Sunday, November 13, 2011

Of Book Inscriptions

Hermann Hesse's book "Klingsor's Last Summer" found its way onto my bookshelf from I know not where. On the front pages is this inscription:
                   "My dear R. Ralte,
                             This is for my beloved.
                                        Jerry Pautu
                                         Dt: 12/3/70
                    P.S. Oh, I know it's your birthday!!"

I find myself going back again and again to that inscription, imagining who R. Ralte and Jerry (I think. The signature is almost unintelligible) are- whether they got married and had kids, and then grandchildren. I fantasise about meeting their children, and then through them, giving them back this book which carried with it a fragment of their love and their youth.

My favourite book till date is Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird". It was first loaned to me by a classmate when I was in Class XI. It was the inscription on the book that first caught my attention. I still remember it.
                             Such a little name for such a person.
                                                                      Nongrim Hills"
"Those were my parents. They're still very sickeningly in love", my classmate told me. I was enchanted that her dad quoted those lines from "Little Women" that made me fall so in love with Prof. Bhaer. I harboured romantic illusions about how he would look like - academic looking, graying hair, wearing glasses, twinkling eyes etc- but when I finally met him, he turned out to be a small, pot bellied man with kwai-stained teeth. Still, even after I've forgotten my classmate's name, I still remember her parents' names and their being so "very sickeningly in love" because of that inscription.

Then there was that Stephen King Compilation I received from "Santa", with the words
                                                            "Merry Christmas, Kuku! Happy reading!
                                                                                    Santa Claus"
Santa's handwriting, by the way, is exactly like my mom's. My parents established a tradition that we would "dawh thla" until we got married, all five of us girls. Christmas mornings were, therefore, something that we always looked forward to. Amidst the pile of potatoes, ladles, nails, soaps and vegetables  that they threw in as a joke, my parents would include a small amount of money and one treasured item. Alas, we got married later than they expected, I suppose, because they have stopped that tradition about eight years ago.

This collection is one of the last gifts I received from "Santa". It was lost for a while, and then I saw it in some private library. I borrowed it, and then I never went back.

This year I received F. Scott Fitzgerald's "Tender is The Night" from an old friend. She had written
                                    Happy Birthday, Kukui
                                           To the awesomest girl in the whole wide universe".
A debatable claim, surely! But one which made me laugh out loud, and also made me feel super great. Thank you for saying that, my old friend. There is so much to be said about our friendship that I don't know where to start, and once I started, I would now know when or where to end. You'll always hold a special place in my heart.
And then there is Anne Rice's "Servant of the Bones", gifted to me by my boyfriend. We used to be pretty broke, then, and on gift-giving occasions like birthdays and anniversaries, we would have to save up for months at a time. This was before we both had jobs, and he didn't have his bike, and he lived so far away. So we had to pool whatever money we had to even pay for his daily bus fare to my place (we felt that we HAD to see each other everyday). On the occasions that we went out, we would sometimes visit friends' places for free lunches, heh. We never felt poor then, it was actually pretty fun to come up with ways to have fun without spending money. When he landed a part time job and he got his first paycheck, he rushed over to show me the money, and though his pay was meager at the time, we both felt really, really rich.
This book fair coincided with him receiving his pay, and there he bought me the book. And on the first page, he wrote
                                - Z"
Just that. Nothing more. And one day if ever the book lands up in someone's bookshelf, and they see that inscription, maybe they'll just flip through it, never knowing not caring the amount of optimism and hope contained in those two words.

And therein lies the romance of book inscriptions- for the stories they contain and which are almost as intriguing as the stories in the books themselves.


aduhi said...

This is sooo romantic, especially the first one, the one dated 1970. Seems like something straight out of a chick flick.

I buy my own books, and write super silly stuff inside the covers. I would even throw in a doodle here and there. In one book I wrote how I came to buy it, what I did before I bought it and other nonsense. In another book, which involved a woman returning to her old life and looking up her old friends and her old love, there were a lot of songs. So naturally I wrote all the song titles and names of the artists on the inside cover. Gave the book away to my landlady when I moved.

