Thursday, November 29, 2007

Authors' Inscriptions

Lynne Johnston has been drawing the comic strip “For Better or Worse” for 30 years. It’s the evolving story of an apple pie, middle-class, Canadian family named the Pattersons. In the last year, Johnston has had one of her characters, Michael, write a novel, find a publisher, and see it in print in record time.

During the last few days, the strip has shown Michael signing his book at a bookstore. There have been a number of jokes about what he signs for each reader, which made me wonder what real authors sign in their books.

While many authors just sign their names, many include a pithy phrase that is linked to the theme of their books. My friend and writing group partner Susan Freinkel just came out with a book called American Chestnut: The Life, Death, and Rebirth of a Perfect Tree. She signed one of my books: “Here’s to Rebirth,” and then her name.

The question of how to inscribe a book is not trivial. Imagine having to sign over and over again. Would you rather just sign your name and save your hand or write something that is going to bring you and your reader a little closer together?

I looked through my shelves and found a number of authorial autographs. They are fairly varied from the unadorned to the lengthy. Some of these inscriptions are rather personal, which in most cases means I knew the author slightly. I wouldn't say any of them are close friends, yet their inscription feel intimate.

From Michael Pollan, from his book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.”

“4-26-06, For Frances, Fellow Writer, Vote with your fork.”

From Sean Wilsey, who wrote “Oh The Glory of It All.”

“For Frances, It’s all crazy true life in here, but it turned out more or less OK. Thank you for reading and blogging.”

Daniel Handler as Lemony Snicket inscribed his first book to my daughter using an embossed seal that said “The Library of Lemony Snicket.”

Then he wrote “To Charlotte, a future orphan.”

From Sandy Tolan, author of The Lemon Tree:

“To Frances, with warm wished to an admired colleague.”

From Jason Roberts, author of A Sense of The World:

“To Frances, A Fellow (ink-stained) Traveller.”

From Kemble Scott, author of the novel SOMA

“To Frances, From One Author to the Next.”

From Julia Scheeres, author of Jesus Land:

“To Frances, Thanks for Reading!” Julia

From Michael Patrick MacDonald, author of Easter Rising: An Irish American Coming Up from Under.

“To Frances, Much Peace and Many Blessings.”

Michael Chabon, Alan Alda and Jacqueline Winspear, author of the Maisie Dobbs mysteries, all just signed their name.

Which one works best?

I’d have to go with Pollan’s “Vote with your fork.”

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