On Books, And a Light Thought on a Serious Matter

I found this quote on Dictionary.com this morning and I just had to share!  Enjoy!  :D
“It had been startling and disappointing to me to find out that story books had been written by people, that books were not natural wonders, coming up of themselves like grass. Yet regardless of where they came from, I cannot remember a time when I was not in love with them—with the books themselves, cover and binding and the paper they were printed on, with their smell and their weight and with their possession in my arms, captured and carried off to myself. Still illiterate, I was ready for them, committed to all the reading I could give them.” 
-Eudora Welty, One Writer’s Beginnings, ch. 1
Also, a piece from “A Prairie Home Companion” ‘s Garrison Keillor that always makes me grin:

I came home Friday evening, had dinner, wrote a limerick about my neurologist, and started writing about the experience of having a minor stroke. Nothing bad happens to writers — everything is just material.

Last Monday I suffered a stroke
Which affected the way that I spoke,
But it revved up my brain,
Which they cannot explain,
And now, when I think, I smell smoke.


The Book Sale: Conquering the Jungle



Last fall’s library book sale was incredibly educational for me.  I had never realized before how the searching process felt so much like a politely tense dance routine.  Still, the points below could spell the difference between getting your hands on that volume by your favorite author and watching a quicker, more aware buyer snatch it up, leaving you to weep over your misfortune among the crates of children’s books.

Get there early:

The early bird gets the best worms by waiting outside the building 5-10 minutes before the doors open.  You’ll find you’re not the only one who knows the truth of this, since there may be half a dozen other bibliophiles hanging around for opening time.  This is a good time to make polite small talk with your fellow readers (see points 1 & 10) rather than stand around staring awkwardly at the ground.  It’s also a good way to meet people who are into books.

Leave plenty of time to browse:

Leave at least 30 min. – 1 hour to book hunt, depending on the size of the room, number of shoppers, and number of books for sale.  Your schedule may only allow you 30 or 45 minutes to browse, but make the best of it.  You might even plan to return at a later time (preferably before the 4:00 or 5:00 rush from work) or the next day if you have to.  But remember the best deals are often found early in the morning, soon after the sale has begun.  At least this is what I have found to be true, though I’m sure there are still some good deals lying about in the later hours and days of the event.

Leave purse at home:

Purses are a pain to juggle when you’re trying to maneuver around tables, stacks of books, and moving people.  If you can, exchange your everyday purse for something more compact, even if you only have room for your driver’s license, keys, debit card, and some cash.  A digital camera pouch would be an ideal size for this purpose.  That or, heaven forbid, a fanny pack.  Just make sure it won’t get in your way.

Act like an adult

When the doors are opened, don’t rush in, pushing and running to get your hands on the best books, which take time and patience to find anyway.  Start off right by establishing a good rapport with your fellow readers, perhaps by holding the door for some of them or bidding them good morning; you will need their cooperation for this adventure, as you will soon see.

(Remember the candy shop scene from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory?  Yeah, don’t do that.)

Evaluate the setup:

Once inside, evaluate the setup of the room.  My last book sale consisted of several tables stacked high with books, plus dozens of boxes under the tables and pressed against the walls.  I knew I had several areas to browse, so I planned to begin with the tables of adult fiction/non-fiction (the tables were sort of organized), then move on to the children’s/juvenile section, and finish with the boxes.  As I worked around the other early birds, searching for the treasures among the trash, I noted where people were and which tables had yet to be explored.

Just keep digging: 

If you see books on top that aren’t your style, don’t give up.  The best treasures are often hidden somewhere toward the middle or bottom of a stack.  A lot of people judge the tables and stacks by what books are on top and so miss a lot of great finds.  Also, people assume all the books are sorted by subject, but they are not.  I have found classical literature mashed in with trashy romance novels and in the juvenile fiction.  Remember too that people may pick up a book that looks interesting, intending to buy it, but change their minds later, laying it down wherever they are at the point of decision.  Even if the volumes are fairly well-organized to start with, within the first 10-20 minutes, at least a few of the books have been relocated this way.

