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Once you've done all the hard work (written a book, found a publisher, decided on a design for the cover and all those things), one of the remaining difficulties must be deciding who you should dedicate the tome to. Assuming it's no Oscar speech, and you can't thank the world and his dog, you have to narrow it down somewhat and select that special person whose name wins pride of place on the first page. Do you then go with something cryptic and intriguing, or apparently banal and blatantly obvious? I'm sure most readers don't even look at the dedications in most books, but if you did, would you understand the significance of them? Would something saying 'To my wife' make you look twice, or would that seem like a reasonably common way to dedicate a book? In 'Once Again, To Zelda' you can discover the stories you don't know behind the stories you may well, as the author delves into the detail behind Fifty Great Dedications.
The dedications chosen are presented in short essays, arranged chronologically starting with 'Emma' from 1815 and finishing with 'The Yiddish Policemen's Union' from 2007. In between you'll find dedications from an eclectic mix of titles, including 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone' and 'The History of Love' plus older classics like 'Gone With The Wind' and 'Valley Of The Dolls'.
Much of the time, the dedications themselves are unremarkable: 'The Wizard of Oz', 'The Adventures of Tom Sayer' and 'The Murder on The Links' are among others dedicated to husbands and wives, while a great number simply have someone's full name which, should you have the desire, you could simply enough have Googled yourself to see if any information came up linking them to the author or book in question. The more interesting ones, before you start reading the stories, are those that are more obscure: 'The End of The Affair' is dedicated 'To C', nothing more, nothing less. Similarly 'Lolita' thanks a Vera, 'The Graduate' an Eve. But it's the ones that go a little further, like 'Peyton Place's'
To George, for all the reasons he knows so well which intrigued me,
though once again it turned out George was 'just' the author's husband.
But, once you get past the dedications themselves, is the book any good? It is if you're nosy, for it's the literary equivalent of a gossip magazine jam packed with intimate details of other people's lives. The essays are quite short, and each focuses not only on the various relationships between author and the person or people named in the dedication, but also their earlier lives, their childhoods and so on. Some are like reading a 4 or 5 page biography of the author, which picks out the interesting bits, and skims over the rest.
And while not expressly related to the dedications themselves, some of those stories really do contain fascinating nuggets. Take Stephen King, for example. He prefaced Carrie with
..for Tabby, who got me into it and then bailed me out of it
and you only have to read to the bottom of the page to discover the two met while both reaching for the same library copy of The Joy Of Sex - Tabby (a woman...not a cat) subsequently becoming his future wife. That's the sort of pub quiz trivia you couldn't make up. And, when you discover what Peyton Place's 'George' had to put up with - a wife so distracted by writing that half-hearted efforts to be a dutiful housewife ended, on one occasion, with her cleaning the table with a dead mouse in lieu of a brillo pad - you can understand why a book dedication was the minimum he deserved.
This is not a book I would recommend you sit down and read cover to cover. You wouldn't read your way through a stack of biographies without pausing in between, and it's the same here. In order for the stories not to blend into one and other (because there are common themes throughout the centuries - romance, loss, dysfunctional families) you have to pause and reflect after each one. It's a title you might prefer to dip in and out of, perhaps while reading your way through some of the books featured, but just like the dedications that spawned it, it is a (mostly) interesting book to have on the shelf, and would also make a great stocking filler for a literary friend.
I got my copy from the Bookbag, where this review first appeared. You can get yours from Amazon for just a couple of pounds, a bargain for a hardback like this.
Visit the book's website here: