My mother isn’t one for writing-in-books, so I’m tickled that the book she just mailed me has a sentence underlined with a smiley-face.
“I believe in crazyass passion.”
That’s the line she highlighted in Rinker Buck’s Oregon Trail travelogue, and that says plenty about my mother!
She’s a world traveler, kayaker, fly-fisher, river rafter, scuba diver (Nitrox-certified for deep diving), and always game for a new adventure. She made a great deckhand on a sailing trip in Washington’s San Juan Islands ten years ago, she took my son on a week-long sea-kayaking trip in Mexico last year, she meets for mischief with girlfriends all over the world… and she always has her plane ticket already bought for the “next trip” somewhere. (I believe Panama and Poland are in the current queue…)
If I didn’t know her birth-year, I’d never guess she’s pushing 70, and I continue to wish I had half her energy. (I especially wish that on days when I’m trying to keep up with her at the mall!) I got my travel-bug from both parents, but I got my sense of adventure from her.
I got my bibliophilia from her too, though my penchant for marginalia is something I developed on my own.
Because I DO write in books, I’m accustomed to coming across my prior-self (in the form of penned commentaries) when I re-read my books. I’m not accustomed to coming across other people in my margins, though… So imagine my thrill of surprise today when I picked up my copy of Bill Bryson’s “Notes from a Small Island” and discovered an unexpected treasure of notes in both my mother’s hand AND my late father’s. (Pencilled, because apparently writing in a book in pen is a little TOO crazyass!) Continue reading ““Crazyass Passions” & Pencilled Notes”→
My notebook is bent, battered, and buckled, every kind of abused but bruised. The covers crease from frequent folding, and tags & stickies protrude from its pages. I’ve had it for all of three weeks.
The notebook serves as a journal, but it its pages have also filled with sketches, blog-post brainstorms, A.A. Stepwork, notes from group sessions and church sermons, quotes and definitions related to writing-topics, comparisons of health insurance plans, my checkbook register, ledgers tracking my freelance writing pay and my hotspot data-usage… And LISTS. Lots of lists.
Some to-do lists are sprinkled through there, but those aren’t the most common denomination. The weirder ones don’t have an obvious purpose. Since I keep making them, though, I surely hope there’s something accomplished in the writing of them. I’m just not entirely sure WHAT. Continue reading “Entering the Lists”→
I’ve been re-reading (actually, it’s more like re-re-re-re-re-… well, you get the idea) the Harry Potter series this week, occasionally swapping volumes with one of my kids when our progression through the books overlapped… This is the first time through the books for Elena Grace, who (at age eight) is well acquainted with the film versions–but as Readers know, the books (particularly as you get further on in the series) contain a great deal more than the film-makers could have hoped to encompass, so she’s coming across numerous discoveries in her reading.
And at the same time (not unlike Harry and Hermione when they use the time-turner and end up watching themselves-of-two-hours ago from the shadows) I’m running across myself-from-other-years in the pages of these books. Though I was properly brought up never to mark a book’s page, or even to turn down a page-corner or place a hardbound volume open-and-facedown to mark my place, I admit that I am now a hopelessly addicted marginalia-ist. (No, I don’t think that’s in the dictionary, but in my case it would mean a person who is unable to read without a pen—or, in the case of iPad-reading, a stylus-–in hand, ready to underline, highlight, and scribble up and down the sides of any page that gets me thinking.) So here I am, this week, engaging in a little time-travel by interacting with versions of my former self in the margins of these books.
At the end of every novel there’s a scribbled date with my initials—or in the case of these particular books, now, an entire column of dates—accompanied sometimes by the location where I was reading, if I were away from home. At the end of number five, the first read-through (June of 2003) I noted “Boise National Forest,” and I remember now my relief when my pre-ordered book arrived on the morning we were departing to go camping–I’d so hoped I wouldn’t have to wait another two days for the long-awaited next installment. My handwriting hasn’t changed much over the years, though my initials have. I read this particular book five times as J.V.–during a different marriage and while I still went by my first name…
The when-I-read lists at the end of the books, however, are far less interesting to me than the how-I-read notations in the rest of its pages–and it will be interesting in future (when Elena Grace is able to read the handwritten script as well as the printed story) to see what additional questions I might end up fielding from her.
