I’ve always been someone who dog-ears books. Which, to many bibliophiles, is goddamn blasphemy and should probably be punished by stoning. To me, it’s always been a way a book evolves with me. I love books, but I love how they wear and age as well. How their creases and tears, the fading, the dings, the dents, how all those things show a book that has been well-loved, that has traveled, that has been used and worn and fucking read, as a book should be.
Which is good, as I am not careful with books. I am not a dainty, delicate reader. Books get shoved in my purse, tossed in carry on luggage, boxed and carted around the country. I read in the bath, while eating, on the bus, waiting in line, in the bathroom, at the DMV, outside under a tree on a summer day. Everyone these days seem glued to their smartphones at all times, but in this regard, I’m a bit of an old-fashioned girl. I like books, physical, actual books with spines and pages and the smell of paper and ink and glue that you just can’t get with a Kindle. I love the feel of a book in my hands, the weight of it, the ruffling of its pages.
And so, yes, I dog-ear my pages. I’ve always hated bookmarks. I cart my books everywhere, and I’ve lost more bookmarks than I can count. They are a pain, and seeing as I do not worry about keeping my books pristine, I long ago stopped bothering with them.
Then, a few years ago, I started a second system of dog-earing. While I still dog-ear the top of the page to mark my spot when I stop reading, I also make smaller dog-ears along the bottom as I go. Sometimes, they mark something I want to look up when I’m near a computer again, a song or a foreign phrase that I’m unfamiliar with. More often, though, the tiny dog-ears mark phrases/lines/paragraphs that I find to be particularly thought-provoking or beautiful.
Last night, I found myself doing this, and it made me stop and think about why I bother at all. I might think these words are beautiful, but why mark them? I read them- I know how wonderful they are. So… why?
My deep reverence for the written word has been a part of my life, a part of me, for as long as I can remember. And because it is so important to me, I suppose that I always want to share it with someone, to connect with a person or with multiple people over something that means so much to me. It is a very human need, the need to share oneself with others.
It’s funny, you know. Many of the people I’ve known over the years have this idea in their head of exactly what they want out of a relationship, know that they want someone exciting, someone that challenges them, someone spontaneous, someone with money who will take them out and show them grand evenings, someone to sit on a porch and drink lemonade with in their twilight years. Ask somebody about their ideal mate or their ideal relationship and, if they are being honest, they can probably go on forever about it. Which has always made me feel very awkward, because I don’t really have this laundry list of needs another person has to fill. I think the basics of compatibility have to be there- I know I would never be happy with someone who wasn’t at least in the same intellectual ballpark as myself. But when I think about an ideal partner or an ideal relationship, there’s really only one thing I want.
I want someone who I can sit with on a sofa, my head resting on his thigh, while I read to him some of my favorite poems and stories (or, better yet, that he reads to me), and in the flow of words from page through throat, that he could share something of my love for this language. That moment, or the ability to have moments like that with someone, that is all I can really say I’ve ever wanted.
For me, reading aloud is intimate. It is a sharing, between two people or between many, of the beauty of literature, of poetry, of stories. It encloses reader and listener(s) in a bubble, the world of the book, a world that exists only for them in that moment. The boy on the street outside the window is not part of that world. Reading is so often a solitary activity that inviting others into that experience with you is, to me, intensely personal.
I read aloud quite often when I am alone, letting the shapes of the sounds form in my mouth and curl, explode, and flutter out into the air. I let them hang there, I let my own voice fill the room, paragraphs becoming tangible things you feel you can almost touch. When I first read the children’s book Inkheart when I was young, I identified strongly with the central concept that reading aloud is powerful, that it could conjure these characters into being in the real world. It was something I had felt all along, and something I still feel to this day.
A friend of mine recently started recording audiobooks for… well, for some reason, I don’t really know. Probably because he can. And he is very talented (I think he’d punch me if I didn’t plug his stuff here and tell you to click this link to download some of his stuff and check it out), and has a wonderful voice to listen to. I’ve been enjoying what he’s been putting out. But he asked for a request for his next project, and I do not think I can give him one. I want to, I want to offer up an idea, but…
When he first announced this project, I thought it would be so great to have a friend (who I know from experience has the voice and acting chops to pull this off and do it well) reading books at me. I mean, shit, it’s the dream. All those books I love, I could have them read to me, read by someone I know could really do them justice.
…But the more I think about it, the more I don’t want those most treasured, most beloved books, the ones that speak to my heart and my soul in ways nothing else does, to be read by even a good friend like him. Because those are the books that mean everything to me. They are so very personal, and to have them read (even read well) and shared with just anybody who feels like clicking a download link… it would feel like a betrayal, to let that happen.
I do not think books should be locked up and never shared (anyone who knows me knows I’m always sharing books, shoving them into the hands of friends and insisting they read them), but I don’t think I want to give up on the dream of that sofa by letting them get read and shared with anybody. I want these books to be mine to share, with whomever I choose. I’m sure my friend would read them wonderfully, that I would love to hear them- but I want to hear them from the lips of someone who wants to know me, who wants to share in who I am, whether that person reads them well or not.
My little dog-eared snippets are like those books. Sometimes I share them with a person or two, someone I know will be amused by them or interested in them in some way. Sometimes I post a few of them on Twitter or here on this blog. But most of those little dog-ears aren’t shared with anybody. One day, maybe. One day, I’ll know somebody (or a few people) who will appreciate a call or text out of the blue with these lines and phrases, people who will understand and want to share that language with me. Or maybe they will always just be for me, read aloud in the silence of a room, alive and powerful in a way that I have a hard time describing.
And if you ever borrow a book from me, you can search the pages those little dog-ears are marking, looking for the passage that set a part of my soul spinning. Perhaps you too will feel that pull toward the page, that spark of power in the text, that almost magical warmth and awe of a well-turned phrase.
If so, I have many more books I’d be happy to share with you. Just saying.