Wednesday, March 27, 2013

It reads the better which is our own

"A book reads the better, which is our own, and has been so long known to us, that we know the topography of its blots, and dog's ears, and can trace the dirt in it to having read it at tea with buttered muffins." -Charles Lamb
(and incidentally one of my favorite book-love quotes)

        If a book is your own, certainly you are in the position of caretaker. Do you keep your books like well-kept children: always scrubbed and shining with covers unsmudged? Or do you take the Mrs. Arliss approach to your book-keeping and lay they haphazardly on the tabletops or forget about them on the porch till the afternoon gale has had a peep in the pages? Or do you take a somewhat middle road with a comfortable wear to your collection that still retains a semblance of pride in the fact that you have begun a personal library. Speaking for myself, I have swung from one side of the pendulum to the other. I have mentioned before that touch is a big thing for me, and I have always loved the crackle of a page that has got damp from some spillage and then dried again; perhaps with the ink a bit blurry and spoiled but still legible. The same question applies to writing in books...I have gone through stages in my life where I was a non-scribbler and then a pro-scribbler, underlining and scoring dozens of lines and pages that really didn't mean much of anything to me, just because I wanted my books and Bible to look well-used. Have you ever read anything more pathetic than that? I'm sure I haven't, but at ten or eleven, that was my mind-set.

       Once I realized the idiocy of such a habit, I ceased entirely. But over the last several years as I have started reading things that really mattered, and as the Lord has brought certain verses to me that I had never thought of in that certain way, I've become a scribbler-in again. Last year I was privileged to meet the book I have mentioned before: Sheldon Vanauken's A Severe Mercy. I cannot stress how much each of you needs to read this. I read some books and I like them, but then I read some books and the thoughts from those books stay with me through the day as the book sits on the shelf, and then through the weeks and months after I have finished and have put the book away. I wish I had written in A Severe Mercy when I first read it, underlining all the lines and passages that were precious to me. Instead when I thought I could rely on Goodreads to have all those quotes, I was in error. Goodreads has, apparently, heard little of Vanauken's killer book, and I was afloat in a sea of half-remembrances. That being said, yesterday I took out the battered, 80's copy of this book and dove back in with my ball-point pen in hand. So far it is just as amazing as I recalled and I have recklessly dived in, underscoring all the best lines and writing in the margins.

       Some people complain about finding books written in, but I think it is a beautiful thing. I like nothing better than to open an old book in a store and find not one but three or even four names written on the inside of the cover, the ink fading in varying degrees to show the age of each inscription. I like to turn my mind to vaguely imagining what those people were like, and if they enjoyed the book, and if it effected their lives or if it was a thing they never finished and all but forgot they had started.

      If I find notes written among the pages, I am often unsatisfied till I've read them all and "gotten to know" the person who had once held the same volume. After all, reading is a relatively private affair (at least it is for me) and some of my most tender, young, and wise thoughts come to me as I read. When I'm in the clutches of a good story--a really good story--there is no one in the world but myself and those characters...for once all the restraints of society and Other People are broken and my brain runs wild. If others are like me, isn't there a good chance that the notes pencilled on the edges of the page are heart-thoughts of the previous reader? I have read stories that claim such a thing. I once even read a story (I can't recall if it was fiction...probably) where a man found someone's misplaced book and started reading it, and fell in love with the woman who had written the notes in the margins because her handwriting and her notations showed such a deep and tender soul. Of course that is a sentimental story, and perhaps writing in my books is sentimental as well. But I say, if college students can score and underline their textbooks, shouldn't Lewis and Chesterton and Bronte and Austen and all the rest deserve an equal chance to be tattered and loved? I think so.

       But everyone in the world must have their opinion, and I suppose you will be aching to speak your own so here's your opportunity: What do you have to say on the subject of Scribbling Or Not? Leave a comment and let's continue the discussion; I'd love to hear your ideas.


Maria said...

Ah, A Severe Mercy. Such a good book...

But on Scribbling or Not. In principle I'm quite in favor of scribbling in books. The summer I was twelve I was addicted to a green highlighter and basically plastered my Bible with it. Now whenever I read those verses it's wonderful to think over how they've spoken to me in the past.

But I've given up scribbling. I make mental notes to copy such and such a quote in my journal but of course it never happens. I really should scribble, but it happens that I'm too much of a cheapskate to get my own books. I have no compunctions about appropriating the book my Dad's in the middle of, but to give it back to him covered in highlighter marks and pencil squiggles is a little more than I'm prepared to do.

Oh, that story... I heard it once where the book was from a library and the man who read it was an overseas soldier who started writing to the girl and married her in the end. I wonder where the story actually is. I'd love to find it again...

Unknown said...

I do believe I remember the story. It is 'Appointment with Love' by S I Kishor. My dad read it to us years ago and I have long remembered the first line... "Six minutes to six..."
Funny you would mention it. He may be the same author who wrote another short story 'The Night the Bed Fell'.
Dad read it to us the same night. :)_

Anne-girl said...

Amy's a scribbler. I myself have never written in any book but my bible. But someday maybe I will. it sounds deliciously daring and permanent.

Rachel Heffington said...

Ah, Maria Elisabeth, that is a rather good reason for not scribbling, isn't it? ;) I have had to refrain from writing in books too for that very reason. and I am SO glad you read A Severe Mercy...I really don't think I'll ever be quite the same as I was before I read that book!

Anne, it is daring, but deliciously so as you say. I love permanence! :D