If you have thoroughly searched all the tables, or if other searchers are temporarily blocking all of the tables you haven’t reached yet, head for the boxes.  Unless there are none, in which case you may re-examine a table or flip through the books in your hands until a spot opens at the uninspected table(s). 

If there too many books to display at waist level with the rest, there will often be boxes of books on the floor, either along a wall or under the tables.  Be sure to check these out, because a lot of folks forget they are there.  That, they think books in cardboard boxes look like junk and prematurely decide the crates hold nothing of value, or they feel ridiculous getting on their hands and knees (especially if they are dressed nicely) to dig through a box of battered books. 

If you have searched all of the tables and boxes, you might ask the staff if there are any other sale books set up elsewhere.  Sometimes part of another room is dedicated to the sale, especially if the main room is small.  However, the rest of the sale may not even be in the same building; at one sale I attended, the library’s boxes of books were spread out to the front porch of some apartments next door.  I imagine it had been worked out between the owner/renters and librarian, but it was a place I would not have thought to look!

Remember where you’ve been:

With all the shifting of books and people that naturally attends a sale like this, try to remember which areas you have searched.  It will decrease you frustration and multiply your efficiency in covering all the areas that interest you.

If you find part of a series, look for the rest:

At my first library book sale, I found one of the books from the Anne of Green Gables series.  I was stoked!  Then I wondered, Could the others be here, too?  I dug around a bit, and lo and behold, I discovered all but one of the books in the set!  (I have since located that missing work and the collection is once again complete.)  The books may or may not be laid out together, but there’s a good chance they’re fairly close to each other. 

Don’t crowd the other buyers:

A person can feel when you’re hovering, in a hurry, or moving forcefully (even just steadily) into her territory, defined as the table she’s at or at the next table near them.  This is a dangerous and destructive move on your part because it makes her feel rushed and defensive, plus it makes you seem rude.  This may cause her to snatch up books she is debating about (and possibly books you would be interested in) because she’s afraid you will walk off with those volumes once you gain the area, and before she has a chance to finish thinking over her selections.

Check out another table in another part of the room and keep an eye on the person’s progress as he or she finishes browsing the section.  Once the person has left (and if there are no new seekers to that particular area), move in at a moderate pace, browsing the books you pass, so you don’t look like the crazed book hunter you are.  ;)  Once you arrive at your desired location, search through the books thoroughly; you may not get an opportunity for a second look.  

Be friendly and courteous to your fellow shoppers:

As you browse, smile at those you come in contact with, excuse yourself if you get in their personal space, make light of any social faux pas that occur, and help them out if they knock over a stack of books, trip over a box, or experience some other mishap.  The point is to be unthreatening.  Aside from being the kind thing to do, being polite and helpful will encourage your fellow shoppers to return the favor. 

Should you edge into a section someone is browsing, he or she will be more likely to move on and let you into that space to dig for a bit if you’ve proven you can be courteous while searching for the books you want.  I don’t mean to imply you should be kind to the others simply to “earn” a kindness in return.  I am only noting that having proven your ability to be thoughtful of others, others will likely be more aware of and thoughtful toward you in the community “dance” around the tables and boxes of books.

Stay calm:

If you have your eye on a book and someone else picks it up before you can, be patient and watch.  Does the person head straight to the cash girl or does he or she look around a bit longer?  The customer may still reconsider that decision and lay it down somewhere.  If you’re really interested in it, keep an eye on the shopper to see if he or she lays it somewhere.  If you know the book is gone for good, take a deep breath and keep browsing; some new treasure is bound to catch your eye and dim your grief for the lost volume. 

Ask questions:

If you have any questions at all, head for the volunteers or the library workers.  They have set up the sale, so they can generally resolve any problems or issues you come upon. 

Bring cash:

Some places are strict on whether they will accept checks, but cash is accepted everywhere.  At my last sale, I made the mistake of forgetting this rule, opting to leave my green at home.  However, the girl at the cash box was kind enough to hold my books for me while I drove home to grab my cash (a 40-minute round trip) and return to pick up my new-found treasures.  Probably not the best decision, but I had apparently found several gems I just could not give up. 

Show your finds to friends who will appreciate them:

One of the best parts of the book sale is showing off the spoils of your adventure to your friends or family.  There is a unique story to the discovery of each volume, and sharing your victorious tale with someone else makes the search that much sweeter.

