It dawned on me today that the better part of my life can be categorized by a single habit: I end each day curled in bed with a book and a pen, marking pages, jotting in margins, tracing patterns. I remember the first time I read an annotated book. My 8th grade English teacher lent me his copy of A Tale of Two Cities. He'd read portions aloud and I became sort of obsessed with The Vengeance. (I should reread that book.) I don't remember why, exactly, but I remember something rich about her character, about the description. And, though I never asked him, I think he liked her best too. The markings were plentiful when she made the scene. But reading his book, ideas and insights scrawled in his hand -- the same hand that scrawled across my papers -- connected me to him. It made me see him in a different light, I guess. He became more human.
When I ask my students to annotate the text, there are those who leap in with wild abandon and those who gasp and hem and haw and dance at the edge, afraid. It feels wrong to mark the book. For many, it's an act of desecration. It takes some time to teach them it's not desecration at all, but an act of love. An act of commitment. You're blazing a trail. I always offer them Peter Stephens' explanation on the importance of marking books. You can read his ideas here. He's articulate and honest. When I revisit a book I've read, I've left a trail of bread crumbs. I get to see who I was as a reader and a thinker. Often I recognize myself. Other times I meet a stranger. Every time it's interesting.
We're reading Fences in class. I'm rereading Act 2. It's already marked. I've already established a trail. I've hung signposts. But each reading is new, informed by experience. What will I discover tonight? What enclave will I explore? What will resonate? And the pattern continues. How lucky to tuck myself into bed each night, book and pen in hand, ready to blaze trails, to light lanterns.