Reading, like dying, is something we ultimately do alone. So when taking a novel from the library shelf, it’s troubling to find that some Goldilocks has not only been picking at your food and smashing your furniture but may actually still be in the house.
Highlighters. Underliners. Scribblers of marginalia. Vandals, really, smearing their graffiti all over the page. It’s not only my bourgeois concern with private property that’s offended, it’s my sensibilities as a reader. No matter how I try, I can not ignore other people’s annotations. If they underline, my inner voice adopts a stentorian tone. If they annotate, I read their notes and scoff (“You call that a trenchant observation? I’ll show you trenchant!”). In short, it tears my attention away from the story.
I’m not the only one for whom this rankles. Beyond the legions of preservationists and assorted book nerds who turn pale and clutch their first editions to their chests at the mere mention of such uncouth behavior, there is a small but militant wing devoted to stamping out not only the transgressive act but the transgressor as well. But while our side may make up in enthusiasm what it lacks in numbers, our opponents are legion:
“Let’s face it, you could read the entire book or you could just read the sentences that somebody has helpfully underlined. Better still if they’ve underlined large paragraphs and included a summary by the side then you needn’t read anything. If a book is a [sic] pointless and crap then it’s far better have someone who’s previously done the essay leave a note telling the next reader to avoid wasting valuable library hours.”
I see their point. If one person has read a particular book, why should anyone else ever read it again? You might encounter something you disagree with or dislike. According to this helpful advice, one not even need read the summary next to the underlined paragraphs; just the fact that it has been read is sufficient. And why waste “valuable library hours” reading books? They’ve got the internet now. So listen up, doctoral students – if you want to have a lasting impact in advancing the theory and practice of your field, just get to the library early. And bring a pen.
Speaking of people not reading books, here’s one of the oddest books I’ve ever read. Just to give you an idea, when I was trying to recall the author and title, I Googled “meat piles “solid clouds” memory”. First hit.
I came across Derby’s work while looking into the self-identified “Bizzaro” school of fiction (I’m generally suspicious of weird for weird’s sake, but Steve Aylett is a genius of something, I’m just not sure what). Derby isn’t actually cited among these authors, but bizarre would be at least part of a fitting description of his book Super Flat Times. It must also be more than that because I read it over a year ago and it still haunts me.
Buy it for the author’s sake; I’ve already taken care of actually reading it.