I came across this Guardian article the other day on Twitter about how a first edition of The Jungle Book has been discovered which had a poignant inscription from Rudyard Kipling dedicating the book to his daughter.

"This book belongs to Josephine Kipling for whom it was written by her father, May 1894"

It was discovered in a National Trust property in Cambridgeshire – what an absolutely wonderful thing to discover. Imagine being the one to find such a treasure!

Since being part of the book blogging world and a couple of book groups I’ve become more sensitive about dog-earing and writing in books. My family have always written inscriptions in gifted books which I think is lovely – especially in my children’s books, as it reminds me when they were given to me and what point in my life I was enjoying the stories. These days I sometimes hesitate, if I think that the person might not want to keep it or if it’s a special copy. It doesn’t make sense really, why should I feel any less ‘allowed to’ writing an inscription in a book than an author? Why are student annotations in library books bad, but if we were to find scribbles by someone who later became famous, they would be precious? That said, I do get annoyed about comments in library books or text books because its as if someone’s done the thinking already for you!

I also get mixed feelings about inscriptions in charity shop books. If it’s a newish book, I feel sad that someone has given away a gift, but if it’s an old book I imagine it to have been loved by someone and only in the shop because they’ve passed away. For example I picked up the book below from a charity shop, entitled Half Hours in the Far North, a book written for children about the wonders to be found in the Northern Hemisphere. I was charmed by the lovely plates and the inscription.

Half Hours in the Far North; Life admid Snow and Ice, From The Half-Hour Library, 'Profusely Illustrated'. 2s 6d. each; with gilt edges, 3s. James Nisbet & Co. Limited 21 Berners Street, London, 1899.

'The Aurora Borealis'

Singlegate Boys' Prize. Presented to Herbert Holland for Attendance, July 1904.

I like to think that Herbert Holland or someone in his family treasured this book and kept it for a long time. Singlegate Boys’ School obviously had the right idea giving books as gifts!

I like my books a little bit ‘loved’, what do you think of inscriptions, annotations etc.?

Do you have any books with special scribbles in them?

22 responses to “Inscriptions

  1. Funnily enough, I was thinking a bit along these lines myself today, after having been charity book shopping yesterday!

    Personally I really dislike dog-earing, because I don’t see any point in it and it just makes me feel all sad for the book. I like inscriptions though, generally, both in books I find and books that are given to me. My mum used to sometimes give me books on special occasions and write nice messages in the cover along with the date. It increased my emotional attachment to the books.

    Like you, I actually quite like finding things in charity shop books! I’ve found some quite nice things, too. Newspaper clippings that somebody thought was pertinent to a particular book and just left in there. Nice postcards. Some really nice inscriptions from a long time ago; personal gifts made between family members from way back when. It just makes me feel like there’s some kind of history to the book, that people have loved it before me, and that now I’m kind of a part of that story in a weird way.

    (Also, old books have great ‘old book’ smell. Someone once told me exactly why that was, and there’s a genuine science reason for it, but I can’t actually remember it now.)

    I used to be a member of ReadItSwapIt, a website where people swap books. I don’t really do it much any more, because I don’t like letting my books go, but that was always quite good for things like that. It was just full of book-lovers, and they’d usually put a nice little message on a bit of paper and slip it inside, or gift a little bookmark with it. It felt really nice 🙂

    • I know exactly what you mean about the ‘old book’ smell, how interesting that there is a specific reason behind it. I had the same experience with ReadItSwapIt, I’m too much of a hoarder to want to swap most of my books!

  2. When someone gives me a book, I’d love it if they’d write the greetings or dedications on the flyleaves. My dad used to do that with those big science books he used to give me when I was a kid. But yes, I understand that it’s been a custom now not to, especially in the case of bloggers who give book prizes, perhaps in order to be on the safe side.

    I’ve also always been very careful with my books, going as far as covering them with adhesive plastic (because I often take them with me in my bag). But lately I’m starting to want to write on them and highlight the lines I like. The only problem in my case is that my handwriting’s very poor and it’s practically illegible when I write with small letters 😦

    • If you write in small letters then it sounds quite inoffensive. It sounds like you care a great deal for your books anyway!