I used to frequent the secondhand book market almost every Sunday, and thus have quite a good number of old books. What I find interesting, though, is the names and addresses that are sometimes written or stamped on the books. Who was this person who owned this book? What did he or she do etc etc. Sometimes I would find the bill between the pages. And old library books are simply fascinating. Oh my I have rambled on, haven't I?

baruk said...

grin. can *so relate. i've been buying old postcards from second-hand book stores. the ones that have writing on them are the awesomest!

Sanga Says said...

Awesome. I buy a lot of second hand books and i love it when some lines and passages are underlined by the former reader/owner. I remember i bought Far From The Madding Crowd for Rs. 30 (i already had the book but it was Rs. 30 and it is one of my favs.) On one page, Bathsheba's name was circled and the words 'Stupid Girl' was inscribed next to it. I don't agree but i thought wow, someone has issues:-)

Calliopia said...

I don't normally pay much attention to inscriptions or annotations but you're right, they do add interest and charm to the books. Sanga's reference made me laugh too. Bathsheba - stupid girl lol, good one :D

ku2 said...

@Aduhi: Keep the ramblers coming! I can't write while I read, so I fold in the pages where theres a line or a passage that strikes me. And then I keep on coming back to those over and over again. I wish that Aizawl would have secondhand book markets, too. With old books, I imagine the previous owners flipping thru the same pages, wondering how they reacted, whether they loved the book..

@Baruk: Love that glimpse into someone else's life. What I wouldn't do to get my hands on someone's old love letter :D

@sanga: The previous owner of a novel I once read underlined some words and then wrote their meanings in Mizo (tremulous- derthawng, anticipation- nghakhlel takin) and it was really distracting. Bathsheba, haha,well, she really was exasperating!

@Calliopia: They doooo!! And Im still coming over one of these days to raid your library

Calliopia said...

Any time. I haven't actually finished Neti Neti yet but it makes for a great read. But you still have to read Lunatic in my Head first because this one throws back to that one occasionally.
Oh and I actually came back here to ask you all - doesn't Bathsheba remind you of Scarlett O'Hara? (^o^)

aduhi said...

Ahhh the underlines, the scribbles on the margins, how could I miss that out? I believe these make a book alive. I bought a second hand Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres, and the previous owner had written all over the pages, analysing the characters and what not. I really loved that!

I am one of the underliners. A phrase, a word, a sentence, if it strikes me as funny or memorable I underline it. And immediately forget about it until I open the book again. I know, it's hard to shake off these habits you acquire in school.

Bathseba and Scarlett O'Hara? I don't think so. Bathseba was more of a victim (her only vice being bathing on the terrace) and Scarlett was clearly a predator.

Sanga Says said...

More than Scarlet O'Hara,i think Jenny from Forest Gump. In fact i feel the entire movie is a take on Far from the Madding Crowd. Forest as Gabriel Oak, forever after Jenny/bathsheba and all the events that happen 'accidently' and the greatness achieved not by virtue of talent or ability but fate....and a good heart.

ku2 said...

@Calliopia: Bathsheba and Scarlett-in a way, yes. But I have a soft spot for Scarlett because (silliness alert!)Linda Goodman wrote that Scarlett represented the tru Arian woman, of which I am one- the stubbornness, the impetuosity, the lack of subtlety etc :D So while I prefer to call Scarlett "childlike", I think Bathsheba might have been indeed, a "stupid girl" :D

@Aduhi: Thomas Hardy's "Far from the Madding Crowd"s Bathsheba zawk mawle. Mahse your reference to the Biblical Bathsheba reminds me of those Bible comics, one which pictured Bathsheba bathing on the roof, and King David seeing her and thinking "EHEU!" :D And from his lips she drew the "Halelujahhh"

Anonymous said...

