Some people consider underlining in books or writing in the margins to be a kind of sacrilege — a “desecration,” as a lapsed Catholic friend of mine recently observed. Personally, I appreciate the corporality of books — I loathe long reading on a screen — but I do not believe in their sacrosanctity. I’m an avid underliner, and a glosser. For me, the only thing better than solving a crossword puzzle is figuring out the significance of a marginal note written in one of my books years ago. “What the hell is this supposed to mean? Why did I write that?”
I’ve encouraged my kids to think of their books as possessions and do what they please with them. (Remainders of my cartoon collection, Only in New Orleans, have served my kids as coloring books for many years.) I even pulled a bunch of junk books out of my personal library once and had each kid burn one in the fireplace — just to emphasize that some books are garbage and deserve no respect. If they offer no light, they can at least provide warmth.
There’s another thing in favor of “hard copy”: You’ll get no kindling out of Kindle.
I was never big on public libraries, either — they remind me of hospitals — but I did read most of Evelyn Waugh’s novels for the first time after checking them out from the main branch on Loyola Avenue in New Orleans — whilst working at a nearby advertising agency. I later bought them all, new or secondhand. I love A Handful of Dust and Scoop, but the three books of his war trilogy are my favorites. I’ve never read anything finer.
Waugh’s most popular work, Brideshead Revisited, was the one I liked the least — next to The Loved One, which, though atrocious, was turned into a hysterical movie starring Jonathan Winters and Rod Steiger! It’s one of the few examples of a movie far superior to the book that inspired it.
Waugh and Wodehouse are my favorite authors (along with Jerome K. Jerome and Harry Leon Wilson). I like the funny stuff. Life is tragic enough. No need to reinforce the gloom.
Most of the books I’ve written in belonged to me, by the way. Not all, but most. Sometimes you want to give the next reader a heads-up.
I once made the mistake of renting a movie about teenaged spy girls called DEBS. It looked harmless enough, but I soon discovered, in front of my kids, that the plot involved a relationship between two of the female antagonists. “Whoops! Let’s watch something else.” When I returned it to the video store, it had a new title: DYKES. Don’t ask me how it got there. I just hope the truth in advertising saved a few parents some embarrassment, and denied some confused kids their full daily dose of inverted indoctrination.