Every year I like to honour the art of the book dedication by posting some dedications which have caught my fancy through the months, a tradition harking back to the very first Books in the City post.
Just as there is no one recipe for a good book, there is no one recipe for a good book dedication. It's a bit like stone soup. Cryptic or poignant, cabbage or peas -- put in what you've got; the one essential ingredient is the magic stone, which in the case of dedications is personality, as so often in life.
1. Daniel Nester in How to be inappropriate
For our daughter, Miriam Lee Nester.
I’ll try to behave myself from now on.
I like the honesty of that "try", from someone who is so attuned to the inappropriate as to be able to offer an absorbing variety of examples, including "an Australian opposition leader caught sniffing a woman's chair; two more Australians, cadets this time, of Chinese descent singled out by superiors to play-act Koreans in knife combat; a Russian formalist points out a playwright's disregard for logic, and offers as evidence how characters break into scenes with strange or 'inappropriate' remarks; a proposed new drug treats 'inappropriate' levels of separation anxiety in dogs... ".
In other words, anything "odd, out of place". Hey! I think I've found an example of that:
It just seems like the second something becomes really solemn [like poetry], I want to do something wrong with it. I cant help but think it has something to do with being an alter boy. -- Daniel Nester, as quoted in the online magazine Smith
For my dad, who was proud of me
This made me so happy, and all the more when I saw a photo of Jane Hill.
This is Jane Hill, isn't she great?
3. And these are the Nabokovs, Vladimir and Véra:
|(Photo courtesy of Christie's)|
Vladimir Nabokov in Speak memory, Lolita, Pnin, Pale fire, Ada, Transparent things, and Look at the harlequins:
I learned this from Brian Boyd at this year's Writers' Festival, where he was presenting Letters to Véra, the book he edited of Nabokov's letters to his wife over their 52 years of marriage, the longest marriage in literary history, if I remember correctly. Starting from his memoir Speak memory in 1951 and until his death, Nabokov dedicated every one of his books to Véra.
The passionate lepidopterist also presented her with the first copy of each book as it arrived from the publisher, having first drawn in it an imaginary butterfly, a different one every time, playing on the occasion. Here's the harlequin butterfly he drew in Look at the harlequins, possibly a reference not just to the book but also to the harlequin mask Véra was wearing when they first met.
On their 43rd wedding anniversary, in Véra's copy of The Gift Nabokov wrote "Here is the tenderest of butterflies worthy of the anniversary, 1925-68", and labelled the butterfly he drew a male Charaxes Verae Nabokov. I looked up Charaxes. It is a genus of butterflies known for their constancy in returning always to the same spot.
4. Jules Feiffer in Backing into forward
For my children, my grandchild, my future grandchildren –
Success is nothing to sneeze at, but failure, too,
Offers great possibilities.
And always remember, do not let your judges define you.
I saved this one for last. A summa cum laude dedication, a capture in amber of that moment in which the book is finished and ready to be sent off, a message to the dedicatee, but also to us, idiosyncratic and direct from the heart. I love the dedication and I loved the book, a memoir by the great cartoonist, playwright and illustrator (most notably of the children's-classic-for-all-ages The Phantom Tollbooth). A boy growing up in the Bronx who lacked "the basic Bronx gene, the ball-playing gene", with a father "primarily gentle and not very significant in my life -- or his own", a mother whom he would happily have murdered, but didn't want to wound. The girl he hitch-hiked across America to rejoin, who when he shows up at her door can't change her weekend plans. "If you didn't love me anymore, why didn't you write me? I wouldn't have come!" he says.
"I didn't know I didn't love you," she said.
"When did you find out?"
"When I opened the door and saw you."
If you have never at any time in your life thought that could happen to you, this book isn't for you, and I feel sorry for you for that.
If you'd like to see more dedications, here are the posts:
Dedicated by -- or to -- the beats: Kerouac, Ferlinghetti, and Bob Orr
Book dedications n. 5: Balzac, Rostand, Conrad, Edward Gorey, and Neil Gaiman
Best book dedications n. 4: Hunter S. Thompson, Diana Wynne Jones, Lady Chatterley's lover
My dedications collection: Christine Lvov Lealand, Larry McMurtry, JD Salinger
Dedications, again: Cornell Woolrich, Michael King, H. Rider Haggard
Dedicated to the one I love: Ken Kesey and Diane Wakoski