Destroy + enjoyment.
These are my favourite books from when I was a child, and remain among my favourites even now. Sadly, they look terrible.
Of course our parents told us not to damage books, but what can you do. There is a distinct correlation between the more a book was loved, the worse state it ended up in. I plan to replace them all one day, unless overcome by irrational sentimentality urging me to preserve these ugly editions.
I am really in two minds about this sort of active interaction with books.
When I was a full-time English student, I also enjoyed writing into books, underlining bits and arguing with authors if they irritated me. I’ve not been doing that at all any more because to the current me, it seems a shame to ruin books, it seems disrespectful. And yet, I found it fun to take a look at my old favourites and see what parts had resonated with me enough to underline.
Anne of Green Gables was the first book in English that I bought together with Oscar Wilde’s collected works. I have no memory at all what made me buy it, but it was to become one of the influential books in my life.
I found no logic in the sentences I had underlined in my Anne, except that they refer to her imagination:
If you want a misery to pass faster, do like Anne:
Next up is my Keats. He was my introduction to the Romantic poets and led me to see that there had been people who thought similarly to me. Of course, right now my take on the subject has become more nuanced, but at age 21, it felt like home-coming. My soul mates! Anne and the Romantic poets! It didn’t matter that they were fictional or dead. Not when you are used to thinking there is and never was anyone like you.
I think I was set on analysing Keats’ use of dreamy words and underlined all instances of “ethereal” and other words that sound distinctly dream-like, such as “eglantine”, “forlorn”, “myriads” “dryads” “nymphs” “gossamer” etc.
I love those lines still. But my most favourite line by Keats is the following:
It gave me such a chuckle. Keats seems completely oblivious to how amusing this pairing is, and that is why I love it the more. It was really his letters, rather than his poetry, that gave me this feeling of belonging with the Romantics
The following is a somewhat later extract from a biography of Patrick Pearse where I argue with the author. Excuse the handwriting. I can do better, but this obviously didn’t seem like the place.
I admit I found it fun to explore such books. Yet I still feel hesitant about taking up the habit again. I’m currently reading – took a break for a year – Jean-Christophe and often want to underline parts or comment on something, but I seem to have grown completely out of writing in books. I don’t want to ruin them. However, my Jean-Christophe is an absolutely ugly old edition I got for free, so maybe for ugly old editions or cheap new editions of no particular beauty I should take it up again. I’d definitely use a pencil rather than a pen, though.