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Friday, 29 January 2010

Housekeepers Question Time!



I do something very, very naughty. Something people frequently tell me, makes me a bad person. And I must confess that I do it daily and I do it with abandon! I do it, my little Kettle Chips, just because I can!

This terrible misdemeanor makes visitors to my house shake their heads in minor disgust. I try to explain myself and they look at me as if to say you poor misguided fool, and then they go back to their immaculate lives safe in the knowledge that they would never dream of writing in books. Because yes Housekeepers, that is what I am talking about: writing in books. May I rot in hell.

I write in them. I scrawl my thoughts in the margins. I take a propelling pencil and mark great big circles around paragraphs I like, and if I am feeling particuarly vexed I doodle elaborate flowerscapes between sentences. I note down the dates I started and finished the book on the last page and write my name and the date I happened across it on the first. I stuff the pages full of heart shaped post-it notes and vintage postcards with quotes scrawled on the back. I stick ad-libris stickers on the inner cover and tie fine ribbon around the pages to mark my place and hold all my bits and bobs of paper in. And worst of all sometimes I fold back the corners of pages I want to read again and fail to panic should the pages be stained with who knows what.

It is not that I do not have respect for the written word, it is in fact because I consider them to be living, breathing entities crying out out to be interacted with, that I fail to consider it sacriligious to be slightly more at one with my current reading matter than I probably should be.
And further to that, I consider the books I so call "ruin" to be mine and do not wish to operate a public lending library from my living room (though for the sake of all the librarians amongst us, I promise I don't do it to books borrowed!).
 I like it that I can pick up a book once adored and merely from the dates inside it or a phrase underlined with occasional nib-breaking venom, read not only the book, but a moment in my own personal history. I don't want to kiss them goodbye and bow my head in shame when she who is after borrowing them reads my occasionally private responses to literary wisdom. But then those I am willing to lend are not usually those that have inspired such outrageous behavior in the first place and thus I am happy to bin them or lend them or recycle them and thereafter never give them another thought.

Is there something wrong with me? Is this the kind of confession I should have made to the literary equivalent of a priest? Have I gone down in your estimation or are you are a book scribbler too? Are we, the book scribbling few, a menace to society and so utterly unable to contain our thoughts we have to spill them out wherever we can??

You tell me Housekeepers...

25 comments:

fairycakegirl said...

No absolutley not! I write in books all the time... Sometimes even library books (though I forget sometitmes that they are not actually mine and have to resort to keep taking it out so to avoid detection of book scrawling!!) I feel it makes the book more personal but your right you then cannot pass the book on as my friends may see the true fairycakegirl!!!

Carlie said...

I write in books too...especially my cookbooks...and I dog-ear pages too.

laney said...

...ABSOLUTLEY...i write in books...all over them...underline in them...make notes in the margins of them...scribble my own thoughts in them...my thoughts are as sacred as the thoughts of the author of the books...my children and grandchildren and great grandchildren will know who i am from the books i leave behind...as i know both my maternal grandparents more intimately because they wrote in books before me...(my grandfather was a preacher...you should see his Bible...not to mention mine!)...and i love love to buy old books that have been written in...it is as if i am touching the hand and the mind of the person who held the book before me...and of course i write in cookbooks too... one could probably taste the recipe i am so hands on in cooking...ps... and i will tell you something else for good measure...when i turned forty over twenty years ago...i made myself a promise...if by page 50 i do not like the book...i am not reading it... and out it will go...that is one promise that has been so liberating...the author owes me...not the other way around...

Traci said...

I am a devout book lover. You should see my copies of Beloved, Their Eyes Were Watching God, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower--at this point, they look more like journals than novels.

There's a book of essays by Anne Fadiman that I love called *Ex Libirs: Confessions of a Common Reader.* In it is an essay called "Never Do That To a Book," in which Fadiman says that there are essentially two kinds of book lovers. There are those who believe in "courtly love," for whom "A book's physical self [is] sacrosanct..." And then there are those like you, me, and Fadiman herself, who believe in "carnal love." She writes, "To us, a book's *words* were holy, but the paper, cloth, cardboard, glue thread, and ink that contained them were a mere vessel, and it was no sacrilege to treat them as wantonly as desire and pragmatism dictated. Hard use was a sign not of disrespect but of intimacy."

I don't mind being carnal, and I make no apologies for it. You shouldn't either! And honestly, when I am returned a book I loaned out, I'm just the tiniest bit disappointed if I can't find at least one newly underlined passage.

Sasha said...

