Monday, August 27, 2012

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Back in April I posted an entry about the Forgotten Bookmarks blog, which is about little treasures found inside old books. Now I've learned about another web site with a similar but distinct mission: Together, as Always, which is devoted to documenting handwritten inscriptions inside of books, usually on the front endpapers.

What you see above is a typical example -- a 1963 edition of Gulliver's Travels, with the following inscription:


Hope that you can read this. Next time I'll do better.


Hmmm. Did he mean he'd "do better" in terms of his handwriting? His probable misspelling of Mar[i]lyn's name? Something else? It's hard to know exactly what it means, but there's definitely an undercurrent of sadness there.

This sense of awkward melancholy can be found in many of the inscriptions, like this one:

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It reads, "Someday I would like to sit and talk with you again. But not today -- perhaps tomorrow?" So odd. Was that some sort of olive branch being offered after a lengthy d├ętente? An inside joke? Just a case of clumsy phrasing?

Together, as Always is the work of an artist named Julianne Aguilar, who found all the books in Texas thrift shops. In her "About" page, she says the project "explores ownership, and how an object can still be owned even after being discarded." She goes on:

Books give a gift-giver a unique opportunity to personalize their gift. Names, dates and occasions denote for whom the book was intended, the date it was given and why. These highly personal messages are discarded with the book and will be read by anyone who owns it in the future. Almost no one seems to make any attempt to remove the inscription, even if it was written in pencil. As a result, these books feel like they still belong to someone, as though to own them is to own a stranger’s secrets. The thrill of these objects is their mystery and their unwillingness to let go of the past.

Nicely put. I could keep on citing favorite inscriptions from the site, but I'll restrict myself to just one more:

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In case you can't read the inscription there, it says:

Scott Wilkinson Andrews

Christmas 1974

May your interest in coins be a lifetime.


I assume she meant to say that his interest in coins should last a lifetime, but whatever -- it's more endearing this way. And speaking of endearing, when's the last time you saw someone sign a note with "Momma"? Nice.

To explore the rest of Together, as Always, look here.

(Special thanks to Kirsten Hively for telling me about this excellent site.)

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Update: After I posted this entry, I sent a note to Julianne Aguilar, telling her how much I like her site and letting her know I'd blogged about it. She wrote back with the following:

I am honored to be featured on your blog -- especially because I so love Permanent Record! Believe it or not, when I read your story on Slate last fall, I was in the first planning stages for my own project, and it was a big inspiration. At the time I was working in archives in a small town in West Texas and found myself wanting to read and make work about archives. Your story really got me looking around for anything forgotten, which took me to the only thrift store in town, which was conveniently directly across the street from my apartment, which is where the book collection began.

How cool is that? I've become a fan of her project, and she was already a fan of mine!

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Slate update: I just delivered the latest full-length Permanent Record article to my Slate editor, who says it's tentatively scheduled to run during the week of Sept. 10. This article took an unusual turn -- it's about a story emerging from one of the report cards, but the story isn't about the student connected to the card. That's all I'll say for now, except that I think you'll like it.

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