To rip or not to rip

Last year I wrote a diatribe about my distaste for handwritten inscriptions inside books, and was roundly castigated by just about everyone.

An unusual circumstance presented itself today. A nearly new children’s book I bought at a yard sale contains the following inscription in a child’s handwriting:

Jane Doe! have a nice day!

I’ve changed the girl’s name for this discussion. The writer was presumably a friend, probably a classmate, who wrote a surprise message in the book.

The issue troubling me is that the girl, this 9-year-old girl, died two years ago in a well-known hit-and-run incident in our community. Two scumbags were racing on a highway and one of their vehicles hit a SUV, killing the girl — a twin no less.

My wife worked with the girl’s mother for three years in college, so she had a bit of a reaction when she discovered the handwritten note.

The question I’m pondering is whether to keep the inscription, or to rip the page out (which is easily doable because it’s an otherwise blank page). I have no doubt that this book will go on to have other future owners.

I could make arguments either way, so I’m curious what you think.


20 Responses to “To rip or not to rip”

  1. Jennifer says:

    In this specific case, I say DO rip. If you think it will be beautiful or meaningful in some way, you can always choose later on to share the story of the book’s previous owner. Though I think it would be mostly creepy.

    In general, I hate inscriptions (beyond a basic name and phone number)! I spend a lot of time in secondhand stores and if people knew who was pawing over their heartfelt inscriptions, they’d cringe.

    If folks realized the books they lovingly selected often wound up in yard sales, Value Village, etc., I think they’d inscribe them less often, or less permanently, because it’s just plain embarrassing, the sappy things some people write that STILL get tossed when the kids grow up or show no interest in the painstakingly-selected literature.

    June 19th, 2010 at 10:17 pm

  2. Jenni says:

    Leave it…some will see it as a tribute to her.

    June 19th, 2010 at 10:18 pm

  3. Jenni says:

    Actually, let me follow up with that, if possible to ask the parent if you could, in her honor, start the book on a trip around to as many children as possible for all to enjoy.

    June 19th, 2010 at 10:19 pm

  4. Matt says:

    Wow. Tough call. My instinct is to leave it. Ripping out the page won’t change the tragedy that happened, and in one way removing the page feels like an attempt to obfuscate the past…

    On the other hand, you don’t go into detail re: your wife’s reaction. Did she accept it as a reminder that one should celebrate life, or a reminder that tragedy too often impacts our daily lives. (And it’s understandable that you don’t go into detail – it’s none of our business :)

    But I think that the reaction will be a key motivator in what you do.

    At the end of the day, selling it for a penny on Amazon to a family somewhere else in the states and buying another second hand copy might be the easiest move. But I somehow feel it wouldn’t be bravest one…

    Either way, please, please let us know what you do.

    June 20th, 2010 at 2:24 am

  5. Babes says:

    Oh I would say keep that inscription. It’s become part of the book’s story (I’m generally a fan of inscriptions) and especially given what’s happened to the author of this signature. Ripping it out seems somehow disrespectful to her memory even if your intention is the opposite. But then again I’m a hoarder, I have issues letting go of anything and especially written souvenirs. It’s your call

    June 20th, 2010 at 6:26 am

  6. Tracy says:

    My most immediate reaction was that to tear the page out would be like getting rid of that little girls memory in a way. I know it doesn’t make much sense, but I had a strong feeling that she deserves not to have her page torn out of history.

    The issue of inscriptions is interesting to me, as I have all my books from childhood, inscribed or not. I treasure the feeling I get when I open up a book and see an inscription from relatives gone now. I write lovingly in my nieces books, and if she chooses to get rid of them when she’s older, that’s her choice. But for now, I hope she gets a warm feeling from seeing messages in her favourite books.

    If seeing the little girls name in the book is upsetting each time it is opened, I would send the copy on and get another one. Just my thoughts…

    June 20th, 2010 at 6:43 am

  7. AJ says:

    Matt, my wife’s reaction was not positive. The inscription stirred up the thought of the usual purging parents do as their children outgrow things, except the parents are purging, presumably, some of their daughter’s last personal possessions. And in this case, it was a much more vivid reminder because her name is inside the book, written at a happy moment in her life and now those moments are gone.

    June 20th, 2010 at 10:46 am

  8. Jenni says:

    Those “moments” are gone, but not the happy memories of those moments.

    June 20th, 2010 at 1:44 pm

  9. observer says:

    place a peice of painters tape over it.then nobody has to see it while you have it, and if the next owner wants to keep or get rid of the inscription, its not your problem any more.

    June 20th, 2010 at 8:24 pm

  10. Tanya says:

    I’m not anti-inscription anyways. I’d leave it becasue it’s a small mark in your family’s history. Two of my favourite books in my kids’ collections are both written in – and one of them had been inscribed twice to unknown children!

    June 20th, 2010 at 10:38 pm

  11. Bev says:

    Weighing in on this from Finland, of all places.

