"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Wednesday, May 6, 2015


This past week I finished a book, A Month in the Country by J.L Carr, which had been sitting on my bedside table unread for three years. A friend loaned it to me, telling me how much she enjoyed it and she thought I would, too. I accepted it against my better judgment because I am pretty terrible about reading books people give me. I know that about myself. This small paperback book finally peculated to the top of the pile and when I finally cracked it open I was surprised (and delighted) to see that it was full of faint pencil underlinings.

I found myself pausing at each underlined phrase wondering at what my friend was thinking and why this passage was particularly meaningful to her at the time. I tried, probably very unsatisfactorily, to get into her mindset, to walk in her shoes for a moment. Slowly the book took on new meaning and really opened up to me in a way I'm sure it would not have without the underlinings. I knew at the time of the loan that my friend was struggling with problems at home and was contemplating a move professionally. It made me smile to see the passage on professionalism highlighted.
You know how it is when a tricky job is going well because you're doing things the way they should be done, when you're working in rhythm and feel a reassuring confidence that everything's unraveling naturally and all will be right in the end. That's about it: I knew what I was doing---it's really what being professional means.
I can also related to this quote she tagged about how we are one person at work and another person the rest of the time.
Our jobs are our private fantasies, our disguises, the cloak we can creep inside to hide.
Many of the things she highlighted had to do with living in the moment and recognizing that everyone doesn't see things from the same point of view. The phrases, though very gentle, held important truths or kernels of truth that all of us can use, not just someone struggling to find equilibrium in life.
 Well, we all see things with different eyes, and it gets you nowhere hoping that even one in a thousand will see things your way.
The book, though fiction, was written as a retrospective. The narrator was looking back on an event from his life long before when he had just returned from the Great War and was employed to restore a fresco on a church wall. From the great vantage point of fifty years he was able to see that time period and its lessons for his life more clearly. In this underlined passage the narrator is talking about the hell of war.
...there might be something to be said for seasons in hell because, when we'd dragged ourselves back from the bloodiness, life had seemed brighter that we'd remembered it.
I'm afraid that my friend was viewing her current situation as a war, or at least a battle, but was taking comfort that after the "bloodiness" things would be brighter for her. I took comfort in these words, too.

At the end of his time in the country the narrator returns to his life elsewhere. But the time he spent working on the art and among the people he met had a very restorative impact on his life. He never went back to the little town. He doesn't know what happened to the art or to the people yet he can reflect on his days in the country with crystal clarity.
We can ask and ask but we can't have again what once seemed ours for ever---the way things looked, the church alone in the field, a bed on a belfry floor, a remembered voice, the touch of a hand, a loved face. They've gone and you only wait for the pain to pass.
Not long after the loan my friend did make a move professionally which required a move physically to another town, a fresh start. I haven't seen her since then but I do know, thanks to a little used resource called Facebook (ha!), she is doing well and the pain indeed has passed.

Thanks for the underlinings, friend! They helped me know you better and appreciate the book more.

Book: A Month in the Country by JL Carr, New York Review Books, 1980. Print.

Question: Do you underline in your own books? How to you respond to others' underlinings?

1 comment:

  1. I NEVER underline my own books, but I think it's simply because I am lazy! I do not want to get up and grab a pen while I'm reading. I have made it in an effort to post it notes though, so I can go back to the page in case there's a part I really like. I do have to admit though that it is so much fun to read a used book WITH markings, just because it makes me curious as to why the previous reader found it important enough to mark.


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