'From one naughty lady to another...'

A collection of inscriptions scribbled in books provides tantalising glimpses of human behaviour, says John Walsh

Readers of Wayne Gooderham's bookish musings on his blog will know he has developed an obsession for the things left inside second-hand books: bookmarks, letters, postcards and, especially, written inscriptions. He has asked a number of booksellers to keep an eye out for choice examples of the last-named for him, and now publishes the results in Dedicated To… The Forgotten Friendships, Hidden Stories and Lost Loves found in Second-hand Books.

The title is a misnomer. This isn't a collection of dedications but of scribbled flyleaf inscriptions by members of the public to the person to whom they're giving the book as a present. The disjunction between the nature of the book and the tone of the inscription is sometimes hilarious. "You have given me so much," writes someone called Mark to his amour, Louise, "I have only myself to give to you. My heart, my soul and my body are at your disposal. Dispose of carefully." It sounds sweet, doesn't it? But the fact that it's written inside Roald Dahl's macabre More Tales of the Unexpected might sound a warning note in Louise's head.

It's hard to believe the naivety of the chap who gifted his lover a copy of Nineteen Eighty-Four with the words: "This book was published in 1949, it was about the future 1984. I have given it to you with love in 1994, the start of our future." How lovely to associate their blissful future with totalitarianism, brainwashing, double-think and the Junior Anti-Sex League.

These heartfelt little messages offer tantalising glimpses of inchoate relationships, unrequited love, tentative sympathy – and, rather too often, a desire to show off the inscriber's poetic sensibility. ("After rough seas there is calm, for sore wounds there is a balm/ Let me hold you in my arms, and keep you safe from harm…" is inscribed by "Justin" in Marquez's Love in the Time of Cholera.) The compliments offered by givers to receivers sometimes hint at intensities we'd rather not know about. On 19 March 1928, a copy of Tom Fool by F Tennyson Jesse was inscribed: "To my Stiffy, In remembrance of the anniversary of the most important day in my life. From his Slutty." Much later, a copy of Londoners by Celina Fox is genially inscribed (complete with heart pierced by an arrow) "From a selfish old slag, To a fat, lazy old cow. Two years?"

It's hard to ignore the implied homicidal collusion between two gun-lovers, when one gives the other the Shooter's Bible: The World's Standard Firearms Reference Book and writes on the title page: "To Matt, from Daniel. Happy Hunting! 'One day a real rain will come and wash all the scum off the streets' – Taxi Driver."

And written into Flaubert's Sentimental Education, there are no names, just a whisper of girlish intimacy from 1964: "From one naughty young lady to another, hoping that your mother doesn't know that you're out and that you wear only the best woolly bloomers."

Books that have been bought by parents for errant children offer rich rewards in limpid inscription. There's a nice tone of parental sarcasm in a 1955 inscription inside Kingsley Amis's That Uncertain Feeling: "To Robert, on his crucial 30th birthday – hoping for a safe and speedy emergence from adolescence. Frank and Jackie."

The most moving parental inscription, however, is found in a copy of Joyce Cary's Mister Johnson, a tragic-comic novel published in 1939 about a young African clerk working in a British colonial district office in Nigeria. It reads: "Dear John, When I was 12 or 13 years old, Grandma became increasingly alarmed at my philistine preoccupation with science and agriculture. I remember being whisked off to the bookshop in Bury, where on my behalf she selected Mister Johnson, my first 'adult' book. It was an inspired choice – it amused me, introduced me to the joys of literature and also to the notion of an overseas colonial service. The book thus had a profound influence on my life; without it I may never have gone to Africa and you may not have been born 30 years ago. To it you probably owe your existence and it is high time you were introduced. I pass it to you in turn with much love, Dad."

Awwww. Who said literature makes nothing happen?

bookdedications.wordpress.com. Dedicated To... (Bantam Press, £9.99) is out now

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

    Holocaust Memorial Day

    Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
    Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

    Front National family feud?

    Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
    Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

    Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

    Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century