The readers before us…

October 9, 2010 § 18 Comments

Sometimes a library book is sweetly tarnished in some way.  Maybe it’s a stain on a page, maybe sauce, maybe blood, maybe it’s gravy on the page. But who doesn’t prefer to think it’s an engaged reader, having a whopping lovely chocolate thing to eat while reading? Or a lovely little slop of coffee? (No, I am not in favor of book abuse, don’t get me wrong.)

Sometimes the pages are wrinkled. Maybe the book was dropped in the bathtub, maybe left out in the rain,. But who doesn’t prefer to think it was a reactive reader, moved to giant splashy tears by the story, thus soaking the book?

Still,sometimes we get treats from the readers gone before us. Maybe a bookmark left behind. Maybe the library receipt, showing all the books that reader had borrowed, and so we get to know a bit about that reader by his book selections. Or, maybe something pencilled, maybe an exclamation point or a star, maybe a word like “perfect”, that he made in the margin or somewhere on the page. 

My favorite, the underline. What stopped the reader, made him find a pencil, made him choose lines to mark and for what reason? Was he going back to them later? Was he learning something and the act of underlining helped to reinforce that learning?

And so I was cruising along in the beginning pages of AM Smith’s second mystery novel in the Isabel Dalhousie Sunday Philosophy Club series,FRIENDS, LOVERS, CHOCOLATE, and on this page, the pencilled underline.

When you’re reading a mystery, your antennae are out, looking for the set up, ready to differentiate between red herrings and clues. This line jumped out, and would have, even without the pencil line. 

It’s a lovely little subtle setup. Is that what the pencil-toting reader before me thought as well?
I wonder. Still, likely something will happen in this respectable suburb. 
Sure we love our new books, but the old ones, the used ones, the beloved and the libraried ones tell stories beyond the stories within them.

I read on. To see what happens, if anything, in Balerno.


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§ 18 Responses to The readers before us…

  • shoreacres says:

    I’m just laughing. I had no idea how deeply embedded certain childhood lessons can be. As you were cataloging the “finds” in your books – the gravy, the tears – it was all good, until you got to the stars, the exclamation points and the (GASP!) underlining.

    If we were told once, we were told a thousand times: you are not to mark in a libary book.

    And if we did? And it could be proven? The loss, my friend, of library privileges for a time. Cast out into utter darkness, shamed and ashamed and forced to watch our classmates troop into the sanctity of the book-stacks without us.

    I only did it once, trust me. 😉

  • oh says:

    Yup, you’re right – we were never ever to write in a book. And so I didn’t, haven’t (except in my own).
    But I think what explains the markings I will see occasionally in library books, are those of students (whether academic or “life” students), reading a book from the library they didn’t want to have to buy and then “marked” the book as they read, forgetting themselves.
    And so I forgive them.

  • shoreacres says:

    …and so I forgive them.

    As we should. And I should have mentioned that we weren’t just punished by being denied library privileges. We also spent time helping the “conservators” at the book hospital go through books and repair what damage they could. Those hours we spent impressed on us as much as anything the value of keeping books pristine for everyone’s enjoyment.

    And what a great experience – to get a book from the library and then go out and buy it anyway, just so I can mark it to my heart’s content! That’s the “mark” of a good book!

  • oh says:

    At long last, thanks to so many of you, I am learning to devour books via the library, then wean the ones I’ll want on my own shelf for linger-ful reading (what? there’s a better word – what is it?) and in the meantime, I can enjoy the rush of a free stack of books. I know, in two weeks, one must cull one book to finish. So this is marvelous, and i can’t believe I came so late to this “party” (if you will!) on borrowing and returning and then making a list of what I’d like to own. Gosh, hope Santa asks me, and will he think me rude if I whip out my book wish list?

    And of course, I also imagine you reading on the deck of one of the boats you’re working on – you know, with the rock and sway of the water and the smell of teak and a book in your hand…yes, I know better – you’re working every second on you’re aboard, or in dry dock, but still, it’s a wonderful picture.
    (why don’t I just write you an email instead of blathering away here? i dunno. I just finished an article and have the ensuing “giddiness” that comes with it and it was quickest to come here and write you. Besides, I know you’ve mastered all the techno bells and whistles and will find my message fast regardless of wehre I put it!
    Really, you will have to employ some of your patience and knowledge and get some of us on board with tweeting and generally, connecting. Bravo to you on that as well.

    Going for a walk and will then catch up on your blog, in case there’s a new one…(see? I need to get better connected so that when you post, it pops up on my radar!)
    Thanks for all your lovely notes – you are our great communicator, you know.

    more, soon!

