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Monday, January 30, 2006

Chapter Eighty-Seven, in which are shared more Wilde Thoughts

We have touched on many points in the debate between reality and fiction in Chapters Eighty-Two and Eighty-Four. Further reading of The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde, continues to spark more thoughts. Though recent events have made this a subject of current affairs, it is a major theme in the novel we are presently engaged in writing, and a willful exploration in our everyday life.

I. When the actress Sibyl Vane declares her love for Dorian Gray, she explains "You taught me what reality really is." This is ironic, since Dorian's love for her is not real. Or, to be more precise, his love becomes real when he declares it, when he realises it; however, it is based on fiction--Sibyl's talent in conveying passion through drama.

Note the truth this serves to illustrate: just as writers may have their own sense of what is real and what is fiction, so, too, may a reader. As another example, consider the reader who believes that what a writer claims as a disease of addiction is actually unreal, imagined, a fantasy--a mere weakness: the writer feels he is offering a truthful portrayal; the reader feels the writer is a liar.

When Dorian discovers Sibyl has lost her acting talent, he believes he has been cheated, that she presented to him the guise of reality, that she is a liar. When Dorian rejects Sibyl, she does not believe him, she thinks him a liar. Which is reality, really?

II. Later in the tale, the narrator tells that Dorian "used to look with wonder at the black confessionals and long to sit in the dim shadow of one of them and listen to men and women whispering through the worn grating the true story of their lives." When is man more honest than when standing before his god? We all have masks, public personaes that we change with the situation. Our friend Leander tells truths to us that are different from the truths he tells Erato taht are different from the truths he tells Big Brother. Does that mean he lies to one or all of us? George Costanza once gave Jerry Seinfeld some truthful advice on how to beat a lie detector machine: "It's not a lie if you believe it." Tales, memoirs, and autobiographies are not confessions. Only our god knows when we are lying.

III. In view of his finished portrait of Dorian Gray, the painter Basil Hallward comments that "We live in an age when men treat art as if it were meant to be a form of autobiography. We have lost the abstract sense of beauty." Written over one hundred years ago, this statement is still, or once again, timely. Tales, memoirs, and autobiographies are works of art in their own way. Who would deny a man his own reality? What is reality, really?

In the independent film Unknown (Graye Horizon Pictures 2005), the protagonist exists in a world that is (possibly) a complete fabrication of his mind. Though events in his present life may be only imagined, he experiences them as real. His imagined reality even goes as far as to believe actual reality (as experienced by the other characters in the story) is a fantasy of his mind. The times when he has trouble functioning is when actual reality is forced upon him.

Let each of us tell his own story. Let each of us make of his life a work of art. Let each of us see the beauty in everything, and not quibble about what is real and what is fabrication.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Chapter Eighty-Six, in which unimportant Details are omitted

One of the great joys for Your Bibliothecary is having writers for friends, because the discussions are as endless as they must be for philosophers. And being friends, as opposed to, for example, a group of people who all read the same book and gather to discuss it, we are able to assert our individuality and argue our points of view valiantly, without giving or taking offense.

Beloved Calisto has a guilty pleasure of reading category romances. She is well versed in literature, and these compact little stories are simply cotton candy for the mind--all fluff and no nutritional value. The regular reading of these, though, has skewed her responses to other fiction. For instance, after being told the eye color of thousands of characters, she has become conditioned to expect that detail.

At 50 Books, Doppelganger reviewed a book which, for her, had one big drawback. When she reads, her mind creates its own movie version of the novel, a complete visualization that seems to enhance the experience for her. What she did not like
is that [the author] does an almost too-thorough job of providing all the filmic details. ... At best, this merely deflates my own role in reading the book....
Writers are forever being coached to show, not tell. Details are what give a novel its verisimilitude. What, then, is Doppelganger's quibble?

At one of our recent discussions, Tiresias read a chapter from the novel he is presently working on. Our normal routine is to take turns giving feedback, asking questions, and pointing out what works and what doesn't. Calisto wondered why he hadn't told the reader the color of the protagonist's eyes.

