Monday, March 09, 2015

So Noted

Here's a contradiction: I rarely write in books, but I love to find writing in books. I think the former is because I read mostly library books when I was a kid, and I didn't want to get in trouble with the library ladies. The latter is like spying a bit on the book's former owner and finding out something about them.

Sometimes I find notes in books that really intrigue me, such as those I discovered when I purchased a 1958 edition of Edmund Spenser's poetry. Inside the front cover some reader before me wrote this:

The notations on the inside of the cover are lists of the seven deadly sins and the seven cardinal virtues, along with the phrase "Fatal to spiritual progress" next to the sins list. In case you're wondering, I pulled this book to get the list of the seven deadly sins for a scene in Club Denizen.

On the opposite/title page are some fainter, different notes in pencil (some of which I've typed out beneath them):

I didn't recognize any of the words except the Pershing, which I thought used to be an old gangster hotel in Chicago back during the Capone/Prohibition era. I never bothered pursuing the meaning of the words, but after author Kris Reisz made a very interesting discovery about one of his old books I decided to research the notation and see what I could find out. Which lead me to this recording over on YouTube and this article over at The Wall Street Journal.

I didn't recognize the notation because I'm definitely no music expert; the jazz in my own collection is primarily limited to sax wizards like John Coltrane and Charlie Parker. Still, it was very cool to discover Ahmad Jamal, listen to his music, and find out how he and his trio changed so much with their live album.

Have you ever tracked down something you found written in a book? Let us know in comments.


  1. Too cool! I love finding notes in old books. And I love old books.

    When I was in college I bought an old copy of The Fountainhead at a used bookstore. It was pretty trashed, but it was inexpensive. Not too many years ago, I looked at the writing inside the front cover again, researched it, and found that the name and military information led to a man who had been in a bomber group in the Pacific Theater in WWII. Judging by the state of the book, I can imagine him carrying it with him on missions to pass the time between drops.

  2. I'm usually horrified to find writing in a book. (We must have known the same librarian. ;-)

    I'll start looking at it differently now.

  3. My mum would have had my hide if I'd written in a book, so I've never done it. Books were treated well in our house, mainly because they came from the library. I'm always intrigued by the writing in books I've bought, but I haven't actually researched it through before.

  4. I'm still trying to find some sort of confirmation that it is in fact Poling's signature. The chaplin corps have been... less than helpful, and the national archives don't seem to have anything. There are a few non-fiction books written about the four chaplains. I'm going to try contacting some of their authors next.

    My second favorite book inscription is in a book of Gandhi's speeches, printed in the 1930s. The book was apparently a gift from a Hindu to a non-Hindu friend, and apparently, they had had a discussion beforehand about whether Gandhi was a peaceful reformer or dangerous revolutionary. The inscription is a long plea from the Hindu for his friend to read Gandhi's own words and see he wasn't out to hurt anybody. It's just incredible that there was ever a time when people thought Gandhi might be a dangerous person, and that insight is why I love that tiny piece of history so much.

  5. I love old books, and actively hunt for them at antique auctions and stores. I love seeing written notes from a bygone era. It's a glimpse into their lives. Funny how I don't look at it that way when someone writes in a book today. Perspective, I suppose.

    My oldest book is from the late 19th century. All it had written was a name, but the penmanship was exquisite.

  6. Once, I was combing through the library for some old romantic novels, and I found a picture of a couple sticking to a page. it was an old black and white photo.

  7. Working in a library, I collect the things people leave in books....the start of a collection of short stories for the story behind the items!