  • anno says:

    I’m laughing, too. My daughter just returned a book, unread, to a friend of hers who had pressed m. to borrow it. “I couldn’t read it,” she said, “X. underlined practically every sentence in the book!! Why would anybody do that?” We’re looking for a copy at the library tomorrow, hoping that previous borrowers will have had a more restrained approach. Personally, I’m usually intrigued by the marks others leave in the books they borrow… seems to add color to my own experience.

  • oh says:

    Anno – there you are! (so glad to have you stop by – you know I’m a complete no-show on Facebook and I’m missing your pictures! I think the day that I don’t spend 8 hours of work at the PC, I will come home to approach my own darling laptop with more excitement and anticipation. as I should!)

    Anyway, yeah, I remember that buying certain used books in college days was impossible due to all the previous highlighting and underlining. i couldn’t study with other markings, much less in various colors! throughout the text.

    But now, like you, I find the occasional pencilled note intriguing, wondering about the “who” and “why” of it.

  • ds says:

    Marking up library books?! Say it ain’t so 😉 (I am so guilty of that guilty pleasure)
    You’ve described exactly why we read mysteries, so now I want to know what happens in Balerno, too.

    • oh says:

      DS, I am trying very hard to take your advice and Ruth’s…take one book out at a time and succeeed in getting that one read – so, that being said, I took out CHOCOLATE, LOVERS…the little mystery that involves Balerno, and had to take it back! I will now take it out again. (that’s the trick here; you can renew twice, than it has to come back. So, I return it, wait a beat, then sign it out again.) Such fun, these Oh-and-the-library games! No, I”m serious.

      Anyway, stay tuned on this one…more to come on Balerno!

  • Tunks says:

    “Sure we love our new books, but the old ones, the used ones, the beloved and the libraried ones tell stories beyond the stories within them”

    Sooooooo true! 🙂

    • oh says:

      Hi, tunks! thanks for stopping by! REally, in our communication-heavy world, isn’t it nice to take time to read? (yes, blogs count!)

  • jeanie says:

    Now, I don’t do the library much, but I buy a lot of used books — so I’m pretty familiar with what you’re talking about! And I love ’em! One of the reasons I like buying used books — especially mysteries — is I try to imagine the person who had it before me. Did they get the clues? Did they figure it out before I did? I feel such camaraderie with the faceless reader! And when you get more clues about them — the blood, the tears, the food, the pencil mark or notation — oh, my! And the present of a book mark or a clipping. Oh, it’s simply the best!

    So, I’m loving this post — and hoping you enjoy Isobel’s mystery! I do love this series. It’s profoundly gentle, isn’t it. No swat teams or lurkers in dark alleys. But so good!

    • oh says:

      I am delighted with the Aimee character and series. And you’re exactly right- it’s gentle. And French. French enough to heigthen the escapism even a petit peu more.

  • aubrey says:

    Once, I lied to a librarian. I had checked out a history book I loved so much, I couldn’t part with it. I told her I had left it on the bus. I gladly paid the fine, and once officially mine, I was free to underline it (different colors for different battles) and write notations in the margins.

    I also have a soldier’s handbook, from 1917. Rules about trenchfoot, staying away from bad ladies, etc. It was filled with pencil-written notes…I’ve often wondered: who was that studious doughboy? Did he see battle? Did he survive?

    Such delicious mysteries.

    • oh says:

      That, Aubrey, is a great anecdote about you and the history book! Ditto that on your soldier’s handbook. I have to stop by and say hello.

  • Jeannine says:

    What a fun post. You always find something that’s just there, oh, and then turn the ordinary into something wonderful.
    I had a book out the library the other day where someone had blanked out every curse, a frustrated censor. Coffee are chocolate stains are one thing, but I have found some pretty gross looking stuff between the pages of second hand or library books. . . but that’s another post altogether.

    • oh says:

      Hey, J! Mmmmm….yeah, the gross stuff that is sometimes on the pages…To tell the whole truth, I returned one of the books I took out because the entire thing was wrinkled, from being wet. You could read it, but I couldn’t stop wondering how it got wet and geez, it was ruining the reading experience.

      Teh difference between the new books and the used books, really, I think, must be the scent of them…

  • mandy says:

    I am completely guilty of underlining an phrase every now and again that jumps out at me, a quote I want to remember or a line I want to hold on to for a bit longer. I tried using post its once, but the end result wasn’t the same. I never thought of it as leaving a bit of something for the next patron who borrows the book from the library.

    • oh says:

      Ah, Mandy – a true book lover you are, too! I wish there was a simple way to remember/keep all those sentences that struck us, grabbed us and through us against the OMG-that’s-great wall!

      Wonder what you’re reading? and writing – what are you writing? keep going.
      Will stop by as soon as I plug in this laptop which is waning…

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