The Book…

One weekend recently I was going through some old books on my shelves.  Some are  very old books bequeathed to me, while others were purchased over the years in various used bookstores where I have happily spent many hours on a rainy afternoon. Usually I have a general idea of the type of book I am looking for-maybe an Agatha Christie mystery or a PG Wodehouse comedy, or some account from an explorer traveling the world.  Even if I don’t find any of those,  the pleasure is in the browsing and inevitably I bring home some old gem. One thing I realized  though is that it isn’t always the book itself that makes it a gem. Sometimes it is what happens when you open the cover.

Something I have always done when giving books for special occasions is to write a note just inside the cover. It gives that book a reference in time, and a marker of sorts of the things you were interested in that particular year. But as I open the cover on those old books, and see similar notes sometimes from decades ago,  I often wonder about who those people were. What did that particular aging book, delicately held in my hands all these years later, mean to them at the time as a brand new one? What did it signify about their lives at the time?  Or even, where did they live, and where was the book purchased? I also thought that books are a bit like currency, They can sometimes travel far and wide, changing cities, states, even countries on a whim. It is of course impossible to really know, but I had an idea to write a bit of fiction based on that idea. Almost thinking if that book could speak, what story would it tell. There is no music in this post, just a bit of imagination.  So gather round, while I tell a little story…

The Book-Five Great Modern Irish Plays

Published By-The Modern Library, 1941

The Dedication-(Undecipherable) November 26, 1945


Boston, Massachusetts-November 26, 1945

Susan Leary was fretting. Today was her father’s birthday and she wanted to give him something special. There had not been much cause for celebration in recent years, both as a nation and for their family. For any family actually. But with the signing of Japan’s formal surrender on September 2nd, life was slowly starting to become bearable again. Bearable in that the first topic of conversation was no longer ‘the war’. Bearable in that the official letters stopped coming announcing that someone else’s son or neighbor had been killed in combat on some far off battlefield.

Such a letter had come in their family. Susan’s only sibling, her older brother James had perished at the Battle Of Monte Cassino in January of 1944. Though it had not quite been two years yet, it seemed like a lifetime ago now since the news arrived. Susan was devastated, but everyone throughout the entire country was as well. No family was left unscathed. Her father (also a James, but affectionately referred to as Jimmy Sr) was characteristically stoic when the news came, no doubt a result of his own service in World War I, but since the wars end Susan noticed small bursts of emotion occurring. A wistful far away look at a family portrait taken in happier times, before Susan’s mom had passed away. An ‘excuse me for a moment’ retreat to the bathroom when someone made a seemingly innocent comment about the house being quiet. Those were all understandable to Susan, but one evening, when she thought he had gone to bed, she realized he was in James’ room, perusing books that had remained untouched since he had shipped out. This was a different sort of behavior.

Most of them Jimmy Sr and his wife Dolores had given James over the years. They had always encouraged their children to read, and Jimmy, like Susan had held on to most of them. As she stood frozen outside the door, silently watching her father she realized that he seemed less interested in the content of the books but was instead delicately opening up each cover and gently tilting his head towards the upper right hand corner. At first she was puzzled as to why he was doing this. Was he looking for a book to read before bedtime she thought? After he picked up the fourth book, cradling it gently in his hands, he again opened only the cover, and again his head leaned right. That is when she realized why  he was doing this.

Just like with James, her dad had always written a little note of some sorts in any book that had been given. Always in ink, always in the top right hand corner. Usually it was something simple, like ‘Happy Birthday Susan,  We thought you might like this story, July, 1934.’ Other times it was a touch more personal- ‘Susan, You have grown up so fast, I wish time could stop so we could forever preserve the moments of joy.’ That was the last one Susan could recall, written shortly before Dolores passed away in 1939. After her passing, and then the start of the war, and finally with James’ death there were no more books, no more notes written in them.

