Sunday, December 18, 2011
Hooray for Fellow Margin-Scribblers
Notes in the margins are a way to take part in the great cross-spatial, cross-temporal conversation that is the written word. When you write and highlight and underline in your books, you are interacting with the text, giving it the kind of life it was meant to have. For no written text can fully exist without a reader, any more than a play can fully exist without an audience. The only exception to this "go-ahead-and scribble", of course, is books that don't belong to you - school textbooks, library books, books borrowed from a friend.
If someone else wrote in a book I now own, it gives that book life and history. It widens the conversation. It connects me, in a mysterious and particular way, to that unseen hand that scribbled the notes or highlighted the words.
I remember in high school coming upon a copy of a small collection of Persian tales that had belonged to my father. All sorts of notes, reactions and responses were furiously scribbled in the margins and the pages and the inside cover. It gave me a special kind of insight into my father's inner world, a gift I wouldn't trade for a million pristine copies of that same book.
I've just begun rereading WUTHERING HEIGHTS. Some of the earliest clues to the real story of Cathy and Heathcliff are uncovered by the narrator through Cathy's scribblings inside her books. The narrator's relationship with Cathy's old books invites us, the reader, to interact with his tale as well.
I rejoice in knowing that there are so many book lovers like me, folks who understand the literary equivalent of the story of THE VELVETEEN RABBIT. If I ever manage to get one of my books published, I hope it will be as well-loved as the Skin Horse in that tale, dog-eared, with coffee-stains and bookmarks and scribblings inside. I must confess, I doubt that digital texts, no matter what their affordability or convenience, will ever receive that same kind of love.
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