What do the insides of your books look like?
Are there lines and highlights in the texts? Have you written comments in the margins? Are there exclamation marks, checks, stars scribbled on the pages?
My favorite books seem so, and I started thinking about it as I was reading an old 1964--from 1934--book of letters from the German poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, loaned me this season by my chess playing partner. He and a previous owner have underlined different passes, quoted other authors, and jotted down ideas galore in the brief 125 pages of the paperback edition. It is tattered with age, with thoughts, with love. It's interesting, but I especially paid attention to the lines emphasized by those readers--skimming much of the other text. When I lend some of my books on writing to by students, they say they do the same, because I've marked them up a lot, for those ideas that spoke to me about writing, about teaching, about, well everything. Words underlined in a book tell you much about the person who underlined them.
I want to share some of Rilke's thoughts about life and art with you later. I think this habit of underlining may come from the old-timey preachers and men and women of faith who had read the Bible so much that all the faroite passages were underlined. I knew one old Bible scholar, Dr. Hugo McCord of OCC, whose Bible was tattered with love and care and almost every line was underlined...and he had most of it memorized. He was not alone.
Of course now they've come out with all these fancy color-coded overlays in Bibles emphasizing ideas and so forth, labeling them study Bibles. It probably started with the red-letter editions of the King James Bible, putting the words of Christ in red. Dr. McCord, Brother George Mickey of the Albuquerque church of Christ, and many others didn't need them. To them, every Bible was a study Bible and marked from long study and devotion.
Dad's Frederick Taubes book and my Whitman book
I guess that's where I picked up the habit, but now my underlining, my marking comes on books where there are phrases and ideas that apply to me, words written in beautiful and forceful ways, originally turned phrases, ideas presented I'd not thought of, points made I don't want to lose. College also contributed to that. I still have a textbook on Whitman from long ago, in a course taught by the beloved Dr. Frank Finney at what is now UCO, my notes are scribbled throughout, along with my comments, Finney's, and underlined lines and meters. The book is a treasure of art. I probably also inherited that from my dad, too. I now have his art books, and they're heavy with his underlines and exclamation marks. He was always a student of art. I have known some people who won't underline Bibles, because they think they're sacred. I disagree with that, but understand. But to me, the books with my underlinings and scribbles in them are my most valuable.
My writing and art books are marked the most, and those of my favorite writer, John McPhee. I never read a book of his that I don't have to circle words I don't understand, or think, "I wish I'd written that." Larry McMurtry's non-fiction is the same.
My book on Cezanne's composition, bought last year at McMurtry's used book store in Archer City, Booked Up
My autographed copy of McMurtry's
Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen
When I sit down to read a book these days, and don't bring a pen...I invariably have to get up and go find one, because something just stands out and I don't want to lose it.
Not that I often go back, but it helps me connect with the writer, the thought, the page.
That's a drawback of reading words on a blog or a Kindle. There are thoughts that demand more that one read, that gain power, are meant to be treasured, quoted, applied. Underlined passages in books become part of me.