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Monday, December 31, 2012

Writing in Books

Disclaimer: Write in books you own.

I'm reminded of this sin I possess while reading Joe Queenan's One for the Books. His first chapter strikes home on so many levels, book ownership, reading habits, writing in books and the various size of ones library over time and a lifetime.

Every time I move I leave cartons of books or give them to school libraries or the Salvation Army. I remember in my early prep school teaching days having bookshelves of books accumulated form those dusty New England book stores along those quaint roads driven to see the fall foliage or to get to some mountain to hike or to some lake to swim in or some river to fish in. I'd have to stop in one of those stores or two and leave with a great deal on a box of books for my library, to fill in gaps in collections for my students to see and my colleagues to peruse to verify my credentials to teach at this fine institute. I'd use these bookcases as walls to climb, to block out or to barricade in people, ideas, thoughts. But invariably, packing them all up when it was time to move on just seemed pointless as they represented a place and time I was happy to move on from so discarding them was part of the process of moving on. I, of course, held on to the valuable books and still have many of them today. Many of them have my chicken scratch in them and when I reread them I am reminded of those halcyon days or not.

As a teacher I was always ready to give one of my books to any student who asked for it. I never expected it back nor wanted it back and instructed the recipient to write in it. Aghast, the student questioned this suggestion. I'd reassure that student it was okay, because it was now the student's book.

An essay I loved to use in my classroom supported my idea of writing in books. How to Mark a Book by Mortimer J Adler really shook up my students and some of my colleagues and especially the school librarians. But I persisted. I'd use the concept to get us to sticky notes inserted into the books they read. I used the concept to get them to write notes, to take quotes from the book and commit them to their own books or notebooks. And when students bought books, I really encouraged them to write in those books and to make notes for later use in an essay. Those who learned this trait did better as writers and readers. Queenan reminded me of this notion when he was speaking of his habits, likes and dislikes as a reader. This habit of writing in books, "The most telling point is that I write in my books, which no collector would ever do." (page 22) It seems Queenan, too, finds this "most telling point" a major sin or curse he has and is so non bookish.

Now my books are either stored away in the boxes I put them at my last move and waiting in a closet or as legs to a table I have made of old discarded table leaves that are the book shelves for these tomes I have inherited from my grandfather. An earlier bunch of inherited books were auctioned off to pay for a daughter's college education. The current boxed tomes haven't interested antiquarians, so they stayed sequestered in the closet of a rented house until I buy a home for them. The sole bookshelf I have contains those books I need about me, those oldies I have written in, those I need to read and those I love to reread. In addition the empty spaces are being filled with new acquisitions. Oh that reminds me, I need to purchase two books online.

Yes, books are everywhere for me too. In my car, on all the open surfaces of my house, and in beach bags. I visit the library at least twice a week to return some and to collect more that were ordered or discovered on the shelf or sought out when discovered that they, too, needed to be read. I like owning my own books because I like to write in them when the urge moves me.

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