Often, when I give someone a book, I make it a habit to put a dated inscription inside. (If I give someone a book, it means I like it A LOT.) And if a bookstore or a reader asks, I delight in signing and inscribing books I’ve written. It’s a very personal, fun thing, yes? So personal, in fact, that I tend to hang onto all the signed books I own. Jumpstarted by a wonderful first editions program at Lemuria Books, we’ve added an insane number of signed books to our shelves over the years. With the exception of a small handful, none has much value beyond a few pennies. But the sentimental value is high.
When I go to conferences, I often take home books by my fellow panelists, or writer friends. If I can track the authors down (conferences are very busy events, and people tend to disappear), I make sure they sign the books I buy. Then I take them home and read them and put them on a shelf. Reading is a big part of my job. There is no writing without plenty of reading.
When I first started writing, I had very few writer friends. Now I’m thrilled to have many. Unfortunately, my writing friends have begun to outnumber my inches of available bookshelf space.
Two years ago, I was astonished and hurt to find a copy of a book I’d signed and given to a friend for sale online. Hurt? Yes, hurt. I pouted. I might even have bought it. (I know. It was momentary insanity.) Once I got it back in my hands, I felt a bit silly. It was just a book after all. It had been a gift, and like all gifts freely given it belonged to the recipient. Not me. But I’d taken it personally. They surely hadn’t liked it. They surely didn’t like me.
When I stopped hyperventilating (I can be such a drama queen.), I realized that the reason they’d gotten rid of the book might not have had anything at all to do with me. There was no way to know. But it made me look at our signed books differently.
Books are beautiful objects. But they deserve to be frequently read. And shared. I decided to stop making hostages and idols of my books. They are doing no one any good as decor in my living room and office. I adore paper books: the feel of them, the way the words cascade down the page and are reborn on the next. They need lives beyond a set of dusty bookshelves.
Do I dare? Do I dare risk making another writer feel sad because they’d signed a book I sent out into the wild? Yes.
As far as the books I’ve written–I hope they have long lives and are shared with many people. Those moments that I took to sign them, talked with you, dearest readers, and inscribed them to you or a sister, or lover or friend–those are the memories I keep.
I don’t even know how other writers feel about the books they’ve signed being sold or given away. All I know is that from this side, it feels good to share books that have memories attached. To send them out into the world to bless someone else. Or to enlighten someone else. Even if they are special to me. Especially if they’re special to me.