Wednesday, April 20, 2011

LtLM Volume One- On Books and How I Read

This is not a societal statement on the fall of literature as we know it or an opinion on the marvelous advances of technology that will help save the planet by reducing the world’s need for paper products.  I have no desire whatsoever to weigh in on either matter.
This is simply a record of why I love how I read.  A couple of years ago my boyfriend asked me if I wanted a Kindle for Christmas.  He knew that I loved books, he helped me move several large, heavy boxes of them into various apartments and, eventually, our house over the years.  Perhaps part of his offer was a desire to save his back from the inevitable injury it will suffer during one of these future moves as I continue to amass my collection.  But part of it was simply the fact that he is a straight male and, as such, gift ideas do not come easily to him.
Not wanting to toss a good gift idea that the poor thing had actually come up with all by himself without good reason I thought about it seriously.  The answer came quickly and decisively: NO.  No, I would not like a Kindle.
When I was in Dublin I visited the campus of Trinity College and I saw the library.  Walking through there was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.  It was founded in 1592 and became the resting place of several manuscripts dating back as far as the 12th century.  In other words, it’s old. 
Now, I never realized this before visiting there but old books have a very distinct smell.  I hate to say that it sort-of smells like something’s rotting but in all honesty it does.  When you walk into the long room there is this… it’s really more of a stench than a smell it’s so strong.  And I LOVED that smell.  To me, that smell represented knowledge.  It represented history.  It represented the words of people far smarter than I who lived so long ago that I can’t even imagine what their lives were like.  Not to mention the site of millions of volumes of literature up on shelves stretching 3 stories up.  It was a truly awesome experience, in the original meaning of the word.
Visiting this place did nothing to lessen my fantasy that one day I myself would have my own amazing library, complete with shelves so high you need one of those sliding ladders to get to every book.  (I realize that short of winning the lottery this is never gonna happen, but a girl can dream, can’t she?)
I’ve been to a number of antique book stores over the years and had similar experiences.  The smell of books that are only half a century old is significantly less than the smell of those that are several centuries old, but there’s still a smell.  And there’s still the feeling that the knowledge and ideas contained in these books is a sure-fire transport to life outside of the everyday elements of the 21st century.  And there’s oh so much satisfaction when you purchase one of these old books, take it home, crack the pages open and get a whiff of that- in the comfort of your own home, all for your nostrils.
So needless to say, I like books.  Which is why I would never want a kindle.
The point of this entry, however, was to talk about an element of myself that I loved, thus its place in the LtLM series.  So I will get down to why I love the way that I read.
When I read a book, I don’t just scan my sight across the pages, finish and put it away on the shelf.  To me, that’s not reading.  Cause if I pick the book up later there is no evidence that I’ve ever been there.  Forget about whether or not I remember the story- there is no physical trace of my journey through.  And to me, I might as well have not read it at all.
For me to have a read a book- to be able to say “I’ve read that.”- I have to make it mine.  I highlight- all over the place.  I highlight whether it’s history, school stuff, fiction or even poetry.  I highlight in places where there is no valid reason for there to be highlighting.  Why?  Because I like that line.  Or that event was really cool.  Or that item of information is important.  Or that description is just brilliant.  I highlight for any reason, and I’m making up new ones all the time.
I also take notes.  I’ll write down that I love the author’s tone, or that what that character did was fantastic or just put huge exclamation points when I’m feeling the need.  I’ll also write down words that I don’t know and define them.  There have been several books that I couldn’t get through a single page of without a dictionary (Sideways by Rex Pickett) and by the time I finished there were hundreds of new words neatly defined at the bottom.
And I dog ear.  For those pages when I feel the need to highlight every single line or I want to be able to get to that passage quickly I will fold the paper down marking my path.  Like breadcrumbs, I know where I’ve been.
With all of this, by the time I have finished a book, it has been thoroughly read.
Now, I don’t do this to every single book- like the antique volumes of historic tomes.  I don’t want to ruin the smell.  But there are few enough of those that I remember whether or not I’ve read them.   And they occupy a special place on my bookshelf, anyway.
This habit of mine may be extremely un-green, may prevent me from utilizing the library, and may make me the person that you’d never want to borrow a book from.  But I’m ok with that.  These are my friends, my teachers, my mentors.  I don’t want them going anywhere and I don’t want to share the experience with anyone else.  I want them tucked safely on their shelf as a testament to a tiny little accomplishment in my life.  And when I pick them up however many years from now I want to look in and see my journey.
And seeing as I don’t keep any other collections I think I’m entitled to buy my books, mark them, and love them.  And I do love that about myself.

1 comment:

  1. I love the idea of reading as a physical experience--one that leaves traces just like footsteps on the ground. Though as a fellow lover of books (I enjoy the scent as well; what else smells like history?), I must also say that I love my Kindle. I would never want to make a full switch to reading EVERYTHING on a Kindle, because the book as a physical artifact is too important to me. But the Kindle is very powerful in that it keeps whole libraries at my fingertips at all times--and there's something undeniably cool about highlighting a passage, and seeing it appear on my Facebook page seconds later, for people to read and think about and maybe even buy the book because of it.

    All that said, this post makes me want to break out the highlighter and pen more while reading. Who says it has to be a passive activity? :-)


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