Pop Survey: Do You Write in Your Books?

It’s a digital age, but we’re still mad for paper! Even as readers embrace the connectivity and convenience offered by iPads and Kindles, there are still many good reasons to celebrate a book’s physicality. In PloughsharesBook Arts series, we’ll be looking at some of the artists, curators, and craftspeople who work to keep things fresh and relevant.

Jane Buyers, Notes on Macbeth: Enter Lady Macbeth, 2004. Lithograph, etching, chine colle. 81.5 x 102 cm. Photo credit: Laura Arsie. (Via Numero Cinq, used with permission.)

Marginal notes re-purposed to create fine art: “A black rose is planted over the scrawled notes of some long ago student struggling with the text of Macbeth….The student’s handwriting is so uncertain and you feel the tremendous desire to understand. I like the anxiety and striving to grasp the meaning of the printed word.” Jane Buyers, Notes on Macbeth: Enter Lady Macbeth, 2004. Lithograph, etching, chine colle. 81.5 x 102 cm. Photo credit: Laura Arsie. (Via Numéro Cinq, used with permission. Visit NC’s site for the full interview.)

Okay, Ploughsharers, it’s time to share some of your opinions! Today we’re taking a little squiggly, ink-stained side road in our journey through book arts with a special question just for you:

Do you write in your books?

Or do you prefer to keep them pristine?

(Tell us in the comments section below!)

Readers are a passionate bunch. I did a little informal pre-survey of some of my friends and found the responses ranged from horrified gasps of “No, never!” to enthusiastic, fist-pounding  “Hells, yeahs!”

Along the way, I gathered some colorful (and sometimes methodically color-coded) stories I’d like to share with you.

A Confession

But first a confession. I’m a careful abstainer, a longtime, diehard member of the Keep It Pristine club.

A conservative approach: My copy of Don Delillo's Mao II from the mid-1990s with its tiny scrap of Post-It still sticking strong.

A conservative approach: My copy of Don DeLillo’s Mao II from the mid-1990s, its tiny shred of Post-it still sticking fast to a passage I loved.

Writing instruments never touch my reading materials. I’ll mark pages and passages with a Post-it, jotting down my thoughts, with their corresponding page numbers, in a notebook. There’s always a crisp roll of Brodart book jacket covers at the ready in my desk drawer.  I take care to use bookmarks and never dog-ear. My books are scrupulously clean.

Doesn’t sound like much of a confession, does it?

Well, here’s the thing: I’ve always somehow wished I was the kind of person who wrote in books, who was so full of spontaneous creativity, literary passion and spark that I just had to scrawl all over them. Once, as a teenager, I even tried to deliberately cultivate the habit, but my heart just wasn’t in it and the whole thing felt contrived. As I self-consciously circled and underlined and annotated, all I could think was You’re ruining that book.Continue Reading

The Culture of Fire

Welcome to another fiction writer, Carol Keeley, who will post every Friday. As always, thanks for reading, and we welcome any and all comments these guest blogs provoke.

Carol Keeley blog 2.JPGGuest post by Carol Keeley

Young women of a certain temperament tend to have a Frida Kahlo period. Mine bloomed post-Plath, pre-Rilke. I was bewitched by the fever of colors, her mythic suffering–skewered by a steel handrail, then thirty-two operations, mostly spinal, many botched, a crushed foot and leg, finally amputated–the eyebrows Diego Rivera described as “the wings of a blackbird,” and the unflinching self-portraits. But what gripped me most was the moment her body was fed to the furnace.

Kahlo.JPGSick of years spent in bed, often wearing plaster corsets, Frida dreaded burial more than death, so she planned to be cremated. Friends crowded the primitive crematorium as Rivera helped lift her body from the coffin and laid it on a cart. It rolled along iron tracks toward the crematory oven as mourners sang. Then the oven door roared open and heat blasted everyone against a back wall, shoved Frida into sitting, her hair a blazing halo. One witness said she seemed to wear a wry smile, framed in a crackling sunflower. The singing continued through the four hours she spent in the oven. Her ashes emerged as a delicate skeleton, which Rivera sketched just as a puff of wind erased it.

The last words in her diary were, “I hope the exit is joyful–and I hope I never come back–Frida.”

Long after I stopped observing any other remnant of Catholicism, I still found myself at Mass every Ash Wednesday. I believe in penitence–my favorite Jewish holiday is Yom Kippur–but that wasn’t what compelled me. It was the stark lyricism of kneeling as the priest wet his thumb, jammed it into a bowl of burnt palms, then intoned, “Remember that thou are dust and unto dust thou shalt return,” as the ashes chuffed against my forehead. Some particles so large, they scratched, others so fine, they powdered my cheeks as the smudged cross formed. It was very tactile, both coarse and tender.

Continue Reading