning they didn't suspect when the book they wrote in gets passed on. I'm not sure where these books turned up – some clearly bear the same retailer's pencil marks, and a disproportionate amount seem to be of a gay bent – but the fact this charming volume exists to highlight the cultural phenomenon is something to make your day. Yes, a book-seller could have knocked this up – but it takes a true book lover to have realised it this well.
Having said that, he does hold his hands up regarding his interpretations of the handwriting in these books, and it has to be said he has made some real stinkers. Feel free to ignore the rest of this paragraph if you're not Mr Gooderham. Mr Gooderham, you have made some rampant howlers in your book, and you'll have to bear with me while I go off on one. Page 51 – The one thing you can always do for the person one has loved? Check again at those descenders, it clearly says 'you can NEVER do…'. Look up the word quatercentenary – it's the wrong word but it's what they've put. Page 144 – look at that rich handwriting again. It’s signed December 25th, not some fictional place, Wistport, Ju. I don't think that's Slutty – although I can't improve on that, but I can improve on Ireue – have you never met an Irene?
And yes, Mr Gooderham – and everyone else – the same person who dedicates a copy of Embedded Autonomy on page 132 is the same person who signs a message within a copy of The God of Small Things on page 162 – they're just definitely not called Stu. It's this randomness, the passing of messages to an unknown audience, that puts the vivid electric charge on to these pages. Plus of course the anger one feels at seeing someone write in a book in the first place.
However, this wouldn't exist if people didn't give meaningful books to meaningful people, and some of the time we can see a connection here, at other times just feel bewildered by the back-story. The great thing to report is that despite my quibbles (did you notice them earlier?) this is an incredibly rich book. It is one that makes you happy – delighting in the sheer romance of some of the messages and puzzled by some of the others, and yes, makes you angry at a poor interpretation. For something that feels so slight it carries some weight. It is, being about books and being about people's reactions to books, a book-lover's book. The best thing I can think of saying about it, what's more, is that it is the kind of book that one would be very keen to share with fellow minds – although possibly without having written in it first.
I must thank the publishers for my review copy.
The Library Book by Anita Anand, Julian Barnes, Bella Bathurst, Alan Bennett and others is of course of interest to those who prefer their books used.
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You can read more book reviews or buy Dedicated to...: The Forgotten Friendships, Hidden Stories and Lost Loves found in Second-hand Books by W B Gooderham at Amazon.com.
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