Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Who you calling bookworm?

I have nothing against lending books to people. Most of the time I get them back, and if I don't, well, I hope the other person enjoys the book as much as I did. It's as simple as that. None of my books are rare first editions, and given that I buy used when I can, they usually are a bit worn already. Very rarely will I write in them, and if I do, it's usually to underline a striking passage.

But I wonder if anyone I lent books to within the last year or so noticed the notched pages.

I turn down as teensy a corner as possible on pages that have striking passages. Some books, like Blood Meridian and The Phantom Tollbooth, have about every other page notched. Why not just write, add my marginalia? I could, but frankly, I'm lazy. And besides, my system marks the page, not the passage, so I actually have to re-read to find it when I flip back through. And it's less obtrusive, more subject to interpretation. I may find the first line of page 97 stunning, but another person could skim over the page and find a gem of a quote in the second paragraph, and on re-read #2 or 20, I may fall in love with the last sentence of the third paragraph. Reading is, and always should be, about discovery.

Flipping through some of my books, I found this page marked in Herman Hesse's Demian, which I read for the first time this summer; on the heels of graduation, it spoke to me then. It still resonates:
"At this point a sharp realization burned within me: each man has his 'function' but none which he can choose himself, define, or perform as he pleases. It was wrong to desire new gods, completely wrong to want to provide the world with something. An enlightened man had but one duty--to seek the way to himself, to reach inner certainty, to grope his way forward, no matter where it led. The realization shook me profoundly, it was the fruit of this experience. I had often speculated with images of the future, dreamed of roles that I might be assigned, perhaps as poet or prophet or painter, or something similar.

All that was futile. I did not exist to write poems, to preach or to paint, neither I nor anyone else. All of that was incidental. Each man had only one genuine vocation--to find the way to himself. He might end up as a poet or a madman, as prophet or criminal--that was not his affair, ultimately it was of no concern. His task was to discover his own destiny--not an arbitrary one--and live it out wholly and resolutely within himself. Everything else was only a would-be existence, an attempt at evasion, a flight back to the ideals of the masses, conformity and fear of one's inwardness. The new vision rose up before me, glimpsed a hundred times, possibly even expressed before but now experienced for the first time by me. I was an experiment on the part of Nature, a gamble within the unknown, perhaps for a new purpose, perhaps for nothing, and my only task was to allow this game on the part of primeval depths to take its course, to feel its will within me and make it wholly mine. That or nothing!"
Awesome quote to start off a new year, yes? I need to re-read the whole book now.

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