Friday, December 11, 2009

How I Read

I am reading the most fantastic translation of Anna Karenina. It is brutal and lucid and utterly unlike the prissy, clean, Victorian version I remember. I have read Anna Karenina at least three times since I first plowed through it in tenth grade (with most of it sailing several miles above my geeky, little head) and this is not the same book. It is heavy, messy and I take it with me everywhere.

Living on an island--an island with a Borders Books that is desperately low on books this year--can be tough for someone who consumes books the way I do. I love the idea of the library but after reading a book I just do not want to give it back. I am just not that good a person. A book is thoroughly mine when I am done with it. I write in the margins, inside the front cover, over the text, under the text, around the text and all sorts of other prepositions too. I tear out bits of paper to give notes to other people. I never just put a number in my phone but scribble it in my book only to most likely forget which book it is in later.

I stuff my book with: movie stubs, receipts, phone numbers, doodles, random bits of scribbled on paper, shopping lists, rail tickets, plane tickets, photos, business cards and anything else from the life I was living while I was reading that book. Anna is currently sporting a baggage claim stub, a plane ticket, notes on Frost's "Out, Out" (for my 12th grade student that I wrote while waiting in line at CVS), two Twilight: New Moon movie tickets (I convinced Noah to see it on his birthday no less), receipts from Chipotle (super veggie burritos for only 3$), six phone numbers and reminders to call the six people, eleven words I love, receipts from the Kilauea Shell Station, beach sand, a written out copy of W.H. Auden's "The Fall of Rome" that I wrote in line at Whole Foods, two dollars, and a bit of sticky candy cane. Priya was definitely here.

As a result the book gets fat, distorted, unwieldy and liable to come apart and spill its very personal contents all over the floors of very public places--not good. Yesterday just this happened at the Starbucks at the top of the Barnes and Noble here in Hollywood where there is never anywhere to sit. The skinny jeans, black trendy plastic glasses, expensively spikey haired young man next to me gave me a pityingly condescending "you shouldn't do that to books" sort of look. The plastic tagged Barnes and Noble man at the information desk gave me the "I really hope you paid for that and are not just trying to make it look like that is your book" kind of look. (Although I might have imagined that one as I have an abject paranoia of being called out as a shoplifter when I walk into a bookstore with my own book.)

To make matters worse I teach my students to write, underline, annotate and generally think out loud inside their books. I love the messy, personal and utterly undignified result.


  1. All the makings of a Penthouse Forum letter...FOR BOOKWORMS!!! Wildly passionate, mildly sentimental, slightly inappropriate, relatively disturbing. That said, we, (the sun included) miss you!

  2. mmm, might have to start reading penthouse forum letters from now on... miss you, the sun and the peanut too! x

  3. priya this is inspiring me to buy books again! i stopped after i re-discovered the library and felt like i was saving some trees, but you are so right about making books your own. there is a history us avid readers share with our physical books and i need to reclaim mine! thank you for this bit of inspiration (sorry, trees).

  4. i have guilt about the trees too, but then I am a vegetarian--surely that balances it out? xxp


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