Oh, I totally agree with you Alison, and everyone here. In fact, so much do I agree I am slightly disappointed with myself for not personalising my books more! I would love to think, had I written a book myself, it's readers could feel so touched, so moved by it's content as to feel compelled to commit to it's pages their own thoughts - good, bad or indifferent!

Didn't it used to be that family bibles traditionally became almost a journal of it's owners through the years, a kind of family tree within it's covers? I love that idea! There are very few things that can last forever, beyond our lifetimes, and books are one of them. How magical to be able to leave behind a secret little piece of yourself, as yet to be discovered by anyone opening it's pages in the future. I love buying second hand books too for the possible thrill of discovering the books previous life and story beyond the printed tale. even seeing other people's handwriting fascinates me! (especially in this day and age of computers, emails, text and the printed word everywhere).

Certainly my cookbooks are regularly written in - mostly for my own future cooking reference, but I think we all secretly hope that in them a little piece of ourselves, our voices, will live on after us.....

PS: I'm an avid book sniffer too.....

Avalon76 said...

Books are meant to be enjoyed with all the senses. They are tangible friends. I underline and circle passages all the time, sometimes putting a little smiley face next to a particularly poignant paragraph. My books are also a mess of post-it notes!

Jen ^_^

Avalon76 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
laney said...

PS....i remember reading about 10 years ago that one of the hot collectibles of our grandchildren and great grandchildren's generation will be hand written notes of any kind...i imagine our hand annotated books will fall in that catagory too!!

Everything Stops for Tea said...

Despite being a Librarian, what you do, SOOOOOOO doesn't faze me. Never underestimate what some people leave as bookmarks though....

Anonymous said...

Oh geez...I'm going to hell too, then. Giggles. I have this idea that I call "The Great Conversation" - when you read a book you are not passive at all and the writer is not just talking to you. If there were no readers than there is no purpose in writers writing or making books. A writer wants you to be entertained, to learn something, to be inspired, to think, to feel, laugh, cry, and actively partcipate in the conversation. This is one conversation in which the rules of time and space do not apply. Personally, I have been known to write in the margins, underline things, circle them, hi-light them. I've left pressed flowers and ribbon in them on purpose when giving them away to charities. You see I have a confession to make...at the secondhand bookstore if there are two books of the same story I will put back the unmarked copy over the one that has been written in-because I have meet the kindred spirit that dares to join the Great conversation with the author and I.

loxiemom said...

I actually love it when I find notations and comments written in books that I check out from the library. It's like a story in a story. Who is this person and why did they underline this passage, etc. It fascinates me. I would not like other people to read the musings that I have written in my own books, though. Too personal. I wouldn't like to have people I know try to "figure" me out. I'm much too private.

Debbi said...

Oooohh . . . you hit on one that I can't pass up. Personally, it's kind of rare for me to write in a book, or deface it in any way. When I was in my first year of high school, I worked in the library there. I know. I did. I took the Library Science Class! I have never gotten over it. I was a neophyte bibliophile when I began, and by the end of the third semester, I was a goner.

In elementary school { it must have been a prosperous time} . . . because every year we had new text books, and our teachers took great pride and care in instructing the students in the proper way to break in a book. . . . stand it on it's spine, open the front cover, gently but firmly caress the fold, repeat with the back cover. Now one third of the way from the front, fold the pages open, and run your little hand up the binding, gently . . . gently . . .until we had properly introduced those fresh leaves of wisdom and knowledge to the light of day. We would then fold new paper covers, and reverently slip our books into them.

You know I've just been transported back in time, don't you?

Now, as to your question . . . while, generally . . . it isn't in me, personally to do anything to deface a book, I am reverent in their presence, if I happen to buy one in the condition that you have described, it is the absolute most wonderful find in the world! A book that has been loved and noted and drawn in? Perfect book love. That's what it is. It is, like you say, afterall, your book. It does not belong to the world, and in that great someday, when some used bookseller offers a discount on a book that you have doodled and noted in . . .? The finder will have another layer of pleasure and knowledge, beyond the intentions of the original author. No, maybe that's misstated, not beyond the intentions . . . I believe an author hopes and dreams that their book will be read, reread and dog-eared. Wouldn't he or she be pleased to find a copy of their heart wrought book so well loved?

Thank you for a topic dear to my heart.

~ Debbi

P.S. Now that I have read all of the other comments, I think I am going to save the whole collection . . . well said ladies. Well said.

Mrs Olive Martini said...