  3. By the way, something tells me you’ll like this site:

  4. When we were clearing out my grandparents’ house after they died we found dozens of books that they had won while at school, with the plates intact, as well as books they had been given by their family as children. There were also a number of books that my father had won in grade school. My aunts and uncles weren’t interested in any of these, so my father has all of them now. Sometimes, when going through the shelves, you pull down a volume having forgotten where it came from and that makes the inscription, when you see it, all the more powerful.

    • I think it’s a bit like finding hidden treasure, I’m not surprised your father held onto the books.

  5. I’ve changed my opinion on this recently. I used to only read brand new books (an expensive habit, I know!) but recently I have discovered that you can pick up some real gems. I’m not so keen on modern books that are dog-earred but I just love finding classics now, especially with inscriptions in them. I always wonder about the person who gave the book and who it belonged to. I love a book that feels as if it has been loved like it was meant to be. There’s something magical about a book with a really old inscription in (when you know that the person will no longer be alive) – I like imagine who they were.

    • Agree with you that it can be totally magical. And with people who are no longer around it’s like a sort of imprint of them left behind.

  6. I had a little rant recently about a library book that had writing in it, which I think is tantamount to graffiti (it was a pointing out an inaccuracy in the novel). I prefer clean copies of books wherever possible including fresh, white, crisp pages. However. secondhand copies don’t often allow that.

    I have beautiful inscriptions in some books given as gifts from my boyfriend and I hold them dear. I also have some “working copies” of books I studied that have pencil annotations in them but these are few and far between and usually I have a non-working copy of the same book!

    • Haha, it is annoying when people point things out, sometimes you’d either rather figure things out for yourself or just not notice! Interesting that some people seem to love new, fresh books while others like theirs a bit battered. We are a funny bunch of book-lovers.

  7. Even as a child, I tended to keep my books pristine as possible. I would write my name and dog ear the pages but i wouldn’t actually write in the books. Something changed in high school and I actually scribbled quite a bit in the books with PEN! My poor Camus has lots of pen marks through it because I rarely carried a pencil with me in class. That has stopped, of course, but I still find it a little amusing when I re-read it.

    I think writing in books are somewhat fine. Annoying, but fine, providing they’re *relevant* to the book. If it’s just graffiti, then that’s bad. It’s always interesting to read other’s thoughts on the book. The markings in uni texts are just annoying because they’re so distracting but, again, I find it interesting to read other point of views.

    I love inscriptions because it makes the book that little more personal. Also, it saves the person buying a card and wasting another tree. There’s the historical value too which you’ve pointed out and it’s lovely to read other people’s inscriptions.

    You should check out this site –

    • I feel the same way as you, although I never thought about how inscriptions save trees! Some of the inscriptions via that link you’ve included are so funny!!

  8. I dog ear my books but can’t write in them. However, I love going to secondhand and charity bookshops and it’s exciting when you find out a little bit about the history of the book. So I don’t mind if other people write in their books (as long as it belongs to them.)

    • That seems to be an important thing for many people. If you own a book then it’s sort of ok, but not when it’s just mindless scrawl. I think it’s exciting finding out about a book’s history too 🙂

  9. I do love all the possible stories that you think might lie behind an inscription. I am not a fan of people putting them in books for me oddly, unless they are the author. Maybe I should demand people do it in future so one day someone has tales to tell about notes left in mine… dont do it with that anything in that certain parcel you are bringing round soon though!

  10. I have a terrible habit of dog earing my own books, but would never do so to someone elses – what a crime! I also agree that it’s the worst of bad form to write in a library book, but I do keep meaning to find a pencil and keeping it with me so I can make notes in my own books, and I’m all for inscriptions – but generaly also in pencil.

    • I’ve been trying to be good and not dog-ear, but it’s a hard habit to break! I’ve been using my phone’s camera to take pictures of significant pages lately instead…

  11. A few of your previous comments have mentioned RISI, have any of you joined Where the whole objective is to record the ‘release’ and ‘capture’ of books worldwide, and record their journey on a bookplate, with each title having it’s own unique reference number.
    I haven’t joined so far, as I was not too keen on the idea of sticking a bookplate to the inside of a book, but I am beginning to have second thoughts. There are books registered that have ended up being read in more than one country and by such a diverse range of people, that I think it might be quite fun to try.

    • I’ve not come across that, although I do remember buying a second-hand copy of The Blind Assassin, which i then discovered was from a Canadian library, then I took it with me travelling around the world and thought how wonderful it was that that book had been on such an adventure! Interesting idea, I shall take a look…

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