A few days after witnessing this scene Susan was thinking of what she might give to her father for his birthday. The war years had been lean for gifts of any kind, but now that it was over, she thought he might enjoy something small. Perhaps it may even get him out of the emotional bursts he was having. One afternoon while on her lunch break, she strolled over towards Cornhill and found herself in the Brattle Book Shop, a mainstay of the neighborhood for years. As Susan perused the titles she found herself picking up one particular volume. Being a family with close ties to Ireland, a lot of the books she and James had been given over the years had been by some of the great Irish writers. She knew that her father was especially keen on Irish literature, and was prone to reciting snippets of various poems and books when she was growing up. Without much further thought, she went to the desk to pay for the book, an anthology called ‘Five Great Irish Plays’ with works by John Synge, Sean O’Casey and Lady Gregory.

Susan Leary was fretting. Today was her father’s birthday and she sat in her room with the parcel containing the book purchased for him the other day. She was fretting not so much about the book itself, but was wondering if she should return to the tradition of inscribing a note in the front cover. Would the gesture be misconstrued? Would it unleash a torrent of emotion on her father’s part, an unburdening of the loss of his wife and son. She also fretted about what she should write. Should she keep it simple the way he had at times – ‘Happy Birthday Da’…that sort of thing, or elaborate further?  One thing she knew is that if she was going to revive the tradition, she would do it in her own way. She opened up the book, took pen in hand and in a break with tradition wrote her note, this time on the left hand side of the page…


Robert P. Doyle

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26 thoughts on “The Book…

  1. Beautifully written, I really enjoyed reading your words. We also have the tradition of writing dates and notes when we give books to one another within the family. I love looking through bookshops and seeing notes in old books, wondering about the lives of those who wrote them and gave the books to loved ones.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Congratulations for stepping out of your comfort zone! I really enjoyed your story. It made me feel nostalgic for the books I used to get from my parents as a child with their inscriptions handwritten inside. Great work. Keep it up!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you very much! I really appreciate it. Stepping out of the comfort zone is good, but a little nerve-wracking! Glad people are enjoying it. I’m going to call it right now and say there will be more! Thanks again

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Sir! LOL
    Now I want to brush up on some Irish literature 🙂
    The idea of change, keeping old traditions while making them new at the same time is great – I really enjoyed reading this excerpt.
    I do hope that you decide to revive this story – I for one would love to read more of it.
    You could do an eBook here on WordPress 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much Neece! Irish literature is great. Overall there is a ‘lilt’ to it, and a love of language in general. Its why the Irish are such good story tellers, whether it is in song or the written word. This post was partly inspired by me getting super excited to be going back for a short trip in just about 2 weeks! Its funny though. I had intended this to be a one off story, and ending it right here. I wanted to find another book with an inscription and write a different sort of story, but the reaction thus far is telling me I need to elaborate on this story. As I was writing it I thought I could make it a lot longer, but I decided to keep it deliberately simple, letting the reader fill in some of the blanks. There was just something about seeing those hand written words on the page, and realizing how long they had been in that book that made me want to do something with it. I will certainly keep the eBook in mind if it develops more. Thank you again!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re welcome!
        The way that you were able to give us readers such a great backstory with just a bit of information (memories) is amazing. That’s happened to me – more than once. lol
        I would start off only meaning to write a short ‘one shot’ story (usually fan fiction), and the response to it would be so good that I felt the need to add just one more chapter. And then another 🙂 Glad to hear that you’re going to continue this story.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. That’s so cool that you got good responses like that and it urged you to continue. I am definitely going to work on this in the coming days. I also thought if it continues to interest people, I may even veer this off to a brand new blog. Its funny the things that happen when you just jot notes down. I keep my blogging notebook handy at most times these days for those fleeting thoughts I get and I’m glad I investigated this one more thoroughly.

