Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Things Inside Books

When I first became truly interested in reading as a pleasurable pursuit, rather than as a way to avoid beatings from my schoolteachers, I had to rely mainly on the books of others for my consumption, for, being a child, I was earning very little money, and despite my newfound passion, what little money I came across or stole from my mother’s purse went immediately towards video games or little white paper bags filled with jellies, purchased at the corner shop. So most of the time it was visits to the library (even back then I hated the fucking things, and still do, and will continue to do so forever), or I would scratch through my parent’s bookshelf in the front lounge.

It was a fine bookshelf, the one in the front lounge. Cast iron and redwood, around three meters long, three shelves high (the bottom shelf easily dismissed, packed as it was with my mother’s gardening and cooking portfolios), with, at a guess, a hundred and two score and a bit books in it. I worked my way from left to right. There was a lot of shit, of course, but a decent proportion of good stuff: Conan Doyle, Evelyn Waugh, Morris Lurie, Lennie Lower (which reminds me: I have to track down some of his books and see if they were as piss-funny as I remember them being), Spike Milligan (his war biographies), Roald Dahl, Dorothy Parker, Rider Haggard. I read them all and when the supply was exhausted I kept going back, but this time, it was to discover all the stuff inside the books.

My parents, it turned out, were inveterate placers-of-things-in-books. Newspaper clippings, postcards, pamphlets, patches, vegetables, letters, envelopes, bookmarks (of course), photographs, you name it. At the time I thought it was odd to keep things inside books (I still think this, and don’t do it myself), and one day I went through every single book in the house, leafed through every single page, and removed every single thing. I put them all in a manila folder and presented the folder to my mother, who immediately instructed me to return the items to their rightful places before dad got home. Not wanting to go back and put every single thing back where I found it, I just through the objects into random volumes. Thus many thin books swelled visibly and could not be reshelved before severe modification.

The point I’m trying to make is that I enjoyed finding things in books back then, as I enjoy it now. I always flick through likely-looking books at secondhand stores, to see what people have put in them. I found an old twenty dollar note a few years ago in a book at a store in Brisbane. Being penniless I naturally kept it and furthermore never again returned to that bookstore, because if the guy’s pricing his product (quite outrageously, if I recall) without even examining it, then fuck him and I hope he goes broke. Apart from the money, a photocopy of somebody’s birth certificate and a black-and-white picture of a vagina I don’t believe I’ve ever found anything really good, but a lot of the stuff is pretty interesting, especially those newspaper clippings that don’t seem to have isolated any particular article. You know the ones – you find an upside-down ‘L’ newspaper clipping, yellow with age, but it seems to be entirely random, and hasn’t followed the margins of any particular story. It’s like somebody just wanted to be fancy with a pair of scissors. I don’t know. Anyway, I’m a little drunk, but I was wondering: what goodies have youse found inside books?


At 9:48 PM, Blogger Tim said...

I've found the usual things, newspaper cuttings, etc. Sometimes they are relevant to the book, mostly they're pretty random. I'm more fascinated by the marginalia in second-hand books. I love ex-student copies were the pencilled notes run out at about page 10 - presumably when they left off reading the book in class and were left to read the rest on their own. Also, owner's names, and sometimes phone numbers and addresses, written on the inside cover. The saddest ones are the handwritten dedications - "To my darling Julie", and the like. Clearly Julie ain't his darling anymore.

At 7:36 AM, Blogger TimT said...

C.S. Lewis told the story of how he once found a copy of a famous 19th century author's book which had been owned by a great critic. He related his disappointment when he discovered the critics notes 'only went up to page 10', making it seem as if the analysis only went ten pages deep and no more.

Sometimes the notes people leave in books are pretty inane. I would have come across more than one book where a student has pencilled in obvious facts about the author's history all over the pages. You might be reading a copy of Charles Dickens, and suddenly, the student will burst out with 'Charles Dickens was born in England!' so it will be like being in a room with a genius and an idiot, at the same time.
Some of the books I'd find in Sydney Uni Fisher Library actually had several different sets of notes in them, all competing for attention.

At 10:03 AM, Blogger Tim said...

I had a book out from the library recently for study purposes, and somebody had commited the sin of underlining sections of it. But what they had underlined were seemingly random phrases and words like: "there is", "he disagreed", even "and". I wonder did he/she quote any of these in an essay.

Meanwhile, I have a suggestion for the operation of the blog. Given that most people probably only read the first post when they visit a blog, we should try to limit ourselves to one post per day - not one post each, just one post - unless something of grave importance needs to be posted about. Jon and I use this system at Sterne. Obviously yesterday's pun frenzy is a different case, but in general I think one post a day works best. I don't want to lay down rules or anything, but I want to ensure that what gets posted has a chance to be read before being pushed down the page. What do you guys reckon?

At 10:08 AM, Blogger TimT said...

Was it a poetry book? Maybe they were trying to work out the stress pattern in the poems, if it was. There are a few other excuses for that kind of thing - trying to work out whether they were speaking in first person, etc.

Those rules sound okay, but I'll have to think a bit before I make an intelligent comment about it.

At 10:15 AM, Blogger Tim said...

No, it was a non-fiction book.

"Rules" is probably too strong a word. I just feel that when you post something, it'd be nice for it to be on top of the page for a while.

At 10:35 AM, Blogger TimT said...

I feel the same way when I post on my blog. You have to keep a nice balance between posting at too slow a rate, and posting at a rate that's too rapid. Sometimes when the urge takes me over, I try and work several puns into one post.

Seeing as the pace around here is usually fairly leisurely, we should be able to work it out nicely.

At 12:14 PM, Blogger JPW said...

One post a day sounds like a goer to me - I guess I only really wrote this post because I felt guilty about spamming the blog with stupid pictures. Shall we work on a "first come, first dressed" basis? For example, if Tim and I see that TimT has already posted something, or whichever combination you decide on, then we save our own posts for the next day, or the day after if both of us want to post something but one of us gets in first?

Also, regarding boozies on Saturday: are you coming along, Tim? Will you be going earlier than TimT if you are? And if you are, do you want to hook up beforehand and arrive at the location simultaneously?

At 12:21 PM, Blogger JPW said...

Incidentally Tim, have you set up a Technorati profile for ILines (and, indeed, Sterne)? It's a piece of cake and might generate an added trickle of traffic. It's a handy thing to have in any event.

At 3:06 PM, Blogger TimT said...

James, I'm not sure about this first-come policy. Most of the time, as I said, posting is usually fairly quiet around here, so surely if we're just polite and respect one another, then it shouldn't be an issue.

I say this partly out of self-interest: I've got one or two posts coming up, and due to current computer problems, I have to post intermittently - when I can get access to a computer (can't just do it at work, because I'm supposed to be working!)

I'll see you folks at the grogblogging. Beth - will you be able to make it?

At 10:02 AM, Blogger Brownie said...

You want to generate more traffic?
Like D Beckham, I will sneak out of my phobia closet: I don't want any strangers to find my blog. It's called Go Away! for chrissake.
I have discovered that if a blogpost has a link in it, that will bring The Others. example: link to any Scientology site. They technorati for themselves, then visit the linking blogger and leave repulsive stories of their Seven Little Thetans (ref Blogger On A Cast Iron Balcony)
I must be zenblogophobic - I only want comments from like-minded bloggers.

At 6:11 PM, Blogger TimT said...

I once did a jokey post about the 'special underwear' that Mormons have to use. A couple of days after that, I got a blogging Mormon visiting my blog, and he gave the most tight-lipped, puritanical response ever!


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