a place for the curious


Or, writing in books

the words "Oh, how I love Nina George right now. Thank you." scribbled on the page of a book

a reader’s message

A filthy notion, discussed in the open

I write in books.

Not ‘I write books*’, but ‘I write in books’. I write in the margins of books. Not just text books. Bookish books. Fiction books. Non-fiction books. Beautiful books. Books. Are you with me? Or are you shocked? Some might say it’s akin to act of graffiti, except more so. Because I don’t put in any old thing. I put in words. Right next to the words the author put in for me to read. Imagine it if you can. Pick up the pencil and . . . Bang! One word. Then another. And another. And before long, there you have it. A margin full of words.

The person to blame is an author, of course. Wherever there’s trouble, you’re bound to find one at the bottom of it all. In the middle of his book Trafficking in Old Books, under a delightful section titled ‘A little heresy’, Anthony Marshall implores the reader to take out their pen and write in the book. Right there and then. He makes clear he will be rather disappointed if you turn the page without leaving your mark.

I’ll admit I use a pencil, rather than a pen. An archival quality pencil that will outlast any pen. Of course, any future reader could decide to erase the comment. There’s no way I can stop them. Just as there’s no way an author can stop me from writing there in the first place. Books are for words. Put them in. Take them out. Do as you see fit, so long as you revel in it.

So, as Anthony did for me, I’m going to do the same for you. Go on. Next time you have a book, a papery book and one that you own, take out your pen and write in it.

Write what you feel, angry or sad. Write how grateful you are for the existence of those words. Or how sad you are that the story might soon be ending. Write what you like and, just as importantly, write what you don’t like it. Argue with the characters. Make nonsensical comments. Make music, leave marks, have fun. Think not of the purity of the form of the book, think only of how the words make you feel. Leave your mark for the future. Think about it for a moment. Haven’t you ever found a mysterious comment in the margins of a dusty old secondhand book? How do you think it got there? Someone like you put it there for you to find.

Write something in the margins that will have future readers bewildered or stunned at your words. Leave little treasures that one day might be uncovered by others. Or perhaps they won’t. It doesn’t matter – you’ll never know.

Make today the day. Pick up a pen, a pencil or even a crayon and just do it. Day time or night, leave your mark. Feel no shame. If you’re to do it, do it proud.

After a little while, you’ll find you can’t stop. Sometimes I even do it in public. In plain sight, where anyone can see. Sitting on the train. In a cafe. Anywhere the story calls me to it.

Someday, if you see a madwoman with a pencil, hurling words with merry abandon, take a second look. It’s probably me. Or someone just like me.

Maybe one day it could be you.

* Actually, I’m trying to do this too, but that’s another story. Literally.**
** These largely unnecessary footnotes brought to you in memory of Sir Terry Pratchett.

A moment of your time

Sunrise breaking through after a rain, in a major city mallIt’s winter down here right now. We don’t get snow and while it gets pretty close to zero overnight, in the middle of the day it can be sunny, almost warm. Other days the skies are full of grey, rolling clouds and the paths shimmer from the rain. I’ve been trying to capture that eloquent moment between the rain and the sun. I haven’t found it, but something like it found me a couple of weeks ago.

When I step out to find a story or a picture, I sometimes find myself actively searching for that perfect moment. But it’s not there. It’s not sunny enough. It’s not cloudy enough. There aren’t enough people. There are too many people. I just can’t get it quite right.

And then I let go. Because the perfect moment isn’t something you can hunt down. It comes to you, as a surprise moment in the early morning or a glimpse between strangers on a train. You could spend months looking for it. But if you glance away, sometimes that’s when it’s there. Look away. Let it go. Relax and let your mind drift free. And there it is.

Of course, it isn’t perfect. Perfection isn’t truly attainable. It’s really that you were looking for that ‘certain something’. The moment when you see it or hear it, whatever it is.

Maybe the best way to find that moment is to give yourself the gift of time.

Allow your mind to wander. Let it meander aimlessly. Leave the door open and see what drifts in. Most often, it’s nothing. And that’s just as beautiful.

Stop the noise and allow yourself a little bit of quiet.

A moment in time.


Some days

Some days are so full of noise that you have no time to reflect.

Some days are so still that reflection is built right in.

Some days cause you to stop and gaze out through the window.

Some days are loud and you can’t bear the sound of your own buzzing thoughts. These are the days that you know you won’t try.

Some days, though, aren’t like that at all. Some days you can embrace the struggle. The mountain still daunts you, but you don’t look away.

It’s on days like these that you set out, take the hard path, and breathe the fresh air. These are the days that make your lungs ache. That you make you feel alive. These are the days that the struggle within is yours to win. You might not yet win, you might not even be ready, but the mountain is tangibly yours. These are the days when you can truly see a way through.

Some days it isn’t like that.

But some day it will be once again.

Form an orderly queue

A black and white slide that says "grown ups enjoy reading, also

Source: New York Public Library
Visual Materials,
Lantern Slides

I’ve been writing a lot lately.

For a person who likes words,  this is nothing short of heaven. For a person who loves reading words, it can start to feel a tad unbalanced.  And it is a balancing act. The balance of keeping this world separate from that one. Of making time for the putting down of words, instead of the picking up of new ones. Finding yourself spending hours researching, rather than just revelling. It’s okay though. It’s a balance I have to strike. And one that I’m enjoying finding my way through.

Yet, while I can sense the balance scales settling in one corner, I can feel something new growing in another. No, growing isn’t quite right. I can feel it lurking. It’s that great, lumbering collection of book-ish guilt: the reading pile.

My reading-for-leisure has gone well beyond being just a bit behind. Right now, I’d be relieved to find only one  ‘to-read’ pile in our house. I wouldn’t like to count, but there’s at least a baker’s dozen of them. And each of the stacks is building, higher and higher. I’m not sure if they’re held together with gravity or a far heavier sense of duty. A reading pile has a unique shape and feel. What you see is no ordinary stack of books. That, dear reader, is guilt and duty, neatly bound. It’s a duty to myself and a promise to every unread page.

But we’ll make it, my papery loves – one book at time. A little patience is all I ask. Come, sit. Take a number and wait. Thank you, kindly.

Next please.

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