As I’m writing this, my partner is reading in a chair nearby and underlining with such ferocity that it sounds more like he’s coloring entire pages black rather than marking single sentences or key passages. How do you even recognize what’s important later if you’ve essentially underlined entire pages with lunatic eight- or nine-tiered lines, most so heavy they underline or strike-through sentences on the reverse page as well? He assures me he has a system. And he’s reading for school.
No longer a student myself, I’ve all-but abandoned underlining. This seems sad–a sort of defeated acknowledgment that I rarely go back and seek out the sentences I once loved. But just as some notes are taken with the understanding that you may never re-read them–that the act of writing alone will help you store what’s important–underlining is maybe just a way to celebrate a line, to touch the page that’s coming alive in your brain, a kind of physical communion akin to the way we clutch books to our chest, or describe wanting to clutch them to our chests, just hold them there, take them around with us as we go about our days.
I do dog-ear, sparingly–miserly-y, really–using a system of precise folds intended to underline or point to the exact sentence I believe, at the time, that I’ll want to visit later, or that I at least love so much in the moment that I need some kind of ritual, however tiny, to mark our romance.
Sam Anderson, New York magazine’s book critic, described the feeling of falling in love with a sentence in a recent review of Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom: “Some of Freedom’s sentences are so well-written you want to pluck them out, stab them with little corn holders, and eat them: ???Like a cold spring at the bottom of a warmer lake, old Swedish-gened depression was seeping up inside him.’” I wanted to eat some of Freedom’s sentences, too: “She was like an imaginary friend who happened to be visible.” And the book I read last, Jennifer Egan’s marvelous A Visit from the Goon Squad, was also full of edible sentences, one preserved here, on my very favorite tumblr blog (I’m still trying to get used to the word “blog,” and now I’m supposed to earnestly employ the word “tumblelog,” too?).
Maybe this is the modern way of underlining or corn-holding: sharing your favorite lines on Tumblr or facebook or goodreads, where you can not only find them later (assisted by Google’s long memory), but others might see them, too, and want to read a book just based on one sparkling bit that you loved. Here’s one, then, from the book I’m reading now, Skippy Dies by Paul Murray:
You know, you spend your childhood watching TV, assuming that at some point in the future everything you see there will one day happen to you: that you too will win a Formula One race, hop a train, foil a group of terrorists, tell someone ???Give me the gun’, etc. Then you start secondary school, and suddenly everyone’s asking you about your career plans and your long-term goals, and by goals they don’t mean the kind you are planning to score in the FA Cup. Gradually the awful truth dawns on you: that Santa Claus was just the tip of the iceberg–that your future will not be the rollercoaster ride you’d imagined, that the world occupied by your parents, the world of washing the dishes, going to the dentist, weekend trips to the DIY superstore to buy floor-tiles, is actually largely what people mean when they speak of ???life.’ Now, with every day that passes, another door seems to close, the one marked PROFESSIONAL STUNTMAN, or FIGHT EVIL ROBOT, until as the weeks go by and the doors–GET BITTEN BY SNAKE, SAVE WORLD FROM ASTEROID, DISMANTLE BOMB WITH SECONDS TO SPARE–keep closing, you begin to hear the sound as a good thing, and start closing some yourself, even ones that didn’t necessarily need to be closed“
The very next line contains the butter-and-salt-able phrase “grim de-dreamification” (referenced in this post’s title), but you’ll have to pick up the book itself for that.