Perhaps I have made entirely too much of the Book Sale and grossly overthought it–I realize most people likely do not view it as a sort of jungle or strategy game–but I hope I have observed something that proves useful to you.  If you have any additional thoughts on this subject, please leave a comment.  Comments are almost better than books!  ;)

Happy Hunting!  :)

A Reader’s Footprints

Engraving of a Reader

The Reader

If you’ve ever picked up a book that has been written in, you know the notations make for a difficult read.  I recently read (and marked up) Sarah Rose’s For All the Tea in China, a birthday book from my older sister, who requested to read it when I finished.  But passing through the pages again is a little difficult even for me, and I’m the one who filled it with notes and hieroglyphs! 

In a moment of Sherlockian insight, I decided books are clues to the reader, who leaves footprints in the form of symbols, questions, and thoughts scattered throughout a book.  This could make it hard for the following readers to comprehend the book for itself.  It’s so cluttered with another traveler’s personality that those who follow behind feel they are not as free to develop their own opinions as if the pages were clean and neutral.  This can leave an individual feeling disoriented and frustrated.

I think this is part of why booksellers don’t offer as much money for used books that have been jotted in (and thus personalized).  They value volumes that have clean pages and allow audiences to trade ideas freely with the author, uninterrupted by another’s thoughts.  Of course booksellers also take into consideration that customers will pay a little more for a book that looks new and that marked-up copies probably don’t sell well because they don’t look as nice.

Below, I have illustrated some ideas on what a reader’s footprints may look like and the clues they might offer.  For the sake of simplicity, and since I happen to be female, I will refer to the reader as she.


  • Firm and straight: Suggests a reader sure of–though not inflexible in–her opinions, who knows important information when she sees it.  This sort of reader likely questions the material while reading, testing it for solid logic.
  • Wavering: Suggests a reader who is unsure of herself and her comprehension of the information or of the truth of the facts presented.  Or she may just be too tired to write in a straight line.
  • Faint: This is a conscientious reader who may be new to writing in books and so writes lightly.  She may write softly in pencil, should she need to erase marks made in error or want to sell the book for a better price later.  I imagine this is an observant reader who is particularly thoughtful.
  • Sentences slanted up  or down: This is a careful reader who takes her time reading and has to turn the book to make notes, suggesting she does not write hastily while reading.  That or she needs to practice writing evenly.
  • Neat, clear script: The reader is a careful, organized, logical thinker.
  • Words slanted far forward or backward: Probably more of a scrawl and difficult to read.  The reader is likely in a hurry or is caught up in the current of the story, whether fact or fiction.  She is probably a quick thinker.


The commentary is influenced by my own notation system.  The great part is you can create your own key as you read and can change it whenever you need to; no one other than you has to understand it.

  • *        These indicate a piece of information or point the reader wants to return to or remember.
  • +/-   These are general marks of an interested reader, but have slightly a lower value than that of stars and asterisks.
  • :)       This person takes a light approach to reading and values clever points and humorous remarks.
  • ___  An important sentence or unfamiliar word
  • !         Surprise at a story or fact
  • ?       “This part doesn’t make sense or doesn’t fit with what I think I know.”
  • ( { [   Information I want to remember that is more than one sentence long.  May also be an idea I want to comment on, so I jot a few words outside the symbol.

The Instrument

  • Pen: Suggests the reader is sure, outspoken, and may be knowledgeable on the subject.
  • Pencil: The reader may be wary of writing in a book (she was likely taught to revere the bound word), is possibly unsure of her own opinion and her notation system, or may feel she doesn’t understand the material she’s reading.  She is likely reserved, but thoughtful. 

I would like to add that readers who engage in books with any sort of instrument are likely people who are familiar with asking questions, frequently offer their own thoughts in a discussion, enjoy thinking for themselves, and/or value knowledge above a pristine page.

Clues to a reader’s identity may also be obtained from the physical condition of the book, particularly if the volume is part of a personal library.  For instance:

From dog-eared pages, one may guess that the reader is often in a rush or rarely has a bookmark within reach, depending on how many pages are dog-eared.  This person may be very laid back and slightly disorganized, since many readers make a point to keep bookmarks in or near their books.

