Thursday, September 1, 2011

Underlined

An interesting post from the blog of the Office of Letters and Light, the lovely people who brought the motivation and madness of NaNoWriMo into our lives. The post is called "What Do You 'Do' To Your Books?"

Books are physical objects. You can curl up with them (as I do), smell the new-book (or musty old book) smell. You can takes notes and highlight and underline in them. You can pass them along to others. You can dog ear them. You can stick stickies in them.

And, in the meantime, you can be educated, informed, empowered, entertained and gain insight, wisdom and quiet.

It's that relationship with a book as an object that cannot be replaced by an e-reader. Yeah, the content might all be there, but it's not the same experience.

I, for example, never used to write in my books. I wanted my books to remain pristine. Sometimes I used bookmarks, but I usually just bent the top corner of the page I was on. Still do. It's fun to re-read something and see that some pages have worn corners or that the spine is definitely well-cracked.

In high school, I finally encountered books that I loved so much that I HAD TO underline certain lines or passages because of their brilliance. I don't underline much and I only ever seem to do it in paperbacks (perhaps because hardcovers are expensive) of books that I know I'm going to read a few times over and over.

The lines that I underline are random and scattered. It's a manifestation of the personal relationship with a story and with characters; those lines or passages meant something to me at a particular time or struck me as elegant or made me see something in a different way. Or it was put so well that I wanted to be able to find it again.

Yeah, highlighting would fulfill that function, too. But highlighting is so ingrained in my mind with college and academia that I would rather just lightly underline something in pencil and mull the line over as I read.

For example, these are some lines I underlined in my very well-read copy of Atonement by Ian McEwan:

And Cecilia would not speak to him or look at him. Even that would be better than lying here groaning. No, it wouldn't. It would be worse, but he still wanted it. He had to have it. He wanted it to be worse.

Her worries did not disappear, but slipped back, their emotional power temporarily exhausted.

The problem these fifty-nine years has been this: how can a novelist achieve atonement when, with her absolute power of deciding outcomes, she is also God?


Do you underline, highlight, tag, take notes in your books? Has the relationship one can have with a paperback translated over to reading on an e-reader or not?

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