My name brands my book,
announcing to the world that
it belongs to me.
These days I no longer do something that I once did with great pride. I no longer write my name in books that I own.
Every now and then when I peruse the offerings in a second-hand bookstore or a library sale of donated books, I would come upon a tome that bears the name of the owner in neat penmanship. I cannot help but think that they must have had the same emotions I did when I wrote my name in MY books, that of pride of ownership.
Where I grew up in Guyana there were no libraries. In my elementary school, in Orealla, the makeshift library we had was run by the school and the books available were donated by kindhearted residents of first world countries such as The United States, Canada, and England. Even our textbooks were hand-me-down unless you were the first child in the family to be a student in that class. The name of the first user would be crossed out, then replaced with the names of subsequent users of that textbook. Luckily for parents, most textbooks were used year after year in the same school, so they did not have to foot the draining expenses of new ones each August. Enterprising teenage friends formed their own libraries. They would each purchase a different copy of Mills and Boon romances (Harlequin, in the United States), then exchange with each other.
The writing of my name in my very own book was ceremonial for me. The impermanence of pencil would never do, my name had to be written in ink. And not just any ink, Parker Blue-Black was the ink of choice, the best that one could buy in our village. And not just any fountain pen would do, for heaven forbid there would be a leak or uneven flow that would mar my name. I chose the best pen I could find, Parker of course, even if I had to borrow it, then carefully, deliberately, I would use my best penmanship to seal my ownership. When I won a book in an essay-writing contest at age eleven, before I even scanned the pages (it was Treasure Island), I penned my name in it; owning the book took precedence over its contents.
Judging from the handwritten names I see in older books in America I believe that owners took similar pride in their books in bygone days. Maybe, like it was for us, books were not just possessions but treasured possessions. I have no doubt that people today still love their books, I know that I do, but I no longer write my name in those I own. The easy accessibility of books in so many different forms, from electronic to books on tape, to print, and relative affordability, has undoubtedly influenced this change, but the decades-old memory of being the owner of the few books that were mine, all mine, still fills me with pride of ownership.