If the book’s edges are worn smooth or the corners fanned out, one may theorize that the owner is a nervous or energetic (not necessarily quick) reader, who thumbs the pages as she reads. 

Slightly darkened edges may be the mark of a frequent reader, a reader who enjoys manual labor, or one who flies from gardening to the joy of reading without washing her hands.

Food or drink stains could signal that the book is so absorbing, the reader cannot be troubled to put it down even while she eats.  They may also be the sign of a careless or busy reader.

I hope you have been enlightened in some way by this very long post, wherein I have presented my own thoughts on this subject.  None of these suggested personality traits are meant to apply to individual readers, of course, as each reader has unique ways of traveling through a book.  Regardless of what your markings and notations look like, or if you make any at all, the act of reading points to a mind that wants to learn and/or enjoys the written word for the simple pleasure it affords.  I am not debating the reader’s intelligence or attempting to measure her character by my observations.  However, I do think the reader leaves clues about herself through the notes she makes while engaging in reading, which is a very personal experience.

Note: Interacting with a text (AKA being an active reader) is called annotation, a practice that helps you get the most out of the material you’re reading. 

You can find tips and how-to’s here.  This link even offers suggestions for the individual who wants to be an active reader but can’t stand writing in books. 

Another good idea is to write your comments and questions on a sheet of paper (include page and paragraph numbers) rather than in the margins of the book, since the chances of returning to your marked pages are very slim.

Please add to the thoughts listed in this post if you have a few ideas on the subject.  I only ask that all my commenters be courteous in doing so.

Books: Flawless Friends or Guides to Learning?

I am in the process of marking up the newest book in my home library.  I’ve done that to textbooks before, though only until very recently–my refund accordingly took a hit since I didn’t bother to erase all the crucial penciled notes–but I’m not used to writing in one of my own treasured books.  I grew up in a world that taught respect of the bound word; books were not to be marked, marred, handled carelessly or with dirty hands, laid anywhere near water, or worst of all, lost.  Of course I’m using a rather blunt-tipped wooden pencil to keep from leaving permanent marks, and the book does belong to me, but the point is it’s not something I’m used to.

Still, it’s exciting, being able to jot questions, underscore interesting items and unfamiliar words, to make this book my very own in a small way.  I was to about page 25 of 245 when I paused; Should I go back and erase all my notations or push on?  Deciding that a nonfiction book is worthless if you learn nothing from it, I opted to continue engaging my book, challenging it to teach me something.  I’m on page 186 and reading a bit more every day.

Please read the questions below and offer your thoughts.  I love to get other perspectives!

Do you feel more drawn to make notes in nonfiction or fiction books?  Neither?

Do you feel comfortable taking graphite or ink (!) to the pages of a volume in search of instruction? 

If you had to choose, would you rather mark in an older text or a newer one?  Hard-bound or paperback?

Does it bother you to borrow or buy a book that has already been written in?

I realize there are special books, especially bound classics, set aside as show pieces for a bookshelf, that are not meant to be defaced (as some would call it) with a writing instrument.  Do you feel this is unreasonable to request of a reader? 

Blazing into the Literary Past: It All Starts with a Kindle

I can’t believe it!  I’m getting a Kindle Touch!  And I finally found an amazing cover for it!  (Failing to unearth that piece is what kept me from ordering my new toy days ago.)  I especially love that this version will let me look up words I’m unfamiliar with, something I often run into while reading 19th century books (my favorite!). 

I am typically tight-fisted when it comes to money, but this sort of thing is an investment, especially when there are so many books I desperately want to read but do not have access to.  I think everything ended up being something like $150 or so, but I hardly think I’ll regret it, especially since all of the books I want to read are free, having been written long before 1923.   I am especially eager to read Laurence Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey, first published in 1768.  I first learned of it while watching the 1999 version of Austen’s Mansfield Park, wherein a lovestruck Henry Crawford reads a piece of the work to an unimpressed Fanny Price.  (See 2:32-4:13.)

When the e-readers first came out, I looked on them scornfully; I was sure they would force libraries out of small towns everywhere.  (I really hope I’m not contributing to this in any way; I would feel horrible!)  I could go a lot of directions on that subject, but I’m not going to address them here, so I’ll drop that argument for now. 

