Duct Tape and Marginalia.
I recently undertook a project organizing my book collection. When I sold my house and moved, I put most of the collection into boxes that are now stored in our basement. I knew this about myself, but on occasion I forget, how tied I am to my library. In boxes are hundreds of books. There are so many that after cataloging the first 250 I had to stop. I have several projects at hand—what with our daughter three months out—so organizing my books falls near the bottom of the priority list. Because I didn’t box the books, I had no idea in which boxes which books lived.
My collection represents a compendium of things I’ve learned over the years. In previous homes and apartments—indeed, I took most of these books to Kansas City, Washington, D.C. and Denver—they’ve been on display such that when I needed to look up some random factoid, it was easy. But since they’ve been boxed, I’ve been in the struggle. A few weeks ago, I found myself ransacking the boxes looking for In the Wake of the Plague—I cannot, now, remember why I thought I needed that book.
(Of note: The reason I have In the Wake is itself an interesting story. At the beginning of each school semester, I go to the university bookstore and peruse the book requirements for different courses. If I find one I think looks interesting, I buy it. Now I’m sure this has caused professors and students and bookstore clerks alike countless troubles because I wager they buy a specific number of books for each student in the class. But let’s face it, I’m hopeless. In an era of ever-crowded bookshelves, why not turn to university professors who have in-depth knowledge of special topics and therefore provide book recommendations vis-a-vis the university bookstore? I know; I’m a nerd. On this track, I might also add an excellent way to find a book is to visit the section of the library where the book’s topic is shelved. Go without inhibition! Browse the titles! Go through the bibliographies! A world of knowledge awaits you!)
Back on point. A week ago I searched for Zinsser’s On Writing Well and my hardcover edition of American Heritage Dictionary. By the end of last week, I surrendered. I bought several (10+) see-through storage bins. I went to work.
After several hours (and consultation with Jennifer), I realized I had neither the time nor desire to see the project through to completion. Instead, I grouped the books as best I could and stored them. Since I’m the one who put them away, I’m the one who knows where they are. Already I feel better. And Marie Kondo and her “does this bring you joy” business can stick it. Every single book brings me joy, even The Life and Times of Jennifer Lopez, a gift from the effable Edward Staton.
Anytime I go through my book collection I slide back into memories. I handled every book I own, and I know exactly how each one came to me. Some haven’t been read yet—their time shall come! Some are marked to the devil with marginalia. Each has a story all its own separate from the story it tells; however, some books are books about other books—these are often my favorite.
What drove me to the post, though, has to do with marginalia. I do more than write in books; I destroy them. And sometimes what I write in a book has nothing to do with the book itself. Grocery lists, reminders, account balances—these are but a few of the many things I find every time I open a text. My high school books are filled with (embarrassing) drawings. Go Down, Moses has an F-14 Tomcat a la Top Gun in it. So does War and Peace. Whatever I wrote takes me back to the moment when I read that particular book as well as what I was doing during that period in my life.
One of my favorite book destruction stories is Hans-Georg Gadamer’s Truth and Method, a picture of which you will find in this post. I read that book so hard I had to duct tape it back together.
A view of Gadamer after I duct taped him back together.
I think Hans-Georg would have liked this.
I hope when you read you write in your books. Some might find this disrespectful to the author. I do not. Were I a published novelist, I would hope you tell your life along the sides of my pages.