I love books. Formulaic novels with the author’s name in bubble letters, tissue-paper classics with orange covers and a musty smell about the spine, fat doorstop omnibuses – I love all of them. Most of all, though, I love books with a visible history.
Working in offices upstairs from a library proved difficult as every time they sold off excess stock downstairs I would gather up armfuls of homeless books, pay my donation, and cram them into the drawers and shelves beneath my desk.
The most recent one to be lifted out for re-reading was Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – my favorite of the series by far. I was settling into it at my apartment with my feet up and a cup of tea beside me, feeling pretty good.
When I put it down the back cover flapped open and I found this:
(text: JK Rowling, Dr Der. Did you ever wright right any books at school skool from Jack Lele Lee.)
(text: To Jaqlin W JK Rowling: I love your books so can you tell me how it came to you? From, a Mystery Person!!)
Two letters written in different handwriting to the author.
I would love to know more about the kids who wrote these, just as they wanted to know more about JK Rowling. When I was young my parents took me to meet Brian Jacques, whom I worshipped – I had all of his books with me and remember the afternoon with a tingly, technicolour clarity. It seemed almost too good to be true that the author of these books should be a real person, one you could go and meet and get a autograph from.
There’s something in that relationship, between the writer and the reader, which is both intimate and unknowable. We can love books, we can share them with our friends and go see the authors read them out. We can create real or imagined relationships with the author, with the characters, that change the way we think about our worlds and ourselves. In spite of all of these ways of making connections, however, the writer and the reader will always be, in some way, a “Mystery Person!!”