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Do you inscribe the books that you give as gifts? It’s a practice I think has fallen out of fashion, but I’d like to see it come back.


I found this little Modigliani book while I was reorganizing my work area, and I opened it to find a note written to me by my father in 1979. I was not yet four years old, and I had taken the Amtrak train from Rhinecliff to the art school in Manhattan where my father taught (and still teaches).

I’m not sure I would have remembered that day (29 years ago!) as clearly as I do now had I not found the book. Memories rushed back to me instantly—I know exactly how soft those seats were, I know that I tucked my box of markers into the pocket on the back of the seat in front of me. I can see so clearly the cook in the bar car giving me that orange balloon, too! Most importantly, I remember being at work with Dad, feeling special like you do when grown-ups are excited to meet you, even though you’re only three years old.

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  • Reply karly September 15, 2008 at 12:47 pm

    I’m always hesitant to inscribe books — what if the recipient wants to return it? Or give it away? I think you’ve just convinced me otherwise. I’ll be signing away from now on

    on a side note, a bought a copy of Naked at the thrift store for $1 a couple of years ago, I got home to find that it had been inscribed by David Sedaris himself.

  • Reply anh-minh September 15, 2008 at 12:47 pm

    Fantastic. This post made my Monday. (BTW, is Holly H. = a Holly Hobbie doll?)

  • Reply Cupcakes and Cashmere September 15, 2008 at 12:51 pm

    i think it’s so special when someone writes something short and sweet on the inside cover of a book. my dad did for me when he gave me the Joy of Cooking and i just have to read his little note every time i bring it out to make something.

  • Reply Amy September 15, 2008 at 12:53 pm

    That’s such a sweet note.
    My mom always incribes the books she gives us. It’s a tricky one though – when giving new books (like the previous comment) what if the recipient wants to exchange/return? I guess if you know they’ll like it there’s no harm. I think it’s a love hate thing for a lot of people. I think it’s lovely.

    PS – love your blog 🙂

  • Reply Anna at D16 September 15, 2008 at 12:54 pm

    anh-minh: Yes, Holly Hobbie. 🙂 And Mallory was a stuffed Mallard duck.

  • Reply Kate F. September 15, 2008 at 12:55 pm

    I love love inscribed books (especially when I find a great one in a used book and can make up stories about the people who are involved) and I always inscribe books if I’m pretty sure the person doesn’t already have it. When I receive books I always ask the person to write the date and their name or something in it if they haven’t.

  • Reply Joe September 15, 2008 at 12:57 pm

    That inscription was made 2 days before I was born, March 24, 1979. Fun!

  • Reply Concha September 15, 2008 at 1:18 pm

    I always inscribe books I give as presents. I think one should’t always “play safe”… inscribed books make them more personal and loveable.

  • Reply michelle September 15, 2008 at 1:50 pm

    oh now that is such a treasure.
    is modigliani one of you father’s favorites?

  • Reply Persephone September 15, 2008 at 1:51 pm

    I love this post – how lovely. I like to inscribe books I buy for people just so they *don’t* return them. I hate the idea of gift receipts!

  • Reply heather September 15, 2008 at 3:29 pm

    wow. what a fantastic inscription!
    i can’t say i’ve ever inscribed a book – i think it’s the feeling that i might be ruining it by writing on it!
    but seeing that is definitely making me think more about it.

  • Reply read me... September 15, 2008 at 3:35 pm

    I always write something in books when I give them as a gift… i think it’s such a precious thing to do.

  • Reply jules September 15, 2008 at 4:16 pm

    I do when I am sure the person doesn’t already own a copy. I always do when the book is for a child. I’ve slacked off in the last couple of years, and I think that needs to change. Thanks for the inspiration.

    p.s. You have a lovely blog–I’ve been poring over it quite obsessively since The Brick House wrote about it last week.

  • Reply stacey September 15, 2008 at 4:25 pm

    oh my god, i love this. how lucky you are.

  • Reply Courtney September 15, 2008 at 6:00 pm

    This is such an incredibly sweet post. I love the books inscribed to me by my parents and grandparents, and inscribing books I gift to people is a tradition I’ve continued.

  • Reply DiP September 15, 2008 at 7:25 pm

    “…written to me by my father in 1979. I was not yet four years old…”

    T H U M P!

    (…the sound of this old man fainting on the floor!!! It’s always a shock when you see this kind of revelation in print! 8^)

  • Reply Anna at D16 September 15, 2008 at 7:54 pm

    DiP: Thank you for making me feel young, old man. 🙂 I’m usually the one gasping in shock at the ages of the authors of many of the blogs I read — there are some really sophisticated people out there who were born in the ’90s. It’s kind of horrifying!

  • Reply Lauren September 15, 2008 at 8:19 pm

    love your blog. have been reading only a few short weeks. what a lovely post today. gives me the warm and fuzzies. i try to write sweet, or pithy, or loving notes to the receivers of my little gifts, but often i overthink and this happens: for aaron, the man i love, love, your loving love. (thanks for the wallpaper heads up, btw)

  • Reply Michelle September 15, 2008 at 8:29 pm

    This was such a joy to read. My dad lived in California for 5 years of my youth and would always send me a Shel Silverstein with a funny inscription & telling me how much he missed me. Thanks for making me smile today.

  • Reply wendy September 16, 2008 at 1:20 am

    we do this in our family and are passing on the tradition: our daughter inscribes every book she gives to her friends for their birthdays. yes, we are the terrible parents that buy books for our kid’s friends. heh.

