How a book becomes “Real”

by Rachel Baker on November 7, 2007

bookI believe a book is not real until I’ve been able to write in it and make notes. Its not loved until its dissected character by character, plot by subplot. I keep going back to “The Velveteen Rabbit” – something is not real until you’ve worn away its nose, had its eyes fall off, and so on. For me, books are the same way, until the spine has been cracked, the pages dog-eared, the pages written on, its just not a real story to me. Its superficial, it hasn’t gotten inside my heart and it surely hasn’t touched my soul.

I rarely read without a pencil in my hand. Before I get out of the first chapter, I’ve made notes in the front of the book about the characters introduced. I make notes about the setting by the second chapter and by the third chapter, I’ve gone back to the first and second chapters and underlined different passages or clues left by the author.

Have I always done this? No, I don’t think so. I say that, knowing that as recent as six years ago, I saw a set of classics that I remember reading as a kid revised for children with underlines through every one of the twenty four books. How interesting would it be to go back to that set to see if what I found interesting was the same (on a child’s level) that I would have found interesting now?

Can I read a book with a pencil in my hand? Sure, but its not as enjoyable for me, and I can’t remember what the story was about or break down the book for someone in conversation.

The other thing I do, no later than halfway through any book, is to do a little research about the author and the time period s/he lived in. I believe the only real way to understand the underlying meanings of a book is to figure out where the author was coming from…or probably more to the point, where s/he came from, literally.

If a book is given to me as a gift, I read it once through as the gift giver would have read it – probably without a pencil. I want to figure out why the gift-giver enjoyed the book, and why that person thought I’d enjoy it. Most times, we receive books from people we know on a personal level. If that person is a relative or dear friend, we know enough about them to determine HOW they read. I read “The Lost German Slave Girl” this way first time around. It was a joy to read a book my sister gave me, as I expect she would, straight through not just for the story, but for the historical background. After I’ve enjoyed the book that way, I re-read it, as I normally would read any book…yup! with a pencil. I can’t WAIT to re-read it again my way, breaking down the behaviors of all characters involved in the attainment of the lost german slave girl’s identity and freedom.

Borrowing a book from someone is a COMPLETELY different affair for me. To be completely honest, I hate borrowing books – its too restrictive. I have learned to treat book borrowing as if I received it as a gift. I read it for pure enjoyment – if it tickles my fancy, then I buy it, and write all over it! The Stephen King “Dark Tower” series is a great example of this. “Everybody was so Young” by Amanda Vaill was put on the list of books to purchase after I read it.

Some books, I’ve bought doubles of. This way, I have a clean version to loan out, and a “Rachel copy” to keep. These are the books that I can’t bear to give up, but know friends would love to read it. “Eat Pray Love” will be one of these types of books. “The Good Earth” is a novel I’ve owned three of. And of course, I have owned several copies of “Little Women” – because I can’t bring myself to write in my sacred copy.

It has just occurred to me as I re-read this post, that I may be a little OCD about books, reading, and my well thought out plans for each and ever book I receive. Am I the only one in the world that does this?

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