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Yours, Insincerely

Autographing books at a festival is not as much fun as it used to be

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When I was a kid, I always thought that Hebrew Book Week was a legitimate holiday , something that fit comfortably amid Independence Day, Lag B’Omer, and Hanukkah. On this occasion, we didn’t sit around campfires, spin dreidels, or hit each other on the head with plastic hammers, and, unlike other holidays, it doesn’t commemorate a historical victory or heroic defeat, which made me like it even more.

At the beginning of every June, my sister, brother, and I would walk with our parents to the central square in Ramat Gan where dozens of tables covered in books were set up. Each of us would choose five books. Sometimes the writer of one of those books would be at the table and would write a dedication in it. My sister really liked that. I personally found it a little annoying. Even if someone writes a book, it doesn’t give him the right to scribble in my own private copy—especially if his handwriting is ugly, like a pharmacist’s, and he insists on using hard words you have to look up in the dictionary only to discover that all they really meant was “enjoy.”

Years have passed, and even though I’m not a kid anymore, I still get just as excited during Book Week. But now the experience is a little different and lot more stressful, because today I’m the one on the other side of the table scribbling in other people’s new books. And yet, even after 18 straight years of sitting on the other side of the table, I feel really uncomfortable about writing a dedication in a stranger’s copy of my book.

Before I started publishing books, I wrote dedications only in the ones I bought to give as gifts to people I knew. Then one day I suddenly found myself signing books for people who’d bought them themselves, people I’d never met before. What can you write in the book of a total stranger who might be anything from a serial killer to a Righteous Gentile? “In Friendship,” borders on falsehood; “With Admiration,” doesn’t hold water; “Best Wishes” sounds too avuncular; and “Hope you enjoy my book!” oozes smarm from the capital H to the final exclamation point. So, exactly 18 years ago, on the last night of my first Book Week, I created my own genre: fictitious book dedications. If the books themselves are pure fiction, why should the dedications be true?

“To Danny, who saved my life in the Litani. If you hadn’t tied that tourniquet, there’d be no me and no book.”

“To Mickey. Your mother called. I hung up on her. Don’t you dare show your face around here anymore.”

“To Sinai. I’ll be home late tonight, but I left some cholent in the fridge.”

“To Feige. Where’s that tenner I lent you? You said two days and it’s a month already. I’m still waiting.”

“To Tziki. I admit that I acted like a shit. But if your sister can forgive me, so can you.”

“To Avram. I don’t care what the lab tests show. For me, you’ll always be my dad.”

In retrospect, and after the slap in the face I got for writing that last one, I suppose I shouldn’t have written what I did for that tall guy with the Marine buzz cut who bought a book for his girlfriend.

“Bosmat, though you’re with another guy now, we both know you’ll come back to me in the end.”

The tall guy could have made a civil remark instead of getting physical. In any case, I learned my lesson, however painfully, and since then, during every Book Week, no matter how much my hand itches to write in the books bought by some Dudi or Shlomi that the next time he sees anything from me on paper it’ll be a lawyer’s letter, I take a deep breath and scribble “Best Wishes” instead. Boring maybe, but much easier on the face.

So, if that tall guy and Bosmat are reading this, I want them to know that I am truly repentant and would like to offer my belated apologies. And if by chance you’re reading this, Feige, I’m still waiting for the tenner.

Translated by Sondra Silverston.

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Larry Apple says:

This is a wonderful story. I love it. It is very funny. It makes me want to meet the author. Thank you.

John Dillinger III says:

That was hilarious and borderline dangerously inspiring! Wonderful story, and a separate thank you to @mattfraction who sent me here.

I want to come to Book Week! And you can write whatever you want in the dedication.

Erik says:

F ‘em if they can’t take a joke.

You signed a book for me when you spoke at SUNY Albany.

Huh, so you didn’t really mean it when you wrote
חבל שאת לא כאן
in the copy of your book my husband bought me at AWP?
;-)

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Autographing books at a festival is not as much fun as it used to be

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