Finding My John Hancock

Posted June 9, 2011 by jimhigley

I have to admit, it’s really an odd, new experience to be asked to sign a book. The only other time I’ve ever written in a book was when my buddy Mark Svoboda and I would make these cartoon stories in the margins of our religion book back in third grade. And for that, we got in double-triple trouble.

What page do I sign? Does it matter what pen I use? What exactly do I write? Something tells me this is NOT like signing yearbooks and the last thing I should write is, “Don’t ever change…!”

These are all such confusing issues for a first-time author like myself.  Somewhere I figured out that publishers provide a special page for signing. It’s that page near the front of the book that’s all blank–except for the title. At least that’s what someone told me it’s for. If  not, then I’m violating some literary rule that never trickled down to my world. But that’s the page I’ve been using. And I’m sticking to my plan.

The pen issue is way more confusing. All I can tell you is that I’ve found myself regularly being handed a black Sharpie pen. You know, the ones with the thick tip. I have no idea why people are handing me a thick, black Sharpie. I feel like I should be labeling laundry. Not signing a book. But, as I’ve snooped around and peeked in some of the books at my favorite indie book store, The Book Stall in Winnetka, thick and black seems to be the norm. Personally, I’d probably be better off using a pencil as I tend to make mistakes when I write.Jim Higley signing books at the Book Stall in Winnetka

But the most frustrating part of all this “Will you sign my book” saga is the fact that I am not a legible writer. My signature is impossible to read. And even though I received formal training as an architect, most people struggle to decipher my handwritten words. I blend letters. I flatten them out. They kind of look like waves. From the side. If you squint. I have no problem reading my own writing but I’m suddenly feeling very self- conscious as people regularly critique my handwriting.

“Hey Dad,” my oldest son said to me just last night. “Brandy has no idea what you wrote in her book.”

That comment really bothered me. I remember signing Brandy’s book. I remember thinking that I wanted to give her a thoughtful, personal, message. And she can’t even read it?

To make things worse, my son further informed me that Arnold Palmer, a scribbler like me, always made a concerted effort to sign his books with perfect penmanship so everyone could read his signature.  “Arnie’s so cool,” declared my son.

Cool my exclamation point.

So, I’m feeling like I need to do a recall of all the books I’ve signed and sent out into the world. Or at least offer my apologies. Or an interpretation.

So, if you happen to receive a book with an inscription that looks like this:


2 f_# tnobobbj!


What it really says is:

Take a break

from the bobbling!

James R. Higley

And what it’s trying to say is, quite simply:


What message would you write in the front of your book? Share your comments!