Saturday, April 16, 2016

Inscrutable Inscriptions

Okay, it's no secret. I love looking through old cookbooks in part for the voyeuristic aspect of peeking into the intimate details of a total stranger's life. A simple stain might tell which recipes were best liked. Even better, a note might show the family's preferences, blank pages might reveal treasured family recipes, or inscriptions might leave sweet and/or awkward hints about the previous owner's life.

So when I opened Modern Vegetable Protein Cookery (Joan and Keith Kendig, 1980-- not that it matters, since we're here for what was written inside of it) at a used book store, I expected the writing in the front page to be an inscription hinting at a Christmas, birthday, or anniversary past, or maybe a sweet thank-you for someone's hospitality. Then I read it and realized the past owner had some really odd ideas about what is appropriate to write in a cookbook:

I hope it's not too much of a shock, but Shelley is divorcing her husband Scott. Upon reading this, a few unexpected thoughts immediately charged to mind:

1. Why would anyone want this permanently in the front of a cookbook?

2. Who is the audience, anyway? Is the book's owner afraid she will forget, so she has to put it somewhere she can reference in the future? Is she in the kitchen with Shelley and/or Scott and trying to clue in a third party who doesn't know the news yet without making things more awkward than they already are?

3. Why specify "her husband"? Is there anybody else Shelley could be divorcing? (And if so, whom? I want the scoop.)

4. Not a question. Just want to note that I love that this news is underlined.

When I flipped to the blank end pages and saw that they too were filled up with writing, I should not have been surprised that they were not covered with treasured family recipes.

The back cover is filled with what appears to be a clothing order. Someone needed size 4X denim/ blue and black/ white seersucker big skirts, size 4X classic red and royal blue cotton big skirts, size 32W denim and khaki twill jumpers, a size 4X sage plaid something-or-other, and size 5X tall knit skirts in sage and navy.

Again, I'm not sure why anyone would want to keep a clothing order for posterity in the back of a cookbook, but the thought process seems consistent with someone who would write "Shelley is divorcing her husband Scott" in the front where the inscription generally goes.

I love this more than anyone has any reason to love it. The chance to sneak into someone else's world and try to figure out how it all works, yet come out more confused than ever, is a thrill I can't even hope to describe. I guess it just makes life a little bit easier, knowing that we're all caught in our own idiosyncratic, inscrutable worlds. I'm not the only one.

So happy weekend! Be inscrutable! Just try to play it cool around Shelley and Scott if you run into either of them.