In the ink that matches the reading-sign-offs from 2005, my attention was captured to references of Hermione (who comes from a Muggle, or non-wizarding family) trying to explain her world to her mystified parents. “Maybe not unlike a school for the deaf…” I wrote in one margin. Elena Grace was born deaf, and I had been overwhelmed by the prospect of learning an entirely new language to communicate with my own child. (And—having just taught her three-year-old brother to read—was entirely mystified about how I’d be able to go about that process with someone for whom the words on the page had no connections to the physical language of Sign, which we expected she would be using.) I’ve written previously about how that story turned out for us (“Amazing Grace, How Sweet the SOUNDS“), but coming across my own notes from the time transports me back with a jolt.
There are bemused notes about parenting among these pages, and about teenagers (I was teaching teens during many of these readings, but didn’t anticipate at the time that I’d soon be catapulted into parenthood-of-teens via stepmotherhood) and classroom dynamics, about some of the perplexing metaphysical questions raised by the uses, abuses, and limitations of magic as it is presented in this series, and a whole slew of comparisons between the Ministry of Magic’s responses to rising danger and the Bush-II administration and Patriot Act, Hitler’s Regime, and the U.S.’s shameful internment of Japanese citizens during World War II… A note in the sixth book reminds me that (the week the book came out, and I knew my class of Physics students had been just as engrossed in reading it as I) my extra-credit question for the week was to answer Mr. Weasley’s dearest wish and explain how Muggles make airplanes stay up! (Answer: Bernoulli’s Principle…)
And there’s commentary here, too, on the deepening seriousness as the series progresses, from the almost-silly first story to a death-strewn finale in number seven, nearly worthy of a Shakespearean tragedy… (Our eleven-year-old son, Christian, just saw Hamlet performed, and compared its ending to the aptly named Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. “This book is definitely NOT happy-happy-cupcake-unicorn,” is his precise characterization of HP & the DH… Which–having just finished it yet again–I believe to be its strongest charm.)
Since I started out writing here about my own marginalia in the books, I can’t help but be bemused by the role which marginalia-in-books plays within the stories themselves… The entire sixth book (HP & the Half-Blood Prince) centers on Harry Potter’s relationship-through-marginalia with a previous student who left behind a Potions textbook filled with hand-written notes. And the finale itself, in the seventh book, is unraveled thanks to a clue left behind in the form of marginalia in another book, this one filled with the Wizarding World’s fairy tales. (Christian just recently introduced me to the related series of books by Rowling–she has gone ahead and written some of the Hogwarts textbooks and storybooks referred to in the main novels. And fittingly, the fairy tales of Beedle the Bard are reproduced with the annotations and Marginalia of Professor Dumbledore’s copy–including that clue… Fun extra read!)
Some critics turn up their noses at these books, point to them as a mere pop-culture fad with sub-standard writing… I can’t say I agree–I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed the writing, myself, so they must be applying different standards than mine.
But more to the point, whatever a person’s opinions about the writing, I dare anyone to debate J.K. Rowling’s genius for capturing people. Wizard or Muggle, she deftly portrays the nuances and challenges and humor of human nature–up to and including the fact that the character we most fiercely loathe throughout our reading (well, with the possible exception of Dolores Umbridge) is, in fact, one of the noblest and bravest and best people of all–though he remains loathsome right up to his death. Tucked somewhere in the depths of the fourth or fifth book (though featured somewhat more prominently in the film) is one of the truest observations of all time: “The world isn’t divided into good people and Death Eaters.” Nothing is that simple–in life, or in Rowling’s writing.
Purists may also turn up their noses at the films, which necessarily omit a great deal of the detail, but I’ll say that–with the unforgivable (according to Christian) exception of an entirely omitted battle at the end of number six–they’ve done a pretty good job of encapsulating the themes, the characters, the messages… and don’t forget the fun! Still, there IS a great deal more to be enjoyed in the books–so if you’re one of the few remaining Muggles who hasn’t yet picked up the first Harry Potter book, I’d urge you on.
“Their schooling over, readers were presumably qualified to make their own additions to the books in their care.” –H.J. Jackson, in Marginalia: Readers Writing in Books
“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.