Monday, January 25, 2010

Where Do You Read?

A while ago Charles Simic wrote:

As a rule, I read and write poetry in bed; philosophy and serious essays sitting down at my desk; newspapers and magazines while I eat breakfast or lunch, and novels while lying on the couch.

He finds it more difficult to find a “regular” place to read history or comedy.  After all, if one is reading a history of Stalin, one doesn’t want to be too comfortable.  And if one is reading a laugh-out-loud comedy one doesn’t want to necessarily be around other people no matter how otherwise comfortable one might be.

Simic also must read with a pencil in hand: preferably a stub of a pencil so I can get close to the words, underline well-turned sentences, brilliant or stupid ideas, interesting words and bits of information, and write short or elaborate comments in the margins, put question marks, check marks and other private notations next to paragraphs that only I—and sometimes not even I—can later decipher. 

I was thinking about this as I was reading my 2666 “assignment”.  I was thinking maybe I should make some margin notes.  I generally don’t.   I didn’t even do it much when I was in school.  I prefer to keep notes separately and, then, only if I’m planning on going back to them for some reason.  Otherwise I want to just read without the distraction of notes.   Lately I’ve taken to sticking a small pad of post-it notes in the front of my books and just sticking them on pages I want to go back to later.  Sometimes I can’t remember why I marked a particular page but most of the time it’s a pretty good system.

My grandma was different.  She was a great reader until she reached the last year or two of her life.  And she would pass along books with pencil-written notes in the margin where she would vigorously disagree or agree with an author.  Or where sometimes she would just mark sexy passages.

I should have kept some of those books.