Legacy

I made a huge life decision recently.

You get to a certain age, and you realise that there's no point in putting it off any more. "If not now, when?", "We'll never be more ready", etc. etc. After much discussion with my wife (obviously), pouring over finances, whispered conversations with knowledgeable friends, we bravely... did the deed.

We got bookplates.

Stop smirking. What did you think I was talking about?

This is a really, really, really big deal.

I talk about books a lot - you may have noticed? - because I find them culturally, historically, and personally significant. In a way that few other objects are. A book is a thing that can hold value in lot of ways:

There's the functional benefit; the text. The book's contents. The actual use of a book is to contain information and/or a story, and that, itself, is valuable. A reference book, for example, has an inherent value of holding information.

There's the emotional benefit of the text: the power of the story; the escape to Narnia. That is immensely powerful - and has a unique personal relevance.

There's also the personal relevance of the unique object. Technically, any copy of The Lion, The Witch and Wardrobe can transport me to Narnia. But my copy may be special. It could be a crappy edition that also happened to be the only English-language book for sale on the ferry to Croatia. It may be the one book I enjoyed in from my English Lit class. Maybe my beloved grandmother gave it to me. My childhood dog gnawed on it. Or my ex left it behind (ha ha ha).

Or there's the historical value of the book. The book (object) itself has experienced something that adds to its story (again, as an object). This was the file copy at the Bodleian. It is signed by the pub landlord at The Eagle and Child - maybe Dorothy Sayers spilled gin on the flyleaf page. Or a bookplate showing it that once belonged to another author, who, despite referencing Turkish Delight twice in her own debut novel, never realised Lewis was an influence.

And there's a social dimension as well. The value that others may put on my individual copy. Perhaps my copy is a first edition. Signed. Mint condition. Other wiser (and wealthier) people have decided this is valuable, in the pseudo-objective, socially-agreed way that art has value. The social value isn't purely monetary: maybe I have a particular book purely because it makes me look cool. I'll never read it, I don't care about it, but having it on my shelf gives me some social capital in the eyes of my peers.

Which is a lot of ways to say that books can be valuable: rational benefit, emotional benefit, personal relevance, historical/cultural significance, and socially determined. Which makes for a pretty handy framework when it comes to determining the possible value of pretty much anything. (See what I did there?)

And the value of these, er, values, is also highly individual. This is why some people scream when you underline a book, and others (LIKE MY WIFE) freely dog-ear pages and annotate (IN PEN) to their heart's content. This is why some people save books - whether or not they're ever going to reread them - and others immediately give them away. In many ways, this is part of the argument around ebooks: digital copies don't have the capacity to achieve the latter three of the five dimensions of value. They're excellent for containing text and story, they're lousy at giving off a sense of uniqueness, history, or distinction.

As a book collector, you learn to appreciate all these forms of value: you're always on the prowl for something unique; a multi-dimensional conquest. (On an unrelated note, if you do have a copy of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - or any other book - that Sayers spilled gin on, email me.) To put a bookplate in a book is therefore a great imbalance in the Force: a declaration that the book's personal relevance offsets - or trumps - all other values. I'm arbitrarily assigning a high value to the historical factor of my own ownership and, by acting on it, 'betting' that the increase of that value offsets the corresponding depreciation that results from putting a whopping big sticker in it

You can see why that's a little nerve-wracking. It is hubris at its most destructive.

So why would I do it? 

I'm never going to resell any of my books. It is fun having 'valuable' books, but since I'm not ever flogging them, that aspect of social value has therefore declined. In some instances, they're books that my wife or I worked on, or have been signed to us - so their personal relevance has increased. And in many cases, the very act of sticking a bookplate simply makes me like the book more. That's choice supportive bias as its finest: I've put my name on it (literally), so it damn well means something to me. All of this wasn't true ten years ago, but my priorities, how I interpret relative aspects of value, have changed. Because, ultimately, value isn't just multi-dimensional and subjective, it is fluid as well. 

Get: Anyone with something to sell
To: Express the product's benefits more enticingly
By: Recognising what the audience values


Incidentally, here they are. Designed by (lovely and legendary) Jeffrey Alan Love and printed by Bookplate Ink. They're gorgeous. And highly personalised (there's a whole story behind them and tldr; they're simply perfect.)

...and Newsline feature on a hot new trend: djinn fiction! Includes profiles of several contributors to The Djinn Falls in Love, including my editorial partner-in-crime, Mahvesh Murad, who "has her finger on the pulse of contemporary global SFF". Quoth Mahvesh:

Djinn have been present in various forms of narrative fiction coming from the West for years, be they Disney or Neil Gaiman, but now we’re taking back our power, telling the stories in the settings we want to see them in, as raw or ‘real’ as we want them to be, and with the sort of storytelling styles and syntax unique to us, hoping our narratives will break through to, and engage with larger readerships.

Go forth and take back your power.