Dogeared … and please don’t tell Miss Henry …

April 18, 2010 § 12 Comments

In second grade, I ended up in Miss Henry’s class. It could have gone quite another way. We were a big class and split into two. The other teacher was new, a complete unknown. We would have dared our fate with her, nonetheless.

Miss Henry had a serious rep, though not a particularly bad one. Still, I often got caught in the crossfire of her engineer type teaching methods and my own blithe spirit. Because I was among the 20 of us who ended up in her classroom and then once again, suffered the luck of the her draw in fourth grade as well.

Miss Henry, a lank hipless white-haired woman, was dedicated to all things traditional and correct. Other than stuffing her handkerchief into the short sleeves of her dresses after honking or sneezing into them, she was the rigid epitome of correctness. And one of the things that she adamantly preached against was any sort of abuse against books. (She had me there – I already couldn’t have agreed more.) 

She inspected our returned classroom library books with the ferocity and astuteness of a warden. No writing in books, no bent or missing pages, no inexplicable

Never read with a pen or pencil in your hand, I learned. You wouldn’t want to make any stray mark of any sort. Never eat or drink while reading. You wouldn’t want to suddenly spray the page or leave a cup ring if using your drink to hold the book open while taking notes. Never this, never that. Reading was awash in “take cares” and “don’ts.”  And never dog ear! She would sniff it out, that poor little damaged page, and reproach the page bender in front of the class.

Well her dictates have all worked very well and good over the years, resonating at odd moments.
But I have turned a page, so to speak….and literally.

While reading my writing books of late, I have been committing the Miss Henry number one sin: dogearing.

Let me explain that I see it as a sign of affection with my softcover books. I refer to my books about writing. The ones so often scoffed by others. (really? and how do you account for the piles of best-selling self help books that fly out the bookstore shelves?)

Books about writing are reference books. Yes, that’s it. I carry them around, trying to assimilate whatever wisdom between the covers and am often caught out without pen or pencil to mark  a special spot, a line, a paragraph, a reference. 

And that is why, I have, in fact, derived a simple “dogear” system.

The disclaimer: First let me mention that turning down the corner of a page, the absolute faux pas that its known to be, is not something I do lightly. And it’s not something I do to anyone else’s books but my own. Those that live here, especially on my “office” bookshelves. Further, when I’m finished with the book, I straighten out its little bends on every page, and press it out.

The single dogear     This is the simple small folding down of a page to indicate something of note was here. Maybe a word, maybe several sentences. Somehow, the dogear was inspired and later, after finishing the book, every dogeared page is re-read in search of the page-bend’s inspiration to begin with and then it is duly noted in my writing exercise book.

 The double dogear   This occurs if there is a dogear already on page 21, but something occurs on (its backside) page 22 that is of note. What to do? Maintain the first dogear, then making a bigger fold on the page (Miss Henry is in an apoplectic rage now), bend it back the other way. (Surely I should be tearing pieces off my slip like little pieces of paper and using those before falling prey to the sloppy insidious ways of a dogearing reader! Miss Henry might say. But we don’t wear slips anymore; the dress itself has fallen back to date night and church Sunday as it is, Miss Henry, so shredding my non-existent petticoat, is, as you see, impossible.)

The bookmark dogear   This appears like any dogear but it is the last dogear in the book as it progresses, thus marking the spot where this reader left off.  Could it also mean that there is something remarkable on the page as well as being the last page read so far? Hmmm…good point. Yes, but I typically review that page anyway to see what was going on when I last picked up the book.

Sure, ban me from libraries across the country and from having any books lent to me but truly I only dogear my books. I’m sorry; it releases somthing, it expands my experience, it makes me love my books more and drives a certain curiosity about going back to look at those dogeared pages in particular.

Alright, fine, I did do it once to a novel. It was a softcover cover copy of  The God of Small Things by Roy. I thought I was going to keep it. And thus claimed it through dogearing.
But it wasn’t to be so.

I couldn’t finish the book. I don’t know why. I would read two pages, dogear my spot, put it down. At the next reading, I might progress five pages, dogear, put it down. This went on for a good third of the book.

A friend was going on vacation. She wanted something to read. Yes, she would give Roy’s book a try. I smoothed the pages neatly, nearly ironing them, before giving the book to her. I was truly letting it go. This also felt good because I was done wrestling with it. At least for now.

Said friend, (she still is a very good and close friend) later confessed she couldn’t finish it either. That she had, in fact, stopped reading at the same intervals that I had. She knew by the faint trace of my dogears. 
Funny the things that can seal a friendship.

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§ 12 Responses to Dogeared … and please don’t tell Miss Henry …

  • shoreacres says:

    You’ve taken me straight back, I tell you, to my days as a Junior Librarian. You do not underline. You do not write in a book. Under penalty of death you do not crack the spine of a book.

    Humph. Says who? As you say, other peoples’ books, library books – of course I leave them alone. But my books, though rarely dog-eared, have underlines and arrows and comments and cross-references everywhere.

    Each time I do a read-through of a favorite, I use a different color ink. I leave a “key” in front, noting the year I used green, or red or blue. It can be very, very interesting to go back and see how my own response to the book has changed over time.

    I’ll bet even though Miss Henry would disapprove, she’d be interested!

  • oh says:

    I love your color ink comments with a “key”- wonderful idea! may have to “borrow” it (sincerest form of flattery.)

    You are so great, getting around to all of us to comment. A lovely lift after a long and full tilt weekend – finally, I attended a writers conference!
    more on that later.

  • Nora says:

    I used to be bad about dog-earing things but I’ve learned to use little mini post-its instead. Although sometimes, there’s nothing like dog-earing a passaage!

    • oh says:

      Jeanie – yeah, double dogearing! and I guess I feel a little badly about it but it does work. I have to start keeping pencils and bookmarks all over the house. How do I always get caught without this stuff when I’m reading?

  • jeanie says:

    You crack me up! I was waiting for the double-dog-dare-you dogear! I don’t do it much — never in a “nice” book! But sometimes reference books, and on OCCASION as a bookmark! But I do sometimes make marginal notes! (I like Nora’s postit thing!)

  • typehype says:

    I have never before seen a double dog-eared page! Did you invent it? I’m too anal to dog-ear, even inside my own books (what would Freud say about that, I wonder), but my mom did it all the time. I have some of her old cookbooks in my kitchen. Often, when I refer to a recipe, I encounter a crease on the page. And each time I do, my thoughts turn to her and how she used to be before the Alzheimer’s leached most of her memory. Who would have thought I’d get misty-eyed over a meditation on dog-eared pages, but there you have it. You definitely hit on something universal.

  • Jeannine says:

    I like the link between your post and what typehype says – the dog-ears are a silent communication between you and your friend, and your reader and their mother. That’s got to be worth more than a pristine, unlined page!

    BTW, loved this line – a lank hipless white-haired woman – told me everything I needed to know. Well done!

  • mandy says:

    Dog-earing used to drive me crazy, but then in college I found it was the most convenient and practical. I’ve since gotten away from it again. I love perusing fun book markers when at the book store. When I give a book, it always comes with a book mark.

  • CLo says:

    Dog-earring is the most economical page marker. And what’s with all those rules about reading? “Damage” to books just gives them character.

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