Reading with an eraser at the ready

August 29th, 2011 § 1 comment

I recently read an entire book with an eraser in my hand. Because a library user who had read it before me had felt compelled to write comments all over the place. At least he did it in pencil and not in pen, but why do it at all?

Maybe I would’ve expected that kind of behaviour in Reading for Dummies or some such title, but reading this particular book required a modicum of insight and appreciation. It was also clear from the marked passages that the annotator was no ignoramus. What he or she lacked was not intelligence, but conscience.

The marks, even just underlining, affected my enjoyment of the book. The marked passages attracted attention disproportionate to the author’s intention. After ten or so pages, I stopped reading altogether. I got an eraser, turned the book upside down to discourage reading bits that would spoil the slow unravelling of the story, and worked my way from page to page, rubbing out all obvious pencil marks.

Still, when I started reading again, I kept finding marks that I had missed. Hence the eraser poised above the paper. At least the next reader would be able to enjoy the book as it had been intended.

Despite my general abhorrence of book spoilers, I have to confess that I once happened across a note in a book that made me smile. I was struggling through something by William Burroughs. I think it was Cities of the Red Night. It was hard going, but I was determined to push on through. And then I came to this sentence: There is much here that I do not understand. To which a reader had added two words that captured my sentiments exactly: Me too.


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