Bookplates, especially old-school ones, are wonderful. Yet people don’t seem to use them much these days. Which, I think, says something about the value we place on books.
A lot of books sold today are paperbacks and (while not necessarily cheap) they cost us little money. Books on the best seller lists, much like books from the bargain bins, are likely to get bought, read, and then discarded / shelved / donated (ideally) / forgotten. What a sad existence! And I’m not saying that a lot of them are worth keeping (unless you read something and feel it’s changed you in some way). What I am saying is that our relationship to books has changed. Many books, today, are more like candy bars — a momentary distraction and delight, if we’re lucky, but too often not much more. In part because they’re poorly made (don’t get me started), in part because they’re poorly written, and in part because there’s just too much else going on in our lives.
In fact, some of us seem to have forgotten how books work: Buzz Feed’s Alanna Okun has compiled a few examples of what people do to books these days, so go ahead, jump over there and check it out. I’ll wait. Go look at it and tell me it doesn’t hurt.
Bookplates like the ones I’ve picked for this post say “This book is more than a snicker’s bar or a fling to me.” (“I’ll still respect it in the morning! And the week after. And the year after.”) The designs can be very intricate. Frequently they incorporate symbolism of what’s dear to the owner of the book, or play with the owner’s name or profession, or even show a portrait or caricature of the owner. At times, bookplates could even be risqué (usually used for books of corresponding content). In any case, thought went into the design of each.
The Pratt Institute in New York has a wonderful collection of 19th and 20th century bookplates (and yes, I looked through all >1,000 of them!) that gives an impression of the way people used to feel about their books. You can look at all the images here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/prattinstitutelibraries/sets/72157613160345964/ There are also many lovely and strange examples that can be found via a simple image search online.
I’ll be honest and say that while I adore bookplates, I don’t use them – most of the books I lend to others are paperbacks and I usually mark those simply with my initials in a corner of the end papers. I’m also picky with who I lend books to. (If you’ve borrowed one of my books, count yourself special!)
Once my “good” library grows, I may invest in some actual, personalized, old-school bookplates for the hard-covers and first editions. Because I do feel strongly about some of the books I own, and while I’m sure I’d get them back no matter what, I just like the idea of manifesting that “relationship” I have with my books. I want to show my books some love.
Fellow readers, tell me:
- Do you use bookplates? Do you know someone who does?
- Do you mark your books in any way? Do you put your name in it?
- Do you tend to hang on to your books? And if you do, do you come back to them?
- Is getting your e-reader engraved the new bookplate?