I don't write my name in my books any more. I wonder why. When I was little I was fiercely protective of my books and all of them were labelled in felt-tip 'Claire's Room Libry' (oh yes, apostrophe in right place but bit poor on the spelling). There aren't many of these left yet because at when I was about eight I took all the books I considered beneath me to a second hand bookshop. They only took the good ones (of course) so I was left with some very tatty Beatrix Potters and a large copy of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas'. The latter I hadn't actually taken to the shop, I have to admit, and every Christmas Eve I read it to my children and then put it carefully away.
After the 'Claire's Room Libry' period, I simply wrote my name for a long time, apart from a brief period when I got a stamp for Christmas. It wasn't specifically a name stamp, but one that you had to fit letters into a holder, but it was so fiddly that I quickly gave up with my whole name and wrote 'C J Watts'. Then followed an experimental period when my name appeared in every possible format: 'Claire Julia Watts', 'Claire J. Watts', 'Miss Claire Julia Watts', often followed by my address, and once of twice by my school address as well. How lost did I think my books were going to get.
It gets interesting when I started to add the date. I love to pick up a book and be able to work out when I first read it. For a while, inspired by my friend Simon, I even put where I bought it, but this didn't last long, I think because sometimes that delay between buying a book and reading it makes a nonsense of recording the purchase.
For a while I also wrote my name in the secondhand books I bought, but not for long. It's as if secondhand books don't really belong to me; they're just passing through. I love it when secondhand books have inscriptions written by other people and these feel like an essential part of the book.
Now though, I don't even write my name. I wonder if this is because I've been here in the same house for so long that I don't feel that there's any likelihood of my books going astray? Or is it through some precious notion that, like the secondhand books, books are just passing through. Actually I think it may be less sentimental than this. Nowadays lack of space forces me to be quicker to judge whether a book is worth its space on my shelves. Perhaps I don't claim ownership before I've read a book because I suspect I may be taking it straight to the charity shop when I've finished it. Or it could be that the books in my house feel more shared now. Often as soon as I have finished a book Robert will read it, and sometimes I buy books for him that I actually want to read myself. It's the same with the children's books. Time was I would just buy children's books for myself because I wanted to read them. Now I give them to the girls and read them later.
I do still mark the books in a way. I tend to leave things in them. Postcards are a favourite, letters, sometimes bus tickets, receipts or flyers. Really anything that happens to be lying around that I've used as a bookmark when I was reading. It's a bit of a thrill when I pick up a book to read again and find something like this. I came across a letter I'd written to a friend when I was in the san at school, aged about ten. Why did I have the letter when it was written to someone else? Who knows?
Perhaps though, I should start writing in books again. I could always write after I'd read a book, ifI decided a book was a keeper. Or go back to doing it as I buy the books. After all, if I like to read other people' names in my secondhand books, perhaps other people like to read mine.