Calisto, like Doppelganger, is not a passive reader. Then why, we wondered, does she seem unwilling to provide the color of the eyes herself? If a reader develops an image in her mind of a tall, blue-eyed protagonist, and then is told later that he is short with brown eyes, how is the dichotomy resolved? If the mind is convinced of its own image, how is the reader to continue to trust the author?

One of the most important features of the human mind is the ability to formulate and understand concepts. When a writer says a character lives in a big city, this is a concept which the reader will understand. A writer may then choose to zoom in on a building, or a street, and describe it in detail, but should do so only when the details have significance to the story. It is not necessary to show street lamps or oily puddles or crosswalks unless a character is going to hang himself from the lamp, or slip in the puddle, or get hit while crossing outside the walk.

In the absence of details such as eye color, Tiresias presumes a reader will supply her own detail based on her own past experience. This is the work the reader puts into the novel. If a reader is told the protagonist is from Italy, and every Italian man she has met has black eyes, then she will automatically assign black eyes to the protagonist. This is a superfluous detail. Only the unique detail ought to be described: so if the protagonist has red eyes, that is something a reader would not normally expect, and needs to be shown (not to mention have significance). Watching a film, however, is a purely passive experience. A viewer may be engaged, but never actively participates in the creation or the realization of the story the way a reader can. The reader's process of filling in details during reading contributes largely to what is often disillusionment, if not disappointment, at a movie version of a book. Did anyone in their right mind ever imagine Richard Gere as Lancelot?

Doppelganger is correct in our view. Not only has she been denied the pleasure of contributing to the novel she is reading, she also likely feels patronized by the writer. A writer ought to have confidence in a reader's ability to fill in the common details in a novel, and cherish the trust the reader offers as the most fragile gift.

Tiresias ultimately did not specify his protagonist's eye color.

For those who wonder, Calisto's eyes are a lustrous silver.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Chapter Eighty-Five, in which All are warmly greeted

Your Bibliothecary subscribes to several lists. Arose the discussion on one about "Hey" as a greeting. One person, who we will call Reginald, wrote, "Every time I get one [an email that begins with hey] I feel the hackles rise up and get poised for a fight." We couldn't help but wonder: why?

The American Heritage Dictionary cites "Hey" as a greeting that is slowly replacing "Hi." But email is a notoriously confusing form of communication, and what a sender writes as "HEY Reginald" (emphasis on the first word) is easily misread by a recipient as "Hey REGINALD" (emphasis on the second word), giving the email an entirely different tone.

What strikes us as dubious is the offense taken by use of the word. What ever happened, Reginald wonders, to the polite greeting "Hi?" (Wikipedia notes "Hey" was actually used as early as 1225, whereas "Hi" came into the language only in the 1920s.) Well, we are prone to believe that fifty years ago Reginald's grandfather was complaining that "Hi" was offensive to him, and bemoaning the disuse of the more polite greeting "Hello." And fifty years before that, his grandfather's grandfather was upset that people on the street said "Hello" instead of "Good day." Of course, there must also have been a time when the vulgar "Good day" had replaced the polite and respectful greeting of a bow and "My Lord."

The same can be said of modern parting words, such as "Bye," shortened (because we don't have as much time as our forebears) from "Goodbye," a contractional form of "God be with you."

Dear Readers, should one use formal salutations in all communication? Is an informal greeting such as "Yo!" acceptable between friends? Is the development of greetings through history a symptom of the disintegration of society, or is it a function of a rapidly changing, adaptable culture?

Good Morning, Reginald.
Fare Thee Well.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Chapter Eighty-Four, in which the Truth is revealed (continued)

This is a special notice to our Dear Readers:
Your Bibliothecary, prompted by reading The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde, today revisits the subject of reality in art. Those who are weary of this discussion are permitted to skip this chapter.