'King David seeing her and thinking "EHEU!"' lol
I have a lot of second hand books. In fact, 90% of the books I have are second hand, having stayed for 4 years in second-hand books heaven where I usually came home with not less than 5-6 books every weekend. But I don't remember any of the books having anything memorable or otherwise written on them by the previous owners. Maybe the ones with personal notes were retained by the owners. Or maybe its an Indian thing because I remember an Indian name in a Jhumpa Lahiri that I bought.

Alejendro said...

R. Ralte & Jerry Paul??? They are my grandparents!!! Han ti mai ila.. :-P

Leikhabu hi e ka lei ve a, ka chhiar hman ngang tawh lo a ni e. "To Kill A Mocking Bird" phei hi chu ka chhiar zo theih thlawtlo..

Alejendro said...

Jerry Pautu ka tihna :-P

Alejendro said...

... and for me.. a guy who want everything tidy never write anything inside the book except my name and e-mail ID :-) and you wouldn't even find a single flip on the edge.. :-D

daniel said...

I once bought a second hand guitar and I sometimes still wonder who the previous ownwer could be, whether he was a good player or still struggling with the D key like me. The only reading I do is newspapers and Goverment orders and official correspondences, and there is absolutely nothing humorous or romantic about them.

Mos-a said...

He quote hi i hmu tawh maithei a mahse kan post ve leh mai mai ange:

"The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - that you'd thought special, particular to you.

And here it is, set down by someone else, a person you've never met, maybe even someone long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours."

Back home in my parents' library there is this ooooold Bible printed in England back in the early 20s and inside it were scribblings next to Bible verses by some long forgotten reverend who perhaps was trying to come up with his Sunday morning sermon for his flock of sinful sheep.

At the other end of the spectrum I also need to mention that one time when I was around 12 and I'd borrowed a Hardy Boys book and inside it some helpful chap had penned down paragraphs of explicit erotica in pencil. I then was too young to understand what it was all about but i remember my father taking out an eraser and erasing those vile and sinful lines describing sexual lust.

That girl who gifted you Tender Is the Night sounds like she might have a teeny weeny lesbian crush on you, not that ther's anything wrong with that :D

Jerusha said...

Goosebumps! The little woman quote! OMG why oh why do I never meet men that write me things like that! Something like that is a way better than a thousand 'My darlings' and chocolate boxes.

And To Kill a Mockingbird is definitely one of my most favoritest books of all time too! Have you seen the movie? With Gregory Peck. That was the best book-movie ever made. I know the movie versions never live up to the book (eg. I saw The Help recently..ugh) but I felt To kill a mockingbird was almost as good as the book. Or maybe I'm biased in my judgement because I just love the book too much.

I love reading inscriptions on old books. I can browse for hours on second hand book stores just flipping through the first few pages looking for a good one. I think one day I will open a little second hand book store back there in Mizoram. And will suffer loses because I will never be able to part with any of the books that I sell :)

ku2 said...

@sanga: your comments keep coming in as spam! Forrest Gump, don't get me started!Loveeeed the movie.

@Roulngulworld:I envy you. I recently wangled my bf into gifting me some secondhand books at a recent book fair and also overshot my budget. no regrets!

@Alej: chhiar mai teh!

@daniel: i love your comment- the whole musical connection thing. Vh1 and uh, that cricket guy, whatsisname, ih, they collaborated on a project that gives secondhand musical instruments to poor, musically inclined kids. Dont know why i mentioned that :D just that i like the whole concept of the old reaching out to the new, i spose.

@amos: you started off really, really well,(love the quote) and then...downhill with that crush comment. I am awesome,period, regardless of whether its in the romantic or non-romantic sense. Note that :p

@jerusha: now if only these men know that with just a few quotes they could reduce us to becoming a happy little woman.. :D havent gotten round to watching the mockingbird movie; after that recommendation i definitely will! and open that shop!

lr hlonchhing said...

Very romantic, espicially the first picture.