A delightful collection of rescued love notes and heartfelt confessions
Those who love the printed word, and the feel of reading a physical book rather than staring at the glare of an electronic screen, will find much to adore in W. B. Gooderham’s Dedicated To…:The Forgotten Friendships, Hidden Stories and Lost Loves found in Second-hand Books – a charming collection of carefully selected inscriptions and notes found in a variety of second-hand books.
For bibliophiles, the act of scrolling can never truly replace the motion of turning a page, nor the manner of claiming a book as your own (case in point: you cannot dog-ear a kindle or crease its spine!). What’s more, you cannot scribble, doodle, mark or tag any of those electronic books you have stored away and, as Dedicated To… shows, that is a true shame. Some readers out there may scream ‘vandalism!’, but others, such as Gooderham, the author/collector of this work, see such personal additions to books as enhancing the reading experience. Particularly for the recipient of these evocatively thought-out, meaningful messages, the book transforms into something of mutually shared significance – the private intimacy of reading becomes a shared intimacy.
Considering the recent announcements regarding the creation of ebook social media apps (allowing readers to share, discuss and ‘like’ others reading habits), the idea of exhibiting these private and secretive messages in such a way now seems rather pertinent. From the deeply romantic, to the oddly antagonistic, each of the notes offers a glimpse to readers of the lives shared through books, and the meanings held in the words we read. One heartfelt example appears in a copy of John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, where the addressee is told:
‘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.’
Dedicated To… has many such reflections and candid announcements, presenting books as gifts given by doting friends and family, as well as objects given to prove a point (as shown oh so eloquently by an inscription in another book that reads, simply: ‘Go Shoot yourself’). Gooderham does not need to tell a story here, he is not an author, but the annotations collected reveal myriad stories on their own, brief and vague enough to allow our imaginations to roam free.
Delightfully presented, this collection unearths and preserves these precious annotations, which could have been easily lost, abandoned in the depths of a used book shop book bin. The collection itself is slight, but attractively composed; each example receives a two-page spread featuring a photograph of the scrawled upon pages, and typewritten captions of the notes that are too hard to decipher without a bit of help.
There is enough here, as Gooderham says in his introduction, to satisfy our ‘bibliophilic kink’, but it would perhaps have been a more fulfilling read if this had been a vaster collection, or even more commentary provided for the quotations chosen. The concept behind it has such potential to become a superb coffee table book, but like the notes it contains, this slim edition may be overlooked. Understandably, the point is to look at the messages just as they are and to perceive how such cherished possessions could have become so misplaced, winding up far away from home.
As it is, Dedicated To… works suitably well as a gift. Gooderham’s collection is a delightful shelf filler, which inspires a new appreciation of books and their place in our lives, and could encourage more people to tailor books in similar ways, whether it be a cheeky note in the margin or a bold exclamation of love inside the cover.