  • Reply Benita September 16, 2008 at 2:18 am

    I love inscriptions. It’s always great to find a long forgotten one when you pick up an old book 🙂

    Your dad’s inscription is lovely!

  • Reply karina September 16, 2008 at 6:56 am

    your post is fantastic!
    You write it very very well, how many words have you used to make my tears run my cheeks?

  • Reply Beth September 16, 2008 at 7:26 am

    Oh my! I love this post. It brought tears to my eyes. Think of the love your father has for you to take the time to record that memory for you!! You are blessed. I do inscribe, by the way, for the very same reasons. I think a personal touch is more important than playing it safe sometimes. It’s how we “live from the heart” even though it can feel quite risky.

  • Reply Fiona September 16, 2008 at 8:41 am

    Aww, that made me teary-eyed. I have a baby girl, and I hope that we will give her such nice memories.

  • Reply Deleilan September 16, 2008 at 10:28 am

    That was a very touching and inspiring post…
    Why don’t we inscribe books anymore? It’s a real shame. I confess I only do it occasionally, when I feel the book I’m giving is (or should be) “important” to the recipient.
    It makes me sad that the only things my parents wrote in the books they gave me (if anything) was “Mom & Dad” and the date. Not really inspirational! Now your dad knew how to do it — it’s so sweet the way he describes the occasion and mentions little ordinary things!

  • Reply Charlie from So Lovely September 16, 2008 at 11:24 am

    I always try and inscribe books. I remember my older sister giving me “The Prophet” and written inside was “Read and Grow In Wisdom”. Maybe that was wishful thinking on her part.
    And the mention of Holly Hobbie – that was great. Memories flooding back – trying to get HH’s bonnet to come off, and it was glued on along with her “hair”.

  • Reply frannie September 16, 2008 at 3:15 pm

    i usually do inscribe books because i try to give books i think are useful and/or interesting. i recently found a very old book on pirates (from the 50’s) that an ex inscribed for me. very bittersweet.

  • Reply Kyle September 16, 2008 at 5:57 pm

    I’ve really enjoyed your recent blog posts. I remember quite awhile ago in one of your posts or maybe even in the comments or on flickr, you had a link to a site where you purchased some things for restoring your house…I think they sold ceiling medallions and stamped tin ceiling tiles and lots of other things. But I haven’t had any luck finding the site, so maybe you remember what I’m talking about?

  • Reply Anna at D16 September 16, 2008 at 10:00 pm

    Kyle: I’m not sure I’ve ever mentioned it here, but maybe you’re thinking of Historic Houseparts?

  • Reply nina September 17, 2008 at 5:54 am

    This looks so sweet… must bring back beautiful memories to see these words from your father. Actually I hardly ever get really touched by what I read on blogs, but somehow reading these kind and loving words from a father to his daughter really moves me.

    It also makes me think of a situation in my past. I was probably about eleven years old, and I had won a prize in a story-writing competition from our local library. I had written a fantasy-story about dwarfs, gnomes and fairies, and that made the librarian decide to give me a book full of gnomes and fairies as a prize. But though I liked writing about stuff such as fairies, I really did not enjoy reading about them… So I wasn’t happy at all with my prize.

    In that period, I had to buy birthday gifts to friends and family from my own pocket money. So when I was invited to the birtday party of a friend, I thought I was smart and could save some money by giving the book I had won (and that I didn’t like) to him. But when I wanted to wrap up the book, I noticed that my proud father had written an inscription all over the first page: ‘Nina won this book in a contest from the library…. blablabla’ I was very mad at him: now I couldn’t give it away anymore!
    Today I think it’s a fun and sweet story (unfortunately I don’t think I have the book anymore), but at that time I was really angry…

  • Reply Elena September 17, 2008 at 6:31 am

    Amazing. Bet it’s great to have someone so close. I wish You both many more years & memories to share 🙂

  • Reply diana September 18, 2008 at 3:40 pm

    So sweet. :0)
    I’ve fallen into the habit of inscribing all the books I give {mostly to family, friends, and my husband}. I’d like to think that the little messages I’ve written make the gift/book a tiny bit more personal. I guess I had not thought of the idea of them maybe wanting to return/exchange it, but I figure since it’s been written in, they will be obliged to keep the book, and hopefully read it.

  • Reply maja September 18, 2008 at 5:09 pm

    it’s not just that your book is inscribed, it’s the wonderful note that your dad left to you. it makes me want to create memories like that with my son. thank you so much for sharing this!

  • Reply karey m. September 19, 2008 at 2:29 am

    so lovely…had to kirtsy this.

    thank you for such a beautiful moment.

  • Reply Roxy @ There's No Place Like Home September 19, 2008 at 9:34 am

    Thanks for the camera info. I’m in the market for a new point and this post came just in time!! Thanks and love your blog:)

  • Reply Tootie Maldonado September 25, 2008 at 11:26 am

    That is the loveliest inscribtion. It’s so special that your pops would take the time to write such a simple note to you. Dads are great! This is definitely a practice I need to adopt.

  • Reply Steph October 2, 2008 at 1:26 am

    I loved the inscription. I have one from my partner who died that says Graham loves Steph may you always prosper. It seemed a funny thing to write but now it makes me smile to read it.

  • Reply annie October 2, 2008 at 11:40 pm

    i star’d this in my google reader, this is such a beautiful entry, anna.

  • Reply Jan' camera January 20, 2009 at 10:18 pm

    This is so heartwarming I want to cry.

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