Wilde believed in the philosophy of aestheticism: whether writing or painting or flower arranging, the sole purpose of art is beauty. The intrinsic value of art has nothing to do with veracity--beauty is the only truth. What fun he would have had with those in an uproar over embellishments to a memoir. (Then again, it turns out that what Frey peddled as fiction was knowingly marketed by his publisher as nonfiction, so maybe his publisher should be taken to task for the alleged fraud.)

We submit that the essence of beauty is emotional truth. An object of art--an object of beauty--moves us, stirs the emotions. Though a writer might not have served any prison sentences, his experience might have been as a prison sentence--the emotional experience is true. Our intimacy with Erato may be invented, but facts are boring, and there is no better way to convey the emotional experience of our relationship. Beauty is held accountable to no person or thing.

In Dorian Gray, the actress Sibyl Vane grapples with reality. First she believes the dramas she acts are reality. After falling in love with Dorian, she believes the dramas are nothing like reality. We are reminded of the film "Shakespeare in Love." Though Will begins writing Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate's Daughter, the play transforms after he meets Viola. Will writes the new Romeo and Juliet for the woman he loves, and together they perform their roles on stage. What is seen as drama, pure fantasy to the audience, is but reality to them. Even their experiences together become written into the drama, so that the line between fact and fiction dissolves into emotional truth.

Stand before Rodin's Balzac. Do not wonder if the likeness is exact--the sculpture is meant only to convey the emotional truth of the man. View the picture of Dorian Gray. Though the hideous disfigurements of sin are not visible in the flesh, one is witness to the true horrid experience of the man. "Vice and virtue are to the artist materials for an art."

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Chapter Eighty-Three, in which we seek Winter Recreation

Much of the northern hemisphere is now firmly in the grip of winter. Though the days are already getting longer, the earth is only beginning to receive the additional warmth, due to its distance from the sun. Moscow has been enjoying record cold temperatures--perhaps someone who fears artificial global warming can explain? Your Bibliothecary recommends one go south, where summer is in full swing, below the Antarctic circle, for the most incredible adventure in the history of polar exploration.
"...when you are in a hopeless situation, when there seems no way out, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton."
Sir Ernest Shackleton (1874-1922), was one of the most prolific explorers in the great age of polar discovery. He accompanied Robert Falcon Scott in 1901-03, and supervised his own excursion to the icy continent on the Nimrod in 1907-09. At the start of the First World War, he embarked on the most ambitious expedition ever: to cross the uncharted Antarctica, from the Weddell Sea to the Ross Sea, on foot.

Shackleton had already proven himself to be a strong leader of moral courage dedicated to his men. No one could have known he would fail to accomplish his goals, and seize the opportunity to prove his greatness. Still, when he advertised for volunteers to join the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, nearly five thousand men applied to experience "small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, [and] safe return doubtful."* What happens is amazing and spectacular, far exceeding the promised hazards.

The tragedies and triumphs in this story leave us in awe. Though America had little involvement in the great era of polar exploration, and we had heard nothing of Shackleton's adventure until recently, there is a good deal of material available chronicling the story. Select a book from the list that follows, and be prepared to want more. The films, as well, are not to be missed.

The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition, by Caroline Alexander was our first exposure to this story, and it provides a wonderful introduction. A compelling narrative coupled with astonishing photographs from the expedition pull the reader in to an epic struggle for survival. Each crew member is given mention, and much information is culled from private diaries and memoirs. This story does the modern Hollywood adventure movie better, as with every page danger increases, hope diminishes, and the fight for life becomes ever more heroic--and it's all true.

Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World: The Extraordinary True Story of Shackleton and the Endurance, by Jennifer Armstrong was published two years earlier, and is a slightly less substantial account. Though much of the information is the same in both books, Alexander does a better job at presenting the facts and engaging the reader.

South: The Endurance Expedition is the first-hand account of the entire expedition by Ernest Shackleton. Our NAL reprint of the original Heinemann publication contains far fewer photographs than the other two books mentioned. It is full of details and not quite as compelling, as the hardships and dangers are dampened by the continual recording of sea and weather conditions. It is heavy on facts and data, and disappointing in that it offers little insight into Shackleton's personal thoughts and emotions. On the other hand, this goes to show how little Shackleton sought glory for himself, as many of the toughest problems he dealt with, such as near mutiny, as recounted in the other books are omitted from his telling. At the same time he also reveals little about the other members of the party. He does, however, provide a thorough account (nearly a third of the book) of the Ross Sea party, which to him was an equally important and treacherous part of the epedition, but is merely glossed over by the other books.

Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage, by Alfred Lansing was published in 1959. We have just begun to read this. It has a handful of photographs and sketches, and has the form of a novel-like approach to the subject, whereas the first two books are glossy productions, and the other is pure memoir/journal.

"Shackleton" (2002) starring Kenneth Branaugh is a faithful and stunning recreation of the Endurance expedition.
"Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure: IMAX" (2001) mixes original and recent footage to tell the story in grand splendour.
"The Endurance" (2000) is another documentary with original footage and interviews with family of crew members.
"South" (1919) is a silent documentary comprised solely of Frank Hurley's film and still photographs, and a few of George Marston's sketches, from the expedition.

Shackleton's Voyage of Endurance
Ernest Shackleton
The James Caird Society

*Also check out Antarctic-Circle.org for commentary on the advertisement for volunteers, as well as directions to a wealth of related material.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Chapter Eighty-Two, in which the Truth is revealed

Often a little thing sparks a thought which is nourished into an idea, but lacks real import, until a critical mass of related ideas builds, and finally resolves itself into an exciting new chapter. What follows is the result of a week or so of such a build-up.

Callie is a fan of David Foster Wallace. When the opportunity arose for her to attend one of his readings, she had to go. The following is a partial quote of her reasons:
Several years ago I was at a book party in LA ... and he was standing behind me talking quietly to someone.... As he moved to leave the party, he bumped up against my shoulder and that was that. So -- I have, literally, rubbed shoulders with him.
Your Bibliothecary does not wish to create the impression that her "brush with greatness" is the sole reason for her fondness for Wallace, as his writing has just as much to do with it. But there is another thought that wanders through our labyrinthine mind.

Jessica, the Book Nerd, commented a few days ago about the James Frey brouhaha. Out of the confusion of her post arose this question: "when you take away the writer, does the writing still exist?" A good piece of literature, after all, should stand alone on its own merit, not on the veracity of its content, or the personality of its author.

Sylvia recently offered a wonderful quote from Oscar Wilde, that master of epigrams: "I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train." We commented elsewhere that the renowned Italian poet Francesco Petrarch embellished details of his life in his Letter to Posterity over six hundred years ago. Like them both, we all write the story of our life the way we see it, the way we want it to be seen.

Fantasy and reality are not always opposites. As the owner, we may think of our bookstore as a business; a student may think of it as a convenient and inexpensive place to find research material, or convert old research material into beer money; a book collector may think of it as a shrine, a temple, a place for the cure of the soul. Each of us is correct, and all our views are true.

A society displaying symptoms of addiction to "reality shows" not surprisingly craves "based on actual events" stories and memoirs. For such readers, to discount or disregard Jude the Obscure because it is fiction reveals how lazy and shallow they are. They cannot be bothered to participate in their reading, to become actively engaged. They cannot see how fiction can have anything other than entertainment value. We assert that the memoirist produces the weaker literature, because he simply "tells it like it is." Often he has no talent for writing at all, exposed by the small print that informs us the book was "written with" someone else. Thomas Hardy gives readers many more truths through a story he has created, universal truths that stand the test of time. To make a reader lose herself in the fictive dream, to believe the story she is reading because it is so powerfully conveyed--not because it is "based on actual events"--that is true genius. Hardy is the greater talent; Jude is the more valuable book.

If we have done our work well, none of you, Dear Readers, can know if what we publish on this blog is real or not. Is Leander a real person? Is your Bibliothecary really a dash? Can The Bridges of Madison County really be that bad? In the interests of this discussion, we will confess that some of what we write is true, and some is invented. Our trick is to blend the two seamlessly, so even we never know for sure when the boundaries have been crossed. Know that the meaning, the emotion, the consequence of it all is guaranteed to be true.

If a book moves one, what matter is it whether the author is Chinese, or an ex-convict, or a pastor, or a liar? If that changes one's feelings toward the writing, maybe one is responding more toward something other than the writing. Are these symptoms of a cult of personality? Someone once said wanting to know the writer of a book one enjoyed is like wanting to know the duck from last night's dinner.

All of which brings us back to the core question: when you take away the writer, does the writing still exist? Is the meaning of a text locked for eternity by the writer, or is it malleable and adapted by each individual reader? Would one care so much for the books of Elie Wiesel if one hadn't been told by someone else that what he has written should be "mandatory reading for every person on the planet," or one hadn't obtained his autograph ten years ago at a book signing? If one disagrees with the political stance of a certain author, will one still be able to enjoy and appreciate her books? Must there always be a dichotomy between two poles?

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Chapter Eighty-One, in which your Bibliothecary contemplates a new reading Experience

Sarah's choice between two new offerings to readers returned the thoughts of your Bibliothecary to the impending extinction of the book. We’ve heard these proclamations of doom for a while now, and it appears, after better than 500 years of existence, the form of the book Gutenberg produced is hardly an endangered species.

There does exist a market for a sixty-volume print set of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. There also exists a market for the Sony® Reader. Each has its niche, as well as strengths and weaknesses, and neither will likely doom the existence of the other. For instance, electronic texts are easily searched; however, they are not conducive to browsing. In the near term, it is likely these two formats will complement one another.

As advertised, the Sony® Reader “offers a new and convenient digital reading experience.” It is not, then, a book in advanced form, but a gadget. Gadgets often have short life cycles: novelty fades quickly, and convenience is improved with a newer gadget. The Sony® Reader is nothing of itself—it requires a book, after all, albeit in electronic format, to be of any use whatsoever. It does nothing but translate binary code into words that the eye can see no differently than if they were printed on paper.

The basic function of the Sony® Reader and a book in print is the same: each is a container of information. By each we can store, transport, and disseminate a wealth of information far beyond the boundaries of memory or locality. But one of the biggest drawbacks to high-tech devices is that they always need repairs, or upgrades, or peripherals. If, for example, one’s power source is exhausted, how does one retrieve the information from its container? Will it still work if we drop bits of muffin in the cracks? Can it also serve as a coaster? Will an electronic text on a Sony® Reader be of any use two hundred years from now, or will they have found a home at the dead end of obsolescence with the eight-track tape?

We bookstore owners may be biased, but I wonder who can show us an e-book store? If nothing else, there is an aesthetic pleasure to browsing shelves of books, flipping the pages, feeling the weight of the subject, a pleasure that simply does not exist with a stack of computer disks, or a column of hyperlinks. Even audio books lack this tactile appeal. So, Dear Reader, what would your choice be?

Would we enjoy having all the information contained in sixty volumes of print ready to search and copy in digital form? Certainly. Would we take pride and pleasure in amassing and displaying in our home a collection of 5,000 e-texts? Hardly. Sony® may have produced a handy gadget, but the company needs better marketing. Do readers really want a new, convenient digital experience? One can put The Bridges of Madison County into the Sony® Reader, and we guarantee it will still be the worst book one has ever read.

Friday, January 6, 2006

Chapter Eighty, in which Books are catalogued

To Mrs. A.W. Fairbanks,


Cleveland, Ohio

With the love of her good & dutiful

adopted son

The Author

Hartford Dec. 20, 1881

So reads the inscription of a pre-publication copy of The Prince and the Pauper, A Tale for Young People of All Ages. The story behind Mark Twain's Christmas present to Mary Mason Fairbanks can be found, along with other details about the book, in Bauman Rare Books, Catalogue "Ernest" of 1997.

A book catalogue is a wonderful thing. The best are no simple listings of books and prices, but a combination of bibliography, history, review, and advertisement. One can find books of all categories, of all price ranges (the price of the Twain presentation copy is "available upon request"), of all forms, old and new, original and restored. In Ye Gode Olde Dayse (pre-Internet), catalogues were the sole means by which dealers and buyers did business through the mail. Today many feature full color photographs on glossy paper that make them the literary equivalents of the Victoria's Secret catalogue.

A fine example of an early catalogue (c.1954) is The Book Shelf, Book List #2, a type-written, hand-titled pamphlet of 919 items briefly described. Second Life Books produces regular, utilitarian catalogues, which Catalogue 141 offers a copy of the 1880 American Publishing edition of A Tramp Abroad for $450. The 19th Century Shop, Catalogue 104 includes an inscribed copy of the same book--price $12,500. On the front free endpaper the author has written, "Truly yours, Mark Twain". Was this written at the nineteenth century equivalent of an author's book-signing tour for an anonymous fan? Certainly a more personal relationship is indicated by the inscription above; price (upon request) will be commensurate.

Even more impressive is the Shop's Catalogue 100 featuring 50 Giants of Western Civilization. Though this is an offering of items of intellectual and cultural merit as well as financial and economic worth, it is a fine production in itself, worthy of the coffee table of any bourgeoisie. The Imperial Fine Books, Catalogue XVIII, though concise in descriptions, is lavish in photographs, resembling a brochure one might pick up at a Lexus dealer. The Vieux Livres d'Europe, Rare Book Catalogue 8 is thorough, with a full-page photograph of nearly every item, resembling an art book one would purchase at the Met.

Some of our personal favorites are catalogues of public auctions, such as the 1944 Parke-Bernet Galleries sale of the library of Howard J. Sachs, featuring over forty items by and associated with Thomas Hardy. This catalogue includes numerous reproductions of manuscript by many authors, and best of all, prices were to be named. Another favorite is William H. Schab, Catalogue No. 16, which has a nice compliment of illustration, an elegant design and format, and perfect use of typeface to achieve a book-like readability.

In some ways perusing book catalogues is like pouring over the box score of yesterday's baseball game, mostly a practice of the hardcore collector. We believe it is another necessary act of devotion. Our friend Callisto enjoys browsing the listings of cottages and manors for sale in England, and dreaming of what may be. In the same way, eager anticipation of the Book Catalogue Fairy proves everyday readers enjoy these listings sent to their homes, sometimes providing them with a quick and painless way to acquire a book they didn't know they needed to add to their collection of "Must-Reads," but always representing the dream of endless possibilities available to the book fancier.

Thursday, January 5, 2006

Chapter Seventy-Nine, in which Inscriptions are examined

The more respectable cousin to marginalia is the inscription. An inscription from Aunt Henrietta on a rare book might decrease its value, while an inscription by Scott Fitzgerald might make a dreadful romance worth quite a lot. And who can resist the beautiful script of a nineteenth-century book fancier? Sometimes they can be to-the-point, and other times cryptic. Rob likes to invent a history behind inscriptions he discovers.

In the bold and provocative Chapter Sixty-Seven, we read how books make great gifts. We can share a story that touched our heart, we can give inspiration with words that led us through our bleakest hour, we can introduce an old friend to a new one--"Doug, I'd like you to meet Diggory Venn." But we don't just wrap it up and say, "Happy Fill-In-The-Occasion." We make sure we add our own words to the mix.

An inscription is another necessary act of devotion. Written from the heart, an inscription in a book makes the gift ever more personal, and marks in time both the event, sometimes the place, and certainly the relationship between giver and recipient. Even better when written with a quill in Italian ink. This is as close as one can come to giving a work of art that one has created oneself, without having to engage the tantalizingly fickle Muse. The book is no longer just another item on a wish list among toasters and coasters, nighties and knick-knacks. No one inscribes a pair of socks, "Jen, here's to keeping our tootsies warm this winter. Bev"

Do you, Dear Reader, write inscriptions in your gift books? Do you expect them? If not, why?

Tuesday, January 3, 2006

Chapter Seventy-Eight, in which Marginalia is examined

One wonders if we really need to know this opinion of a former reader. Jennifer seemed to find the comment rather amusing.

On the other hand, Maud offers a quote from the Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 201, which finds good reason for the practice of scribbling in books, at least when the scribbler is Graham Green.
[H]e wrote in the margins of his books ideas and images that sometimes became creatively transformed into short stories or novels–Dennys and McNeil estimate that in the books that comprised his collection at the time of his death there were "25,000 to 30,000 marginal linings."

So marginalia can be either a sin or a sacred scripture. Stefanie highly recommends Marginalia: Readers Writing in Books, by H.J. Jackson. The publisher says this is the first book to explore the history of marginalia.

Your Bibliothecary has a personal history of marginalia, as probably do most readers. In our halcyon days we enjoyed few cares, and often jotted notes or underlined passages in books. Soon we decided the practice was acceptable, but we ought to erase behind ourself. When that came to mean too much profits for the eraser companies, we began to mark lines of text at the side of the page just enough to catch our eye later, when we would transcribe the line relevant to our noted thoughts. Later, to erase anything proved bothersome, so we turned to little colored strips of adhesive paper. Unfortunately, as years passed, our thoughts became more than our memory could handle, and strips of paper that once marked a sentence or phrase of much import, now marked only a blank question. What is a reader to do?

Behold, the Dri Mark® Book Saver removable ink pen. This pen features a specially formulated blue ink and a neutralizing wand tip that removes the ink completely, allowing one to write notes in the margins of any book or periodical, and wipe away the evidence when one is done. Skeptical? Well, we were, too, so off to the Mad About Books Research Laboratory we went.

We wrote in the margins of two books. The first was a 1936 hardcover dictionary with rather thin and yellowed leaves. The second was a 2003 trade book with arctic white leaves. We let our notes sit overnight, and then returned to mark them out. With a few quick rubs the ink disappeared. In its place appeared a dampish spot. This spot, however, went away in both books, and there is nary a trace left behind. Upon very close scrutiny, the older book shows the slightest blemish, but the new book looks remarkably new. We must declare that the magic pen worked as advertised.

There remains, of course, the manual labor of having to go back and "magically" erase one's notes. Maybe some things are intriguing to leave as written, a way to open up a fractured dialogue with another reader. Slanderous epithets should probably be marked out with the Book Saver pen. We pose this question then: what methods do others use to take notes during reading? And does marginalia found in a book bother you? Is the practice acceptable or despicable? Would you use even the Book Saver pen on the Gutenberg Bible?

Perhaps the best method to deal with marginalia, albeit in a slightly longer time span, is one employed by the Cambridge University Library. They stash the besmirched book away where, untouched and unaffected by environment, it maintains its otherwise pristine state until it becomes rare and valuable, at which time they find profit in restoring its originally unblemished margins.

Sunday, January 1, 2006


Your Bibliothecary, having little experience in blogging, wondered recently why we pose numerous questions and receive no comments. Today we stumbled quite by accident upon a whole cache of comments awaiting our approval. All have been activated, and the situation has been rectified. To all of you who have left comments, I apologize and thank you sincerely. Perhaps now we can begin to better develop the blogger/commentor relationship.

Chapter Seventy-Seven, in which We turn yet another Page

BookGirl offered a quote from Rainer Maria Rilke as her holiday wish. Rilke's poetry can be very moving, and your Bibliothecary truly loved this one, though it is even stronger in a more fuller translation: And now let us believe in the new year that is given us-- new, untouched, full of things that have never been.

We had planned to use that ourself, albeit a little reluctantly that someone else had put it to use first. Then after some thought, we decided, wonderful as it is, we required something more fitting to the world and life of books. And so without further ado, we offer this holiday wish to you (both our readers!): Let us turn the page,
For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.
-- T.S. Eliot