One of my favourite things about book shopping is finding dedications in the front of books. But it is a pleasure tinged with sadness. Every book with a dedication in that ends up in a second-hand bookshop is, somehow, out of place. It has left the place that it was intended to be. If one follows a logical path the two most likely explanations for it appearing for sale are either death or neglect.
As well as the uncomfortable melancholy that goes with buying dedicated books there are also more positive emotions embodied in these books. At one specific point in time someone cared enough to give another person a book and write a message in it. These moments are made concrete in these books.
To demonstrate this, here are several examples of dedicated books that pivot around the intellectual and writer Tariq Ali:
1. Philip Mansel and Tariq Ali
In Housmans’ recent sale of Tariq Ali’s books I picked up a copy of Philip Mansel’s Constantinople:
Inside it was a dedication to Tariq Ali from Philip Mansel “…in the hope that he introduces the Ottoman Empire to world television”.
This book must have come to Housman’s as part of a periodical clear out of Tariq Ali’s library so, in some senses, is the victim of neglect. However, Philip Mansel can take comfort in that fact that it has certainly been read. Tariq Ali is, like Isaac Newton, a turner-down of the corners of pages so it is easy to see if he has read a particular book.
2. Tariq Ali and Paul and Rose (Foot)
The second book is a copy of Tariq Ali’s An Indian Dynasty: The Story of the Nehru Gandhi Family. This one I actually bought of Abebooks, I’m afraid to say.
Inside is a dedication to Paul and Rose (Foot) with the date (6th July ’85). I appreciate it when people put the date in their dedications, it is an implicit acknowledgement of the significance of the moment of dedication. Good work Tariq Ali.
This book is tinged with the sad memory of death. Paul Foot died in 2004. His gravestone in Highgate Cemetery memorialises him as a “writer and revolutionary”.
3. Tariq Ali, Walid Joumblatt and “James”
The third book I will talk about was picked up recently in Cairo in the secondhand bookshop that is part of the Townhouse Gallery. It is a copy of Tariq Ali’s The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power.
It carries a sticker that says it was first bought in Beirut in the Librairie Internationale.
On the inside is a dedication from W. Joumblatt (who I assume to be Walid Joumblatt) to a man called James. If the whole nature of finding a dedication in a secondhand book has an air of sorrow, the dedication that Joumblatt writes only adds to this. His first sentence praises Ali: “Tariq Ali is a great writer from a generation that used to dream for a better world”. The second sentence is four words of pessimism: “The reality is different”.
Joumblatt also dates the dedication 13/5/2010 so thanks but I have not found out who “James” might be.
4. Tariq Ali, Elsbeth, Vatti and Ethel
The last book in this trilogy of four is a kind of appendix. I bought it, again, at Housmans in Tariq Ali’s book sale and it is a collection of several different works of Russian literature.
It must have been picked up by Tariq Ali at some point but when he bought it, it already had a dedication inside to Elsbeth from Vatti (“Daddy” and Ethel). It was a present to Elsbeth on her birthday in 1949
It had somehow made it into Tariq Ali’s books by 2017 still carrying traces of its original owner. However, Ali seems to have added at least a little of himself to the book. In a passage of Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons someone has added the note “angry young men”.
It is extremely tempting to think that Ali, who was designated a member of the late 1960s “Angry Young Men”, was reading through this novel and thought to his own thoughts and position.
It is a trace on the page of the mental process of reading. In many respects, this is what this blog of aiming to capture: how seemingly ethereal feelings, thoughts and emotions have a way of leaving physical remnants behind for others to enjoy and from which they can build new thoughts and emotions.