I have always been a book lover who never bent a page or made a note, kept everything "perfect". Conversely, there's nothing I love better than an antique book with scraps of paper and notes left inside, because of the connection to the previous readers. Finally I'm loosing up and starting to make notes (pencil only!) in some of my books- maybe I feel I have something worthwhile to leave behind now?

www.MaisonStGermain.com said...

The first thing I do when I get into my cozy bed with a new book (I just received 5 out of the 7 I ordered today!!!)is put my name and the date I am reading it on. I don't even know why I do it, I just do. Depending on what kind of book I am reading I highlight, circle and add my own reviews and comments to it. It just makes the book all the more mine, I guess. And I like re-reading what I have written in them the next time I give them another look. I think it makes the book so much more interesting for the next person to read. So maybe we are a special breed of book lovers:) I will be busy tagging my books tonight! Happy reading.
~Debra
Blog: Capers of the vintage vixens

feistyrallygirl said...

I became a book scribbler in graduate school. I scribble less now but the urge crops up now and then!

I do write in my cookbooks, too.

@laney - I like your 50 page limit. I should try this, perhaps. I feel guilty about the lovely books on my shelf that I haven't yet read. If only there were more hours in the day!

. said...

I only write in books with a pencil, NEVER a pen.
Alfazema

. said...

I only write in books with a pencil, NEVER a pen.
Alfazema

Anonymous said...

Of course you can write in books!!! I write in my cookbooks-how else to remember that you changed something or it was rotten to the core.
I write in my bible when something speaks to me for that time. I do underline books that I know that I will keep and reread for future reference. I think it a modicum of respect for the author that we get what they are saying and its thoughtfullness to us.
It is the how to read a book! So much for it being a shamefull thing, you are going to have to find something else to shock us with! ^_^
Wendy

Annie said...

I have never felt that a book is the author speaking to me, telling me a story. A book is MY story. Such an intimate conversation with our heart, soul and mind. How can one NOT underline, dog ear, mark passages to back to? Once we've read a book it is a part of us, there is an energy to it that compels us to lovingly lay a hand as we walk by, to glance over at the stack and breathe a little deeper.

Alice said...

So YOU'RE the ones who ruin my books! :-) I love the pristine feel of new books, though I buy quite a few second hand books too and I hate to find writing in them - it doesn't make them feel like they're mine anymore! Old family books are different, they belong to me and mine anyway .. but not defacing please!

miss liss said...

I have a slightly bizarre relationship with writing in books: I do write in my scriptures and in textbooks or the playbook of the show I'm in. Color-coded, drawing arrows, date notations, written on post-it notes and so on, but I never write in my other books. Not even the cookbooks (though I will photocopy a recipe to put in my "favorites" binder and I'll write on that). I wouldn't mind other people writing in books so much if they underlined straightly and I hate, hate, hate it when a corner has been turned down.

I read Fadiman's essay as well, and I suppose I am a "courtly" lover; and unlike the anonymous writer if I find a two books in a secondhand shop I will purchase the one not written in.

Florence and Mary said...

I certainly don't think you have lost your mind and love going through books with highlighters and pencils!

I especially love my cookbooks to become splattered with the endevours of my cooking..you can tell the faithful recipes easily from their smudges and stains

Victoria xx

Anonymous said...

Oh Gosh! I am having a bit of a lie down as I type and have the emergency smelling salts on hand-I would never deface a book and can't bear it if someone breaks the spine on a paperback. BUT, your additions sound charming and thoughtful soooo to the litmus test-Would I loan you one of my books? Yes I would and I would provide a length of embroidered ribbon so that you could keep your page.

Mrs. Wonder said...

I don't write in books, but I respect coo,books that are splattered with water, grease, and marinara, proof that they are well-loved and used!

Counting Your Blessings said...

My mom has an old Bible that has endearing thoughts and notes scratched on many, many pages. It's one of my favorite things!

As to my own book mistreatments... I always fold the bottom corner of a page that has something worth remembering on it. Sometimes I underline. I don't write in them usually. However, I do something so much worse. If it's a particularly poorly written book (I hate those! Even if the story has promise, if it's obviously written for the simple minded, I deem it poorly written), those pages become shred for packages or the backdrop of some crafty inspiration.

I love to read and I respect the time and courage it takes to put a book out there. But bad books are bad books. I spent the money on them so I don't feel bad for putting them to whatever purpose suits the need. If it's a quality book, I cherish it & share it with my fellow readers. If it's not, no sense wasting money on packing materials.

Have I just revealed too much of my dark side? *smiles*

Blessings... Polly

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