• Lelia

This Is How I Read

Marginalia: Plotkin's Nature & the Human Soul

Books were made to have conversations with. At least that's what I think. So I write in my books. (I also read while I walk on the treadmill, so I write while I walk on the treadmill, so things get messy and illegible.) And sometimes, years later, I reread what I wrote in the margins and respond - maybe I was wrong, or I've learned more since then, or time has passed and the significance of the idea has been reaffirmed - then I add more stars, exclamation points, hearts or smiley faces.

Laurie Hertzel wrote in a column in 2019 that she never writes in her books or underlines in them.

"Now my books are pristine. They barely look read. I could leave one in a Little Free Library or on a park bench, and nobody would know it was mine. Nobody would know it was loved. I don’t think I could bring myself to write in a book anymore, and so while my books remain perfect and unmarred, they also seem somehow less mine."

Hertzel seems to have doubts about her pristine books and so do I. I'm with Helene Hanff when it comes to finding pleasure in the proof that other people have enjoyed and digested a book before me. In 84 Charing Cross Road (one of my favorite books) Hanff writes, "I love inscriptions on flyleaves and notes in margins. I like the comradely sense of turning pages someone else turned, and reading passages some one long gone has called my attention to."

Me too!! If I hadn't read that passage in a library book I would have underlined it and put a smiley face next to it. In fact, I will admit here that I have occasionally written a note in the margin of a library book - seeding a question or idea for my fellow readers to take up, or not, as they see fit. The reaching out to our unknown fellow readers is more poetically phrased by Tony Hoagland in "Field Guide."

Once, in the cool blue middle of a lake, up to my neck in that most precious element of all,

I found a pale-gray, curled-upwards pigeon feather floating on the tension of the water

at the very instant when a dragonfly, like a blue-green iridescent bobby pin,

hovered over it, then lit, and rested. That’s all.

I mention this in the same way that I fold the corner of a page

in certain library books, so that the next reader will know

where to look for the good parts.