Folded pages, marks with pen or pencils, some scribbled thoughts… are these signs show disrespect towards the book? No. This may be a celebration of a literary moment –when writer and reader connect…
Markings, underlined sentences, folded pages… all of these are strict ‘No’ while reading a book. But, these markings are a kind of communication between a writer, a reader and… all the other readers who read the marked book.
Let’s invert the myth that all good readers keep books in a pristine, antiseptic and haloed condition.
Most of us have been brought up to respect books. This includes, not just respecting the knowledge contained in a book, but also treating the actual object with much reverence, particularly never touching a book with your feet, a uniquely Indian and great concept. The other injunctions about books that we grew up with: never ever mark on a book with a pencil or pen, never fold corners of pages, always use a bookmark, never lay the book face down, and never read while eating… So Ingrained were these warnings and lessons, that when you borrowed a book from the library and found someone had underlined sentences, or put little exclamation marks on the side, or scribbled in the book, and obviously not used a bookmark, you were horrified. Books that one borrowed from circulating libraries sometimes had all kinds of things boldly scrawled on them. A favourite was:
‘Want to know my name? Go to page 9’. On page 9, you were sent ahead on this search to page 23, and so on and so forth. Till on the last mentioned page, this wag ended with: ‘Mind Your Own Business’. As 12-year-olds, we found this most wicked and funny. On the next, Nancy Drew book that we borrowed from the school. Library, three conspirators got together and pulled the same lark. It created major ripples and became a Topic for Assembly. The perpetrators were labelled Uncouth, Disrespectful and Most Likely to Fail in Life. We arranged our faces to look suitably shocked too. It was the year of living dangerously. We never repeated that lark again, and after a while, it seemed a fairly silly and sick thing to do. Having said that, however, many books and many years later, a case has to be made, in fact, for scribbling in books – your own books that are.
A celebration of a literary moment!
Sometimes you read a great book, the kind which makes you stop mid-read and take a long walk, or take many long breaths, the kind which gives you an aha moment. The kind that opens doors, touches chords. That is when I am sorely tempted to mark a paragraph, a sentence, a phrase, scribble some of my reactions to it, and if there’s no bookmark at hand, turn in the corner of the page, so that I can return to that part of the book some hours, days, weeks, even years later. And this is in no way disrespectful of the book, its contents or its author; I have come to the conclusion.
It is, for me, a celebration of a literary moment – when writer and reader connect, across centuries, across continents, in recognition of some universal truth. Now freed from the notion that people who mark books are enemies of various goddesses of learning, I love borrowing and reading books that are well-thumbed and similarly marked by other people.
It gives you pause to think and wonder at what struck the previous reader, drawing one more person into your relationship with the book, a kind of silent and virtual book club.
While you may have been brought up to believe that it is a heinous crime to make any mark on a printed book, do try it the next time you read (your own book) that touches you deeply and you want to frame the feeling that the words set off in you. Even a faint little line in the margin is a good starting point. From there, you can graduate to underlining parts, and thence to scribbling little keywords, phrases, that record your specific creation to the passage that you have read. Believe me, the writer, dead or alive, will be honoured to know that somewhere, a reader is connecting so well with his/her work. For the faint of heart, I suppose there are post-its and other such options available – which you can stick on to the relevant page.
However, whatever you were brought up to believe, putting markings on a book is really not the same thing as scratching a heart and Shweta on the Taj Mahal (the monument, not the hotel).