What condition my inscription is in

I buy a lot (read: far, far too many) of used books. It doesn’t take much to convince myself I’m supporting small local used bookstores (my favourite being KW Bookstore in Kitchener), so I rarely step out of one without at least one purchase. My favourite books to buy are older paperbacks printed in that magical era between the mid 1960s to the early 80s — especially anything with an orange Penguin spine. Something about the size, the paper stock, typesetting, cover and spine design, smell, and texture just speaks to me. The more creases in the spine, folded page corners, and scribbled notes throughout, the more I feel a connection with anyone who has thumbed through this copy over the past 50 years.

three wall-length shelves filled with paperback novels of assorted ages, wear, and sizes

While it’s nice to have books up on a shelf, I’ll admit I’m well overdue for sorting.

The real score, for me, is when the novel I’ve picked comes with a faded inscription pencilled-in on the first blank page. I don’t mean an autograph from the author, though I do also enjoy collecting those, but from the person who once gifted the book to someone in their life.

I recently started reading a copy of James Joyce’s “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” that I had bought years ago. Inside the front cover read the following in quick but legible ink:

Hope you enjoy this book as much as I did.
lots of love,

paperback open to the inside of the front cover with the quoted inscription written inside

Who is Tricia? Who is Amer? What is their relationship? Why did Amer enjoy this novel so much? Did Tricia find the same joy in it? How did her copy wind up at a used bookstore in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada?

Like any life-long reader, I’m fond of stories about people. As someone who attempts to write my thoughts and experiences in an engaging way, I’m also taken by the mysteries and stories that happen around us every day. A long-forgotten inscription inside the cover of a cheap 70’s paperback plays to all of these things in a big way. It connects me to the people who’ve cracked this book’s spine in the past and helps me imagine future folks who will see my inscriptions in gifted books to friends and family.

Paperback books are one of those few environmentally unfriendly pleasures that I cannot give up. I enjoy used books, thrift stores, antiques, vinyl records, and anything else that’s passed through generations of human hands for many of the same reasons — the visceral connection to humanity. Call me overly-romantic, but nothing else connects us to the personal stories within history quite like experiencing the same arrangement of atoms in physical space that however many other living, breathing humans have handled over the years.

Basically, what I’m saying is that I probably won’t be moving over to eBooks anytime soon.

My great grandfather, the enigmatic Monte “Skipper” Chase, had a habit of inscribing his books and signing the author’s name as though they were close friends. This tidbit of family history has long struck me as one of those amazing experiences that can only come from human beings. The combination of care, pride, ego, passion, and awareness of our own mortality is something that only comes from our strange, horrifying, beautiful species.

Maybe I’m reading way, way too far into this. Maybe not. Maybe I’m waiting for the day I crack the cover of a paperback in a used bookstore and see an inscription made out to Monte Chase. Or, maybe I’m trying way too hard to defend my unrepentant hipsterdom.

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