Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Jaki Jean on Marginalia & Library Books

This morning I went to my local library to pick up two books I had placed on hold.  And to return a paperback copy of Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist.”  I have no memory what prompted me to add “The Alchemist” to the post-it notes above my work space.  Or when I did it.

Most likely, something came across my Facebook news feed that prompted me to add Coelho’s book to my post-it collage.  Apparently other readers who frequent Fort Bend County libraries had the same idea.

Because I had to put “The Alchemist” on hold.

When I opened the thin paperback of Coehlo’s work, the front cover immediately disintegrated.  I carefully turned the pages to read this text I no longer remember needing to read.

And as I read, I found myself distracted from the narrative by random words underlined in pencil.

While I appreciate marginalia, my own immensely, I do not expect to see random underlined words in a library book. 

I am trained as an English Major to pause at an underlined word or highlighted section.  To look for what is missing, what is in the margins of the text.  

To wonder why a previous reader found the need to underline or highlight a passage.

But the random underlined words in the library’s paperback of “The Alchemist” eluded me.

I found no rhyme or reason to the single words underlined.  Believe me, I tried to determine a red common thread, a focus, an interplay between Coehlo’s text & the unknown previous reader.

Either the thread or focus or play did not exist or I failed to find it.

So I closed the book, wondering how & if the shepherd boy was going to find his treasure.

I explained all of this to the librarians at the check-out desk.  They offered to try & find me a clean copy.

For a brief moment, I wondered if I would ever be able to read “The Alchemist” with the memory of those randomly & unconnected underlined words.

I declined the librarians’ offer, explaining that not only was I checking out two novels, I was still finishing up “Russian Roulette,” expecting the arrival of “The Displaced:  Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives,” & had the unread “Orphan’s Inheritance” on the book shelf next to my bed.

And all those post-it notes above my work space . . .

Without randomly underlined single words.

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