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  4. Beautifully written Robert! And a little Joycean in your narrative style. I wonder about the notes too. I bought the first of the Dark Materials trilogy earlier this month, and even if it is a mid-2000s edition, the note inside made me a little sad. I wondered more about the recipient, and why she gave the book away, despite such a lovely little, glitter-penned note. I always write name and date on the top right hand corner, though notes in books I gift are, predictably, too long to fit there! I also write my own name and date in used books as well, to keep the narrative of that hard copy going for when it is passed on to somebody else. I also tend to retain bills, or write down the places I bought them from, if they are special.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks very much Amrita! As I alluded to in some of the other comments I was very hesitant about this post but I’m glad people are enjoying it. I’m not at all surprised to hear you say that you both wondered about the inscriptions yourself, and that you write your name in books too. I used to do that, but I’m not sure why I stopped. Must remember to do that again! Its a great memento and a preservation of the book in this digital era. Can’t write an inscription on an E-Reader! The similarity to Joyce wasn’t intentional but I’ll take it! Something just really struck me looking at that handwriting. Thinking about the hands that opened up that book and wrote in it. I only regret on this particular book is that the inscription itself is illegible, despite my best efforts. There is a scribbled name and what looks like one word, but I can’t be sure. Its certainly not ‘Robert Doyle November 1945…but it shall have to remain a mystery. Thank you for this, and all your other wonderful comments.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. In my mind, e-readers and dead-tree books are two separate things. For example, back in the day I had to do the majority of my reading from libraries. If I really loved something, I made it a point to purchase it. I look at e-readers the same way. I go for the more potentially disposable books there, by which I don’t mean to say they’re bad, but not “me” enough. If something jumps out, I’ll get a hard copy of it. What I don’t do, which a lot of book lovers do. is go for a nicer, prettier edition of something I already possess. I just can’t justify five different editions of Pride and Prejudice or something, just because each is pretty in its own way.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I know what you mean. I tried an e-reader but I really did not like it personally. I read the news on my phone frequently but not books. I also don’t quite see the need for buying the same book twice. A mass market paperback of Othello is fine by me to own and don’t feel obligated to own the beautiful hard cover copy. The only thing I buy twice sometimes is music. I still have cassettes and when I find cheap cd replacements for them I’ll buy them. Also when I’m really anxious to get something new by one of my favorite groups but know it may be awhile before I can get the physical cd I’ll buy it from Itunes first and then get the physical one later. If nothing else I’m doing my small bit to provide the band some money!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Very touching Robert. I love the tradition that inspired this story. I can’t help but wonder what Susan wrote in the book? I hope you will continue to write more stories on your blog.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Tasha. As I said to others this has suddenly turned into something I need to figure out lol. I might reveal what she wrote, but then again…I don’t know myself either and I might keep it a mystery but continue the story. One thing for sure, I’ll be writing more fiction from time to time. I even made it a menu option on the top of my page!

      Liked by 1 person

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  9. I love the story that came from your thoughts on the book you discovered with the little note like what you and your wife do. I don’t find it of any coincidence either. This is beautiful. You may not know the story behind the inscribed words of the book you found, but you created a story based off of it and you have no idea if your story is true or not and that’s where the beauty lies. The thought of maybe whoever wrote in the book could be a past life of you or your wife came to mind as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, thank you very much. I don’t consider myself a fiction writer, this was just an idea I had. To be honest, I had no plans to write a continuation past the first part, but the reaction I got was overwhelming and I continued on. I want to get back to writing more based around the same idea. While on vacation a few months ago I have a story I am really anxious to tell based on an inscription but I have not gotten around to it as of yet. But I love what you say here and I never even thought about it myself. The notion of could it be true or not…who is to say. Or indeed, a past life or something along those lines. I genuinely appreciate you commenting on this one especially.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re welcome. I can’t wait to finish reading the rest, and will look out for your new work. You don’t have to consider yourself a fiction writer to write fiction. Just writing and being and existing is all acceptable lol. I look forward to your new work when you get to it!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Very true on considering myself to be a certain type of writer. Its good to just get out there and do it. I had a lot of fun writing them. My music posts are closer to my heart, but its good to step outside the comfort zone. I’ll be going through more of your stuff too

        Liked by 1 person

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