Book Inscription Mystery Solved!

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When I posted Book Inscriptions to Ponder, I was hoping to clear up some of the confusion caused by messy handwriting from more than a century ago. Two inscriptions remain a bit mysterious, but one of them has been cracked! Better still, the most difficult script to read is the one that’s been translated.

It pays to have a friend that works with historical documents. Her expertise with handwritten documents and more importantly with archaic cursive allowed her to pick apart the often confusing inscription from my 1847 Edition of Six Day’s Wonder (American Sunday School Union).

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The year, 1847, was the first clue. Part of what made this inscription so difficult to read was not only the scribbled cursive, but the irregular spelling. The concept of a speller and later a dictionary didn’t materialize until 1783 and 1828 respectively. From there spelling standards were gradually implemented, which means irregular spelling was commonplace throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

In this particular example, Israel is sometimes spelled with an “E” and bullet may be “bullock.” It’s hard to know for sure, but its as good a guess as any. However, these two irregularities allowed my friend to see the connection to Bible verses from Genesis and Kings.

From there, she was able to piece together a pretty good translation of the script:

… now therefore send to all the parts of Israel and gather (400?) and the people answered not a word and all the people and (the?) they took the bullet (bullock?) and dress it and they called to “se”

Elija (Elias?) said come unto me Israel shall be thy name and he put the bullet how He soiled the God requested that he might die

an angel came and touched him and said rise eat and drink for the journey is great to Isreal …

There are still a few kinks to work out, but with this translation resting next to the original it’s easy to see how it all lines up. Furthermore, we noticed there are a number of pages missing between the page on the left and the right. Who knows what was written to connect these two sides together!

Ah, the fun of old books!

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All credit for this translation goes to my good friend, Rita Ackerman. You can visit her on either of her two blogs to see what she’s up to as a writer, historical researcher, and genealogist:

Rita Ackerman

Tattered Past

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c.b.w. 2016

Book Inscriptions to Ponder

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Book inscriptions have long fascinated me and are often the deciding factor in whether I purchase an old, beat up book. Most of my “antique” books are falling apart with brittle pages and water damaged covers. Nothing about them is valuable in the monetary sense, yet they are priceless to me because of what is written on the inside.

Faded ink and fancy script piques my curiosity and adds an element of humanity to an old relic. There are names, years, notations, greetings, and sometimes objects stuffed between the pages. People I’ve never met left a piece of themselves behind and that somehow creates a connection. These old books are almost a portal between the present and a long forgotten past.

I first documented my love of inscriptions a few years back, (see Beautiful Book Inscriptions). With the focus mostly on elegant script or heartwarming stories, there wasn’t much room for the more mysterious books on my shelf. Sometimes the inscription is so confusing or difficult to read, I’m inclined to add it to my collection so I can figure it out!

The three books that follow have some of the more curious inscriptions. The inscriptions aren’t the stuff of mystery novels, but they do make me wonder about the people who wrote them.

The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli, Translated by W.K. Marriott, 1916 Edition (Everyman’s Library, J.M. Dent & Sons, Ltd.)

The back cover of this edition includes a list that directly quotes parts of The Prince or offers cryptic notations about the text. The entire book is marked up as if it was used by a student. Passages are underlined and countless notes are scribbled in the margins. Within the pages I found a pressed maple leaf. I can’t help but wonder who left behind such detailed and thoughtful notes. Was it the same person who saved the leaf or was that someone else down the line?

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Six Day’s Wonder, American Sunday School Union, 1847 Edition

Every blank space in the front and back covers is filled with very messy cursive writing. I can’t read half of it, but given the topic of the book and several mentions of God in the script, it’s most likely religious. The question is whether it’s contemplative, reactionary, summative or philosophical. The writing almost looks hurried and feverish as if this person could not write fast enough. Something was in this person’s head and they just had to get it out before it was gone. Also intriguing is the handwritten notation (in a different script) of an organization’s ownership of the book.

If anyone wants to take a crack at deciphering the script, leave your thoughts in the comments!

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Inside Front cover

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Inside Back Cover

English and Scottish Popular Ballads, by R. Adelaide Witham, 1909 Edition, The Riverside Press

The inside cover of this little gem is particularly perplexing in that it includes the names of two owners (which isn’t odd at all), but also a list that includes the title of the book itself, (which is curious). All I’ve been able to find out is the names listed are editors of poetry and ballad compilations for student reading. Perhaps one of the owners of this book was creating a shopping or reading list.

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Then, of course, are the stories lost to time. Banged up corners, missing pages, and ripped binding all have something to say. Someone a century ago dropped it on the floor or spilled a glass of water. Subtle little mysteries live inside every old book.

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c.b.w. 2015

The Haiku Debate

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As more and more haikus are scribbled into my journal, it’s entirely clear to me that my interest in the form has turned into nothing less than an obsession. Naturally, I set out to learn as much I could, which means I’ve been doing a lot of reading on the subject of haikus and collections of haikus.

Between backtracking to the classics and getting a sense of the modern aesthetic, my understanding of the form has changed significantly. All my life I’d been taught that haiku is essentially a rigid form: three lines with 17 syllables arranged in a 5-7-5 layout.  Imagine my surprise when I realized that this is almost completely wrong!

