Down South of the Border, West of the Sun, Moushumi is writing about the humble underline. She thinks it is quite underrated. The post resonates with me. For long, apart from my name, the date & place of purchase, I never wrote in a book. No, not even an underline. But, like it has been for her, things have changed for me too.
From the time I started buying books, I have been extremely possessive about my books. Apart from the yellowing of pages, my books look new. No dog-ears, no scars, no tears, no broken spines. A few of my favourite books sometimes get cling-wrapped. They get opened, and they get cling-wrapped again. And definitely no coffee and food stains. It’s a simple rule; at any given time, you either feed your body or feed your mind. So, Moushumi and I are not very different that way. There was a time when I used to lend and borrow books. Once, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest came back home to me, with a large coffee stain on page 38. I once lent Microsoft Secrets, to the HR head of my old company. It never came back.
That day, I stopped lending.
My friends know this. And I love gifting books, so if I really want someone to read something, I’ll usually gift the book. But I never lend. And by the same standard, I never borrow. The Dharma Bum, when he heard of this theory, agreed with it, but has had second thoughts:
I still cannot bring myself to lend or borrow, but the writing-in-the-book rule is changing. Perhaps, it was because of The Journey to the East. This book is inherited. My father bought it on 8th of August 1982. In the book, I found his annotations: underlines, and notes in the margins. It was a sweet note from heaven. I stopped reading the book and started scanning for his notes. All the notes were boldly done in blue pen. A bit of his soul was in that book. While the book itself is beautiful, it became that much more special for me. When I (re)started reading the book, my own annotations and underlines appeared; but not so bold. I used a pencil.
I now use a combination of stickies, underlines, brackets, and margin notes. It is a good experience to go back to a book that you have read years ago, and to flip through the best and the most interesting parts of the book. But I still do not lend or borrow books. Which means that all the annotations I make, are only for me. At least for now. A few weeks ago, I told a friend that I’d be happy to lend him my books. Only because I know he respects books as much as I do. I’d lend my books to Moushumi too. However, I cannot (yet) bring myself to feel romantic about dog-ears and broken spines. I don’t see the warm and fuzzy feeling that comes out of mutilation (I know, strong word)
But that may change someday, just like the underlines and the notes. Perhaps I’ll learn that from some book.
We never know, how a book and how a friend may change us.
Here are some of the underlines from my books: