Blog - The secret history of second-hand books
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GUEST BLOG: The secret history of second-hand books

3rd December 2012 - Wayne Gooderham

After years of buying second-hand books, writer Wayne Gooderham began to notice he was accidently accumulating an intriguing sub-collection: second-hand books inscribed with personal messages. Ranging from the awkward scratchings of adolescent infatuation to the resentful recriminations of love affairs gone awry, each and every scribble and scrawl told a different story.


We're featuring a fascinating exhibition of the best of them in the Cafe at our Charing Cross Road flagship store, running until Thursday 13th (more details here). Here he picks out some of his absolute favourites.



Mr Johnson by Joyce Cary

One of the most moving dedications in the collection - so moving, in fact, that it almost makes me wish the book hadn't ended up in a second-hand shop...


May 1991

Dear John 

When I was twelve or thirteen years old Grandma became increasingly alarmed at my philistine preoccupation with science and agriculture. I remember being whisked off to the bookshop in Bury, where on my behalf she selected "Mister Johnson", my first 'adult' book.

It was an inspired choice - it amused me, introduced me to the joys of literature and also to the notion of an overseas colonial service. The book thus had a profound influence on my life; without it I may never have gone to Africa, and you may not have been born thirty years ago. To it you probably owe your existence and it is high time you were introduced. I pass it to you in turn with much love.



Selected Modern Short Stories, edited by Alan Steel

The date of the inscription here is worth noting: in 1938 Hitler invaded the Sudetenland. On 28th September, Chamberlain appealed to Hitler for a conference. Hitler met the next day, at Munich. with the chiefs of governments of France, Italy and the United Kingdom. The Czechoslovak government was neither invited nor consulted. On 29th September, the Munich Agreement was signed by Germany, Italy, France and the United Kingdom. Whether or not this has anything to do with the inscription is pure conjecture on my part.


When the written word appears before us in its simplicity - then we see that in the joy of expression we may have lost the honesty of thought which alone makes writing worth while. There is no right and wrong way - the choice is between two terrible wrongs and the most gifted and well informed people will hesitate before coming down oneither side. The events of the next few days might help us to decide - in the meantime prayer and honest desire to do God's will are the only things left to us.

September 26th 1938

The chief emotions today are great anxiety, fear, spiritual loneliness. Of actual physical danger there is very little fear; men are prepared to sacrifice themselves for something which they believe is greater than themselves for many peoples, the greatest fear is that this civilisation which in spite of all its deficiencies, embraces so much loveliness and embodies the hopes and dreams of so many individuals, shall be swept away and that in it place we may see a mechanically perfect but soulless and inhuman Godless society.


The Human Face by John Brophy

One of most heart-warming of all the dedications in my collection. And there's an even more touching dedication from Aron to Rose in the exhibition.


"And ne'er did Grecian chisel trace
A nymph, a naiad or a Grace
Of finer form or lovelier face"

Dearest Rose - these lines of Scott apply fittingly to you. Whatever the views expressed in this book, and I believe they support my contention, yours is the loveliest face I have ever seen.


December 1945


A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor

A lovely sentiment, and one that succinctly expresses one of the appeals of giving a book to someone you love: "You can view this as a short letter with 300 pages attached."




Dear Dad,

According to Mum (alias the Guru of the Postal Rates) the best way to send a book is as Printed Matter, but then it can't include a letter - hence this method.

I enjoyed this book (and its sequel) a 'lot.' While I was reading them, I thought of you, and wondered what memories you have of any of the times and places he describes. Of course this world, (of central Europe as it was in 19??) vanished before I was born. The mixture of the author's experiences of it at age 18 and his reflections now (or at any rate in 1978) on a world it is impossible to re-visit, give the book an usual texture, I think.

Don't feel obliged to read it if it doesn't "grab" you. You can view this as a short letter with 300 pages attached.

Lots of love

Safei xxx

P.S. Hungary is in the second volume.


Jungle Lore by Jim Corbett

Not all the sentiments are lovely, mind...



To John Hughes

Go shoot yourself


May '58


The Penguin Book of Infidelities, edited by Stephen Brook

Some are quite blatant in their intent...


FOR Rebecca

in case you have any ideas!


J'Accuse by Aharon Shabtai

... while others suggest a world of pain.


28th September 2006

My friend -

I send you this gift, which is self-explanatory, and hope you'll find the poet's work more accessible than my obscure efforts to say some similar things. When I found this book last week I wanted to tell you about it, because it is to you that I have been addressing my thoughts.

I enclose a sprig of mint as an emblem of faith that you will visit and drink mint tea with me again sometime - I hope before too long, when I am less hurt, and less vulnerable, and better able to accept what you can offer.

Until then -

With enormous affection and care for you, my dear -



Words by Jean-Paul Sartre

Perhaps my favourite dedication of them all. This says so much with so little. Mightier than the sword, indeed...


Sept. '73

For mummy -

may you read it all - clearly and without prejudice - right to the end!

Lots of love

Hetty xxx


See more at Wayne Gooderham's blog


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