The memories of your first girlfriend may be a bit fuzzy, but the margin notes in that copy of The Picture of Dorian Gray she gave you are as clear as the day they were written. You and your fifth-grade BFF may no longer be sporting matching friendship bracelets, but she still gets nostalgic when she comes across that paperback edition of Looking for Alaska she borrowed from you but forgot to return. You can throw out trinkets from expired relationships, but it’s harder to do away with the written word. Unlike a carnival prize or old college sweatshirt, words are eternal, living on not only in the pages of a book but etched in the memories of all who have read them.
The Books They Gave Me is a month-old blog project created and edited by Jen Adams in which contributors anonymously share the stories behind books that were given to them by loved ones past and present. Alongside each story, there’s an image of the book’s cover–often the very copy that the post’s author received.
Some of the stories are heartbreaking, like this one on A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh series:
At some point between marriage and having babies, when we were still dreamy and in love, he bought the books and we began to read them together, aloud, one chapter per night, just before bed.
They were far sweeter and sadder than we’d anticipated. Piglet reaches for Pooh’s hand, saying, “I just wanted to be sure of you.” Piglet was articulate and thoughtful, while Pooh was really concerned with lunch. Piglet said, “We’ll be Friends Forever, won’t we, Pooh?” and Pooh answered: “Even longer.”
That turned out not to be true.
I told her I liked Yeats, and a week later, she gave me a copy of his
Collected Poems. I thought this was odd, as of course I had a copy, he
was my favorite poet. So I hid my copy.
When we moved in together, she found my hidden copy. “Why didn’t you
tell me you had it?” she asked. “Because I was so happy that you thought
of me, this is the only copy I wanted to read.”
I was 19. He was 30. I’m not sure he thought this gift through.
The Books They Gave Me is filled with many other stories like these. So why do books from loved ones seem to have a greater hold on us than other material items? One contributor to the blog sums it up as follows:
I believe that giving a book to a person is like giving a piece of your soul to them. You have to open yourself up to giving the person a piece of yourself, a part of your mind, and a little bit of your body. It’s a personal gift, a book, and it’s something that shouldn’t be taken lightly. So when you give a book, make sure you’re prepared to be as open as you’ve ever been.