Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Writing { and reading and publishing } ~

How “Sacred” Is A Print Book?

The raging argument over print vs e-books—carried out, still, in some of the media—perhaps igniting physical confrontations on a few campuses—a false argument, in my experience… Underlining Books

I read both—both have value to me

But, there are differences—I can underline a print book but only highlight an e-book—different actions, in my experience.

The New York Review of Books has an article by Tim Parks about underlining and writing in the margins—A Weapon for Readers.

As is my usual reportorial practice, I’ll give you a few excerpts, hoping you’ll read the full article:

“This extravagant regard…is reflected in the treatment of the book itself. The spine must not be bent back and broken, the pages must not be marked with dog ears, there must be no underlining, no writing in the margins.”

“Much of the resistance to e-books, notably from the literati, has to do with a loss of this sense of sacredness, of a vulnerable paper vessel that can thrive on our protective devotion.”

“There is something predatory, cruel even, about a pen suspended over a text. Like a hawk over a field, it is on the lookout for something vulnerable. Then it is a pleasure to swoop and skewer the victim with the nib’s sharp point. The mere fact of holding the hand poised for action changes our attitude to the text. We are no longer passive consumers of a monologue but active participants in a dialogue.”

“Some readers will fear that the pen-in-hand approach denies us those wonderful moments when we fall under a writer’s spell…moments that are no doubt among the most exciting in our reading experience.”

“…if writers are to entice us into their vision, let us make them work for it. Let us resist enchantment for a while, or at least for long enough to have some idea of what we are being drawn into.”

“Wasn’t this what Cervantes was complaining about when he began Don Quixote? Better to read a poor book with alert resistance, than devour a good one in mindless adoration.”

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6 responses to “How “Sacred” Is A Print Book?

  1. Barbara Blackcinder December 31, 2014 at 10:20 am

    I’ve always gone back and forth about writing in books. I guess my divisor is whether I intend to keep the book, and re-read it later, in which case, my own underlining and comments would be useful. But I find trying to read through someone else’s underlining difficult not to be distracted, and certainly losing the ‘romance’ of the author’s writing.


  2. juliecround December 31, 2014 at 10:29 am

    I would NEVER write in a book unless I had two copies and it makes me angry when I find someone has written in a book I have taken out of the library, even if it is to correct a fact or a spelling. It’s different if you are a student and need to revise, but, even then, it would depend on the type of book.


  3. Alexander M Zoltai December 31, 2014 at 11:06 am

    Gee, Barbara, two comments from you in two days!!

    I’m honored…

    I certainly understand about getting a book that’s already marked-up; yet, there are folks who pay good money for such things; if the author is famous :-)


  4. Alexander M Zoltai December 31, 2014 at 11:07 am

    I fully understand your position, Julie…

    Do you often buy two copies of certain books so you can mark one up?


  5. juliecround January 2, 2015 at 6:32 am

    No. I don’t usually buy books. I was thinking about the time at college when we had to study texts. I possess all the children’s classics that meant so much to me, but have yet to find anyone interested enough to leave them to. Sorry – feel a bit morbid at the moment – too many funerals to go to.


  6. Alexander M Zoltai January 2, 2015 at 11:01 am

    May you find the strength you need to weather your trials, Julie


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