“books as pets–pet dragons, maybe, or something exotic–care & feeding of your book” –scribbled note in my own (heavily annotated) copy of Marginalia
I used to starve my books, all un-knowing. I’d been taught not even to place an open book face-down, let alone fold down its page corners or (heaven forbid) write in it–with the result that I kept an extensive library of books that probably needed therapy, their only discernable marks of attention being the address labels I carefully fixed inside their covers.
Then, in my 20s, I came across Anne Fadiman’s Ex Libris–a celebration of reading in which she contrasted “courtly” and “carnal” book-lovers. I indisputably fell in the “courtly” category, treating my books as delicately as swooning corseted ladies, and I concluded that if I were a book I’d rather be ravished than revered. More to the point, I realized the relationship I was missing with my books.
I’d responded to books, but sterilely, separately, in carefully documented “reading journals” of extracted quotes, or sometimes in the form of Post-It notes added impermanently to the pages. So in the spirit of experiment, I selected a book whose thickness had almost doubled with its burden of Post-Its, and set about transcribing those notes into the book itself. The thing came to life! It became MY book in a way it hadn’t in all the years I’d owned (and read) it. I carried on gleefully from that point, carrying on conversations in the margins–with the text, with myself upon a subsequent reading, with others who borrowed my books with my encouragement to annotate…
And I swore, with the advent of e-Books, that I’d never switch. Give me the weight and the cover-art and the ability to keep conversing with my books over the “convenience” of the portable library. Until I discovered that my iPad allows for highlighting and marginalia–and suddenly I’m hooked. My growing library of electronic books (ALL of which I can carry with me ALL the time) is highlighted in a rainbow of colors, and sprouts dated notes (and poems and scribbles and sketches) throughout the margins. The books are arranged on digital “wooden shelves” (cover-art in view) in my own peculiar categories, and with a flick of my finger I can pull up the highlighted and bookmarked passages and my own notes. Anne Fadiman wrote that “If you truly love a book, you should sleep with it, write in it, read aloud from it, and fill its pages with muffin crumbs.” I haven’t figured out the digital equivalent of muffin-crumbs, but I’m joyfully fulfilling the rest of her prescription. And while I’ll never be without bookshelves in the house, I foresee our next change-of-address being an easier move.