Thursday, January 26, 2012

Notes, Scribbles, and Dog Ears

I love opening the pages of a brand new book. The smell is freshly printed, the pages crisp, the spine opens with a pleasant crack. You would think that I always want to keep books in this pristine condition, but sometimes it feels good to break them in, to write in them, to dog-ear their pages, to condition them and make them look loved.

I just finished reading my Mom’s old copy of The Scarlet Letter. And this book could not be more used. I had to hold it together with a large rubber band because both covers were off, and as I read I had to piece together halves of pages that had been torn off. This book went through a lot.

The most interesting thing in the book was Mom’s notes, written in ink in the margins, and her passages that were underlined. She obviously read this book in class, maybe in Mrs. U’s Senior English class in high school, and her notes allowed me to read the book along with her.

I’ll never forget the first time I was allowed to write in a book. It was in college, and I relished the idea that I could mark it as I wished with pencil or ink - make notes wherever I wanted.

Well-used books make me think of my Grandma’s Bible. As a kid I envied the look of it. The leather cover was soft and worn, there were notes and papers stuck in it everywhere, a yarn bookmark kept her place, and sometimes she even made little notes on the thin pages in pencil. I wanted a Bible that looked like that, so I got out mine from way back on my bookshelf and tried to think of things to stick in it so it looked loved like Grandma’s. I think those papers are still inside it, on my bookshelf, where it sits today.

Of course some books I will never write in, such as my large beautiful art books, or old ones from my childhood that I cherish. But I do write notes in my cookbooks (a check mark next to a recipe means it was good; a check plus means it was great), and I like to write, as my Grandma does, the date I cooked a recipe on the page, too. That makes the book more personal, as a historical record.

How loved are your books?