In home-decorating lingo, I’m what they call anal. My wardrobe is color-ordered. My library is Dewey-decimalized. My linen is fold-perfect – corner to corner, edge to edge, smooth lines facing out. Neatness and order bring me calm, as well as something I can best describe as happiness.
Until recently, my books were pristine. I’d buy only perfect-condition volumes and read them with care to avoid breaking the spine or curling the corners.
If I thought I might want to return to a beautiful passage of fiction, I’d try to remember the page number. Effectiveness rating: 0%.
To look up an index, I’d perform minor acrobatics to hold open the index page while contorting myself to plaster the relevant sections with post-it notes (to be removed later). It produced neck twinges and paper cuts, and looking up the topic again, as I sometimes do, meant repeating the gymnastics. Annoyingness rating: 100%.
One day, feeling particularly put out by these contortions, I dog-eared an index page and highlighted the entry. I looked around. Nothing happened. I did the same with each reference. Armageddon remained at bay. I kept going, defacing the book but also, strangely, engaging with it. When I’d finished and closed the book it seemed heavier, like the little folds had trapped something extra in them.
I tried it with fiction, dog-earing a page of wonderful prose. I closed the book, then re-opened it at the dog-ear. There was the passage: lovely and accessible.
I now routinely highlight, annotate, spine-crack and dog-ear my books. Before, we had an acquaintance – one-sided and aloof. Now, we have a relationship.
And as with any relationship, we each make our mark on the other.