    You know why this would have some feeling for me and IMO, leave the page. I was presented with a book that Paul had written which came into the owner’s hand purely by accident the night before a memorial service for him. I still treasure that book. He’s not here, but that book is.

    Of course, you could just ASK the parents which they would prefer.

    June 21st, 2010 at 1:06 pm

  12. Dallas says:

    Did you get this book from a yard sale at the parent’s house? It may have been given away before the poor baby’s death, and the parents *might* would like to have it?

    I wouldn’t tear it out, though. I like Jenni’s idea, a lot.

    I weighed in on the inscriptions in the earlier post. I am a fan of inscriptions, just because I like to see the journey a book has taken before it ends up in my hands.

    June 21st, 2010 at 1:34 pm

  13. kelly says:

    “How wonderful it was that this little girl had such a good friend who gave her this book with a personal message in it. Every time she read the book she thought of that person and how much she was loved.” This is what I would choose to think whenever I open your book, or for that matter whenever I read any used book that has an inscription in it. It doesn’t matter how or why I am holding a book inscribed to or by someone else (why it was sold/given away), but that at one time someone cared enough about another to put it in writing within a book.

    June 21st, 2010 at 2:12 pm

  14. Jennifer says:

    It sounds like the parents are the ones that got rid of the book – perhaps because they were met with the same dillema. Jane Doe didn’t write the inscription and it isn’t a particularly personal message.

    I am with Jenni: Start the book on a trip around to many children and give it meaning in Jane’s honor.

    June 21st, 2010 at 2:36 pm

  15. AJ says:

    Wow, lots of things to think about. I queried my wife and it seems this was not the family’s yard sale because it was in the wrong part of town. The book is “Charlie Bone and The Castle Of Mirrors” and is rated for 9-to-12-year-olds, so it likely was owned by the girl at the time. So, in two years the book has had at least one other owner.

    I’ll refrain from contacting the mother. On one hand, she did decide to purge the book, but on the other… maybe she didn’t know about the inscription. But also, short of creating a shrine, you just can’t keep everything and would this anonymous inscription be as valuable as the other mementos she kept? I could just cause more tears. That’s the gamble, betting a thankful response against stirring up more grief.

    June 21st, 2010 at 8:38 pm

  16. Dallas says:

    It is a gamble, a big one, but she does have a twin, right?

    Maybe the twin would want it, as an adult, perhaps even to give to her (future) children?

    I don’t know, I’m really grasping at straws. You’re right, you can’t keep everything. And, it’s not *that* personal.

    Who knows… maybe hang on to it for a few years and see how you feel then. Perhaps, since your wife knows her, she may also know some of the Mom’s other friends. Maybe she could feel them out as to what to do.

    I really, really wouldn’t tear it out, though.

    It’s a dilemma. Once, though, I checked out a library book and there was black and white picture in it, of a woman and a child, obviously old. I returned it to the library, and suggested they check with the people who previously checked out the book to see if it was left by mistake. Several weeks later the librarian told me that the family was very thankful to get the pic back, it had been misplaced and it was the only one of that particular family member. (We live in a small town, it wasn’t hard to track down the owner). Of course, this is a book, and probably not a children’s “classic”, (well, at least not to me, I’ve read it. It’s good, but it’s not Carroll or Laura Wilder), and perhaps it was meant to be given away. It’s not a photo, either. The circumstance kind of reminded me of that situation, though.

    I’d wait a while, see if someone close to the family can give a better indication, and if all signs point to no, then pass it along.

    June 21st, 2010 at 11:12 pm

  17. Tim says:

    The historian in me flinched on reading this post. What exactly would removing the inscription accomplish? Your wife may have had a negative emotional reaction, but the next person is just as likely to have a positive one.

    June 22nd, 2010 at 7:57 am

  18. Jennifer says:

    I don’t know why I am so tied to this post…perhaps because one side of me thinks “Come on! The inscription doesn’t mean anything and keeping it around is creepy. Get rid of it!” Something tells me that I am not the only one who thinks this either.

    But, then the side of me (that I forget to be more often than not) thinks it is an opportunity to do something great too. Some people volunteer at a soup kitchen, and some people get to honor a poor girl and her grieving family. Just something little (like keeping the inscription). Maybe the opportunity is why you posted this in the first place…

    June 22nd, 2010 at 5:29 pm

  19. adrienne says:


    I’d rip it out.

    There are small things that can remind us of young lives dramatically truncated. The inscription (to me) would be a reminder that she has no more nice days. No more days at all.

    While it’s critical that people still remember those lost friends and family members, this book doesn’t seem like a great memory but just an echo of horrific loss.

    June 26th, 2010 at 8:11 pm

  20. Carrie says:

    If writing in a book bothers you, how can you even consider ripping a page out of a book? Even a blank page? You’ll compromise the book.

    Don’t rip it out.

    I’d write a letter to the owner if you can find their address, and ask them if they would like the book back or if they would like you to donate it to a library in her name, or what. Then if they already got rid of it once, you won’t be opening up the wounds (as much) by showing them her handwriting.

    June 28th, 2010 at 1:10 pm

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