When British author C.P. Snow received the American edition of his novel, “A Coat of Varnish,” he was surprised and confused by the dedication:
“For Kate Marsh.”
Lord Snow, author of more than 25 books of fiction and non-fiction, didn’t like to dedicate his books to anyone, and he didn’t know anyone named Kate Marsh.
It turns out that the British printers delivered a copy of Snow’s manuscript to his London literary agent with a cover note, “For Kate Marsh,” the agent’s assistant. The note was not removed before the manuscript was shipped and the American printer assumed it was the dedication. Once the mystery was solved, everyone involved had a good laugh, but Lord Snow and his wife didn’t find it very funny.
Book dedications always interest me. If they are included at all, they are right after the title page, and that’s where I turn first when I pick up a new book. If I don’t see that page, filled mostly with white space and just a line or two of text, I feel disappointed (1) that I don’t get to indulge my voyeuristic bent, and (2) that the author isn’t an appreciative type. Surely there must be someone who helped, someone who inspired! No?
I like reading the acknowledgments, too, but I find dedications so much more fascinating and heartfelt. Acknowledgments can feel like an obligatory listing of thank yous and who’s who. Of course, it’s important to give credit where it’s due, but book dedications give credit in a different way.
They are often like little mini-stories filled with intrigue or romance. Sometimes they offer a glimpse into the author’s personality, such as Charles Bukowski’s dedication in his novel “Post Office.”
“This book is presented as a work of fiction and dedicated to nobody.”
That’s so Bukowski.
Other times they are cryptic and mysterious, like the dedication in “Peyton Place” by Grace Metalious.
“To George—for all the reasons he knows so well.”
That inscription was so intriguing it prompted Marlene Wagman-Geller to do some research. She found out that George was Matalious’ husband, and “the reasons” were that he was endlessly supportive, not just of her writing, but of her rebellious, non-conformist nature.
After learning that, Wagman-Geller was hooked. Her research led to “Once Again To Zelda: The Stories Behind Literature’s Most Intriguing Dedications.”
“Once Again To Zelda” isn’t a scholarly study; of the 50 books included, only 11 don’t list Wikipedia as a source. It sometimes reads like a supermarket tabloid filled with gossip and hearsay, but if you’re a book nerd like me, it’s riveting.
As I work toward the completion of my novel, I’ve already spent time thinking about my dedication. I wonder, my writing friends, how many of you have your dedication written?