It’s true Japanese haiku is poetry consisting of 17 beats (technically not syllables), but that beat count applies to the Japanese language which naturally falls into that rhythm. The idea of a syllable count came about when haiku migrated to the English language and it was seen as a excellent way to teach children how to count syllables.

Even more surprising is that the concept of three lines is quite the myth. Most Japanese haiku is written in a single line, which is usually vertical. Once again, the idea of three lines in the 5-7-5 layout evolved from the translation into English. While a misnomer, the format stuck until English language poets began to experiment and break out of the three line division.

At it’s core, haiku is about capturing a single moment or experience. Nature usually serves as the backdrop, but modern poets are even pushing that traditional boundary, by mixing humanity with natural elements. Modern haiku ignores syllable counts and focuses instead on clean, crisp language that hones in a small detail. The resulting poem is often far less than 17 syllables with no set line count.

Polar opposite visions of haiku naturally lead to a debate. On one side, there’s the 17 syllable, 5-7-5, 3 line format and on the other there’s the modernist approach with few restrictions other than maintaining the essence of haiku. As a poet enthralled with the idea of haiku, I find myself stuck in the middle.

The so-called traditional 5-7-5 layout has been around for a long time.  Even though the connection between this format and the original Japanese haiku is shaky at best, it’s a form that everyone knows. It’s part of the poetic psyche and allows just about anyone to be a poet, (how cool is that?).

On this side of the argument, I feel my childhood holding tight to what I’ve been taught. I like the rigidity of the 5-7-5 layout. The finite quality of it forces me to work within certain parameters and choose my words carefully, but it also pushes my creativity to go to places I never would have considered.

Most modern haiku poets have dismissed the 5-7-5 layout as passé, given it’s disconnect to the traditional Japanese form. They certainly have a point as the whole idea of 17 syllables is an invention rather than a hardcore sentiment of tradition. Hence, there’s no point in counting syllables if they are kept to a minimum.

As for line counts, modern haikus are all over the place. Some poets prefer single lines, while others will employ three. There’s no steadfast rule, so words and/or subject matter dictate how lines are constructed. For modernists, line divisions can have meaning that goes beyond form.

I like the fact that modern haiku is sparse and poignant. Like the “traditional” 5-7-5, the challenge of operating with limited syllable and line counts pushes me to be particular about my words and focus on small details. However, the complete lack of a set syllable and line count creates a sense of uncertainty that can be a little daunting. In many ways, it’s that daunting element that reminds me to keep an open mind and embrace the freedom.

The verdict: There’s something beautiful about both. I find myself dabbling in the rigid form of the 5-7-5 haiku, while also wandering into the new waters of modern haiku. Despite the fact that the majority of modern haiku writers discredit the 5-7-5 form, I believe it still has a place on the poetic stage…

Birch bark peels; white curls
summer breeze, fluttering leaves
silver branches sway

Yet, one the same page I’ll happily write two lines with 4 syllables each …

Wind scattered leaves
life’s broken pieces

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Recommended Reading:

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c.b.w. 2014

For My Friend

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We must have seemed odd
to those who passed by
Opposites in every way
except on the inside
No need to explain Party of One
I understood you,
and you understood me
as no one else could
Over countless cups of coffee,
we pondered the meaning of life
and other silly things
And let’s not forget the music,
Junip and jazz still sing in my head
We read Maisie Dobbs and F. Scott Fitzgerald,
along with Willa Cather and Steinbeck, too
Ah, the books we treasured
and the stories we shared
I don’t have your picture,
but I’ll never forget your face
Nor how you taught me
the real source of strength
Without you there is an empty space
Thank you for being my friend,
until the very end

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Recently, a dear friend of mine passed away. While the sadness is sometimes overwhelming, so is the joy I have in the memories of the moments we shared.  Our friendship was something really special and I already miss it.

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c.b.w. 2014

Book Review: How I Got Published

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How I Got Published: Famous Authors Tell You in Their Own WordsHow I Got Published: Famous Authors Tell You in Their Own Words by Ray White

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The title alone is enough to grab the attention of any writer dying to get published. Famous and not-so-famous authors share their stories of failure and eventual success in the brutal business of publishing.

Organized into short essays, a number of authors write about their experiences with query letters, rejections, agents, deals gone wrong, and the unpredictable nature of the literary scene. It’s a tough industry to break into and they are very honest about the fact that publishing is not for those with paper-thin skin or a gelatinous spine. As horrible as that sounds, each author’s story has a strong sense of optimism brought on by a taste of success. The odds of snagging an agent or a book deal may be small, but anything is possible.

Two pieces of advice dominate How I Got Published from start to finish. First, there is no perfect tried and true method of getting published. Second, persistence is a writer’s greatest weapon. The only way to find the right agent or get your work in front of an editor is to put it out there and do so relentlessly. Send query letters even when nothing but rejections follow. Keep revising and writing until no word goes untouched. What it all comes down to is hard work, a little luck, and a great story.

The only flaw with an otherwise highly motivational and encouraging read is a problem with repetition. While every author has their own unique story, they all start to blur together about halfway through the book. Furthermore, most of the writers showcased are mystery and crime fiction writers. Little attention is given to writers in other genres, thereby limiting the inside perspective on agents and publishing houses.

View all my reviews on Goodreads

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c.b.w. 2013