A book that told me to clean up the egg on my face

This is a story of being chastised by a book…

One of the things I don’t understand when I’m looking through used book sales is when people give away something that was obviously meant to be a treasured gift for them. I’ve seen this on several occasions. Often, it’s just a brief inscription. To Susie, Love Grandma and Granddad or something. And, sometimes, it’s from way back in the past when the world listened to records on the Victrola, wore skirts to their ankles and women didn’t yet have the vote. Clearly, these are an echo of lives that have most likely been lived in their entirety, and now modern book-lovers are given the gift of connecting with those of the past. Impossible to argue with the sale of those books.

But, sometimes, I’ll find something that’s so recent and has a loving inscription that it’s just been natural for my mind to wander to those giving the gift and the irony of the fact that their present is now on the sale table of a local thrift shop. Once I found a book that had been given to a little boy by his grandparents on his Bar Mitzvah. I’ve found graduation gifts, too. We all have occasions like these in our lives. The scribble of someone’s writing on these occasions becomes, for the used book shopper who stares at the words, a touchstone and really brings home the whole idea that at some point this book meant something to someone.

At a library book sale, I found a gorgeous, and really heavy, volume of Shakespeare. It’s so lovely, with historical information, a glossary, a timeline of theatrical and literary events, an extensive bibliography and color photos. I got it for a dollar. Inside, I found this inscription:

It is dated June, 1991. Twenty years have passed, and one hopes that the recipient did get pleasure, strength and comfort from the gift. There’s an irony in the giver’s wish for “infinite” pleasure and for growth “even to old age.”

I joked sarcastically about this irony at first. Clearly, this person wasn’t interested in growing with this book…. That kind of thing. But, then it occurred to me, how do I know why this gift was given away just two decades after a graduation? First of all, two decades is no small period of time to hold on to a gift, of course. But, it hit me that this person might have very reasonably needed to downsize when moving house. Sad ideas hit me, too. Maybe he needed money and sold his library of books. Maybe something went bad in the friendship and the gift was discarded. Or it could be tragic: maybe someone died.

Hence, the egg on my face.This is the book that, quite rightly, pointed out I needed a napkin.

By the way, a book recommendation that has nothing to do with Shakespeare, inscriptions or eggs: David Foster Wallace’s This is Water is probably something I’ve mentioned before, but bears repeating again and again. He does a beautiful job talking about the risks of making judgments.






2 thoughts on “A book that told me to clean up the egg on my face

  1. I can relate with you. I’m fond of going to thrift book shops and among the jungle of treasures, I would find books that were once gifts to loved ones and I would immediately feel sad that the books are in the book shop rather than in the recipient’s library where they ought to be. Well, there are reasons for books being in the book shop–reasons we may never find out. But of course, in my heart lies that hope that the recipients of these gifts have valued these books.

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