I honestly never thought I’d ever buy a Kindle for myself because of the price and because I convinced myself the only good way to read a book was to turn those tree-birthed pages myself.  I still enjoy and prefer “old-fashioned” reading:  touching the paper, smelling the ink, and holding the weight of words in my hands, but if the only way to interact with a work is to peruse it digitally, then so be it. 

Do you have/Are you thinking about getting an e-reader?  If so, which one do you have/want and why?

What do you think of yours?


My Kindle Cover: Isn't she beautiful?

Day 7: I’m a Biblioholic

A stack of bookshelves at the Health Sciences ...

Books! :D

New York’s Columbia University defines biblioholism as “the habitual longing to purchase, read, store, admire and consume books in excess.”  I have to say that is an accurate definition.  But I’ve got to make a confession: I’ve been a biblioholic since a young age, probably since primary school.  I know, it’s been a lifelong struggle and I’m not sure I’ll ever get past it, even when I run out of bookshelves, desks, tables, spare beds, and floor space enough to store all my literary treasures.

The draw is so powerful and finding a great deal on a good book gives me a high that’s difficult to resist.  I do feel a little guilty afterwards, you know, being a general tightwad and all, but that has yet to keep me tethered to my local library; I’d really rather slowly expand my own and not have to worry about fines and all that.

In my defense, I will say that I don’t often venture into bookstores or book sales, you know, being a tightwad and all, but when I do, I generally emerge with at least half a dozen gems.  Then, I can’t wait to get home and display them on my bookshelves–due to overcrowding, some volumes have had to be relocated or evicted completely, depending on content–the most important piece of furniture I own, aside from my bed.  (I don’t think I could sleep comfortably on a bookshelf, unless of course, I were to eat a magic mushroom and shrink a bit.)

So, to the point.  Today was the first day of a three-day-long book sale at a nearby library.  I thought I would at least go in and look; what could be the harm in that?  Besides, I probably wouldn’t find anything worth bringing home, anyway.  Well, about 2 hours later, I had managed to locate an armful of books and I was torn between taking them all home with me or leaving all of them on a table and walking out empty-handed.  Guess which won out?  Yeah, so I have about ten new companions and nowhere to store them.  Currently, they occupy the floor next to a table with seven other books I had/have no room for.

By the way, I ended up with eleven books and I only paid $5.  Plus, I found one book that almost completes my Jim Herriot All Creatures Great and Small series and I found 3/4 of the Anne of Green Gables series.  Not too bad for a Thursday morning!

Confession: I almost bought a book of Shakespeare plays, but only because when I opened the covers, a wonderful, old book smell greeted me and invited me in.  It would have cost me pittance to accept, but I knew I would never read it.  Practicality won out (probably for the first time since arriving at the book sale) and Shakespeare was left behind to dream of attracting a more genuine audience.

Since books have been on my mind all morning, I thought I would include a few poems about them.  Enjoy!  :)

Hello Book!
by N.M. Bodecker

Hello book!
What are you up to?
Keeping yourself to yourself,
shut in between your covers,
a prisoner high on a shelf.
come in book!
What is your story?
Haven’t you ever been read?
Did you think
I would just pass by you
And pick me a comic instead?
No way book!                                                                                                                                                                                                                 I’m your reader
I open you up.
Set you free.
Listen, I know a secret!
Will you share your secrets with me?

A Book Speaks
When you drop me on the floor
I get stepped on – my sides are sore;
Torn-out pages make me groan;
I feel dizzy if I’m thrown;
Every mark and every stain
On my covers gives me pain;
Please don’t bend me, if you do
I don’t want to talk to you;
But we will both be friends together,
If you protect me from the weather
And keep me clean so that I look
A tidy, neat and happy book.

How To Eat A Poem
by Eve Merriam

Don’t be polite.
Bite in.
Pick it up and eat the juice that may run down your chin.
It is ready and ripe now whenever you are.
You do not need a knife or fork or spoon
or plate or napkin or tablecloth
For there is no core
or stem
or rind
or pit
or seed
to throw away.