March 14, 2010

Notes on reading

“But you know Matilda, you can not pretend to read a book. Your eyes will give you away. So will your breathing. A person entranced by a book simply forgets to breathe. The house can catch alight and a reader deep in a book will not look up until the wallpaper is in flames. For me, Matilda, Great Expectations is such a book. It gave me permission to change my life."

~ Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones

I've been having a hard time reading lately. Not trouble finding the time, but rather I'm having trouble focusing. I used to be able to read in a loud coffee shop, becoming engrossed in the book so as to shut out the noise of the world. It has been getting a bit more difficult to focus over time, but it has been particularly bad in the last year. Jangled thoughts and emotions flying through my brain, tangent after tangent distracting me from the words on the page. And the distracting thoughts have made it more difficult to understand and appreciate each book. I have found myself coming to the end of several books thinking, meh, it was OK.

I have been highlighting passages in the books I've read over the last year for a number of reasons including, book club discussions, failing memory and the desire to be a better writer. It is mostly in the non-fiction/self-help books, but I also make note of good turns of phrase in novels. And it has been an interesting exercise. When I come to the end of a book that I didn't feel was all that great, I am often surprised at how many good quotes I have made note of. It again makes me feel like my distracted mind isn't appreciating what is in front of me.

So the books I have been reading are filled with a bunch of little scraps of paper marking pages with good passages. I've felt books are somewhat sacred and shouldn't be abused with folded pages, broken spines and pen marks throughout. Several of the books I've read this year belong to the library, but I have resisted marking up books that I own as well.

But I am softening my viewpoint a bit. I was talking about marking up a book with Matt after he showed me a book that looked trashed. It seemed like nearly every other page had been dog-eared to mark a passage bracketed in pen. My point of view was that if I lend out a book that has been marked up, I am sort of telling that person "this is important" and affecting what they might come away with through their own eyes. Matt on the other hand feels that marking passages that he found important was like a conversation about the book with the next reader.

Never say never. I didn't think I would be happy with an electronic reader, but I have really enjoyed my Kindle. I have also started marking up my non-fiction books when I find a great passage I want to refer back to. But for the novels (and of course library books) I'm still using scraps of paper or post-it flags.

And I still can't break spines and dog-ear the corners of pages. A line has to be drawn, even if it is in pencil.

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