Brand building through storytelling

The pleasures of writing in books

I have this odd little habit that amuses my husband.

To be honest, I’m told I have many odd habits. They involve bits of crumpled Kleenex, loose bottle caps, single socks emerging from the laundry…oh, enough of that stuff! Let’s talk about a happier subject, books and pens. The two go together, as far as I’m concerned. I’ve never found a more comfortable way to read than curled up in my bathrobe, underlining passages so eloquent, original or flat-out gorgeous that they call for another look.

Where I come from, any book that didn’t come from the library was fair game for annotation. My parents both taught English. They could sit all evening with their books and pens (hers blue, his red), jotting notes in the precise, cramped shorthand teachers use to stretch the boundaries of a margins. How fussy and joyless, I thought at the time. How hopelessly uncool!

I hadn’t yet discovered that to write in a book is to make it yours by searching every page for secrets to remember and revisit. Now I wish I’d kept at least a few of the books that held my parents’ private conversations with the author. Their battered copy of Yeats’ collected poems was a thicket of notes about poems they loved, and loved to teach. “Not a young person’s poem,” they would say of “Sailing to Byzantium,” which I read aloud at my father’s funeral. I was 33, still a bit young for a poem that begins, “That is no country for old men.” Decades later, I wonder what my father wrote in the margins.

Toddlers love to scribble in books—until they learn that it’s not okay. Students routinely attack their texts with garish yellow highlighters (although a pen seems much more civilized to me). Somewhere along the line, most of us acquire the notion that writing in a book is either geeky or destructive. Yes, even me. Then one day I wrote “Spectacular!” in the pristine margins of a brand-new cookbook. I didn’t want to miss those mint-pesto potatoes on my next flip. Emboldened, I started making notes on just about every recipe I cooked. “Way too much liquid—try half next time.” “Great with chopped dill and coriander.” My cookbook collection, which once seemed as lofty as The Encyclopedia Britannica, became an extension of my hands and spoon. It was time to take some liberties with fiction, biography and essays.

This morning in an idle moment, I pulled Laurie Colwin‘s The Lone Pilgrim off my shelf. I knew I had just enough time to find a sustaining thought or two in the breadcrumb trail of my underlinings. In the title story, I alighted on this:

Marriage is two-dimensional to the unmarried. No matter how close they get to a couple, they view the situation without any depth perception. If companionship is what you want, and you don’t have it, any part of it looks, good, including complaints, squabbles, misunderstandings. If only, you feel, you had someone close enough to misunderstand. Intimate enough to squabble with. Well known enough to complain about.

She didn’t get around to odd spousal habits. But why quibble? She nailed it, didn’t she?

If you enjoyed this post, take a look at “Unfinished books: a reader’s confession.” 


Posted by Rona

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