So. For at least a month now, I've been wanting to write about a book I read, Everything is Illuminated. A book I loved. No: adored. I bought it months ago and put it in the special stack I keep on my bedroom bookshelves; all other books are lined up vertically, with spines out just like you'd expect, but the New Books I Am Dying To Read pile is stacked horizontally, just to keep them separate. Anyway, I bought this book because it was on the buy-two-get-one-free table at Borders and its two cover blurbs---one a recommendation by Joyce Carol Oates (with whose myriad books I am thoroughly taken), the other a notice that the movie version of the book, starring Elijah Wood, was coming out soon, and I'm such a Tolkein geek that I'm immediately drawn to any movie (or book made into a movie) starring any of its main characters---spoke the "buy me now" mantra louder than any of the other books on the table.
Anyway. I finally got around to reading this book. I had no idea that it was a Notable Literary Work. I just sort of liked the back-cover description. Plus I have a thing for novels about the Holocaust. But: This. Book. Is. Good. Immediately-in-my-top-ten-favorites good. Would I recommend it to just anyone? No. But I would recommend it to Becky. So I loaned it to her, and we discussed it as soon as she finished it. Eventually she gave it back.
But I still haven't written about it here (well, duh, obviously).
I think I'm afraid to. I want the people who read my book notes (all two or three of them) to be drawn into reading the book by what I say about it. But am I talented enough to do that? Not so much. So, instead of writing about it, I'm re-reading it. And guess what I found? Becky's commentary. See, I'm a write-inside-books kind of reader. I like to comment, argue, disagree, or discuss a book's ideas in the margins. And underline. I underline a lot. In fact, I judge a book's "good" or "not good" essense by whether or not it prompted me to search for a pen. When I finish reading a book I know I'll read more than once, I put the date I finish it on the last page each time I read it. You see, I'm what Anne Fadiman calls a "carnal lover" of books. I read them in the tub. I use them as coasters for sweaty glasses of ice water in the summertime. I fold down the corners or leave bookmarks in good spots, usually for years, quite often large ones; I'm fairly certain there is an ancient 5 1/4" diskette holding a spot in my copy of T. S. Elliot's poems. And I write in them.
And so does Becky! I'm thoroughly delighted that she felt free to write in my copy of the book. Again with the Anne Fadiman: writing in books "transforms monologues into dialogues." I wrote in the book. She wrote in it. So now it's not just a dialogue. It's a conversation. I think the things you underline in books tell something about you; your state of mind when you read the book, for example, or what you value. Add commentary and you've got a little snippet of your thought processes, belief systems, and emotional state. I especially like coming across my commentary in books I'm reading for a second or fourth or sometimes eighth time, because it is like bumping into a younger version of myself; I see, quite suddenly how much I've changed. Or haven't changed.
So here's a dare. The next time you're reading a book, hold a pen. Underline a sentence that you love, be it for the language or for the idea. Add a little note at the end of a paragraph. See what you think about what you read. While you do that, I'll be re-reading Illuminated. Maybe making comments about comments. Definitely using a different color of pen than I did the first time or than Becky used. But reading with pen in hand nevertheless.