On How to Mark a Book: “I’m not suggesting that you mark every book you own, any more than I would suggest that my dog mark every tree he sniffs. But you should be free to mark up most books in the most worthwhile core of your collection. My dog has his favorites, and so should you.”

A friend this week pointed me to an interview of George Steiner, the literary critic, on YouTube.  In the middle of it, Steiner explicates a Chardin painting, “Le Philosophe Lisant.”  He draws some significance from its reader’s pen:

He has his pen next to his reading.  Serious reading means you read with a pen.  What do you do with a pen?  You underline, you take notes on the page, you write around the margin.  What are you really doing?  You are in dialog with the book, you are answering it, you are speaking to it, and if you are very arrogant and very ambitious, you are saying secretly, you can write a better one.  And that is the beginning of a certain relationship of passionate joy and love with the text.

When I was in my twenties, an itinerant preacher visited our little church.  Mid-message, he asked,  “Who has a Bible that he can’t write in?”

I raised my hand.

“Well, would you get one that you can write in?” he thundered.  A canned rejoinder.

“Oh, I have one of those, too!”

Both our faces went red.

I never saw him again, but I still love him, despite the conventions that we labored under.

By Peter

After stints as a trial lawyer and a church worker, Peter Stephens has settled in as a Virginia high school English teacher. Peter has read several books and poems. He wrote none of the posts below filed under "Passages." Click the link at the end of each post to see it in the context of the author's original post.

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