Bibelots

a place for the curious

Tag: paper books

Marginalia

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 an 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.

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.

The gap in my bookshelf

a row of books on a bookshelfA tribute to Colleen McCullough

Last week saw the passing of a well-known Australian author, Colleen McCullough. Colleen was a neuroscientist, a researcher, and was responsible for one of the most popular Australian novels – The Thorn Birds.

The Thorn Birds was published in 1977. I can’t say for sure when I first read the book, but I know it was decades ago. It feels like the book has been in my life, one way or another, for a very long time.

The gap on my shelf is where that book should be.

I don’t know where it went. I have a lot of books and most of my books are double-stacked in the shelves. I’ve moved house a few times. I’m always willing to loan out my books, especially the old favourites.

I know how it looked. It was old, worn and tattered. As an author trying to earn a living from the sales of her books, I’m sure she would have preferred me to buy a new one. As a book-lover, that’s too bad. The old and tattered darlings always have a special place in your heart.

The book had been loved by my half of my family. It’s possible it’s with one of them now.

I can remember it and its story. I remember its shape and how it felt. I can also remember the moment I realised that authors could come from here.

I grew up reading all sorts of things and most of it was from the UK, the US and Europe.

I’d previously read Colin Thiele – you can see one of his books on my shelf. It isn’t Storm Boy. I long ago loaned that to someone who was passionate to read it. I think they still have it. That’s okay. So long as it’s loved.

But as much as I loved Storm Boy, I didn’t ever think about Colin Thiele the author. Not until much later.

Colleen McCullough – the author, the mind behind the fiction, the woman that wrote the words – was in my thoughts from the very last word in the book.

I doubt I can ever fully describe how I felt at that moment.

It took me years to realise I could write. I’ve always told stories. Always written them for myself. I know, without a doubt, that she was a solid step on my stony pathway to writing. It’s a pathway that never ends. Not while you’re still breathing.

And now that the world has lost such a fine mind, a novelist, a scientist, a local, and a woman with a way with words, I can only stare numbly at the gap in my bookshelf.

It wasn’t until she was gone, that I noticed what I was missing.

It is a void that can’t be filled.

Vale, Collen McCullough. And, thank you.

Dear librarian

a photo of a book titled "one thousand beautiful things" with a rose on the cover, next to a little Lego manThe walls were beige and the floor was beige. The chairs were plastic and the tables flimsy and chipped. Yet this room was more full of life and colour than my most vibrant dreams.

This was my first library. A place overflowing with books. Shelf after endless shelf of them, reaching far above my young head.

My library also had a little games room. A table, two chairs and a beanbag. It was the warmest and most welcoming room on the planet. I felt safe there. Safe and happy. The word sanctuary seems too thin to convey just how good it was.

Of course, I shared this space with other children and adults. I didn’t mind. A place of books draws in people who love books. That’s not to say that all people who love books are lovely people, but it does attract people with a similar frame of mind.

And at the centre of all of these books and book-ish people was the Ringmaster. The librarian.

I don’t know her name. Oh, how I wish I did. I would hunt her down, hold her in my arms and pepper her forehead with the gentlest of kisses.

In one way, it doesn’t matter. Librarians the world over provide access to knowledge, share with us their beautiful collections of books and, almost unwittingly, they provide shelter.

Each librarian probably has a different way of welcoming you. My librarian was of a kind who felt that all books were good books, even the bad ones. She has left me with an unbiased love for any book. I’m as at home with Luminaries as I am with the Little Fuzzies. Whatever it is, I’ll try not to judge it by cover, genre or price. Every one gets at least one chance. Maybe two.

So, from the bottom of my papery heart, dear librarian, I wish to say thank you.

Thanks for every bright little word. Every grand word. Every long and winding sentence. Every page, every author, every book. Thank you and your amazing house of words.

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