Mark It Up

Ebooks have a lot of good things going for them, not the least of which is that they are portable. The same library that would be several pounds’ worth of print books, bulky and taking up valuable room in the luggage, is easily stored in my tablet or phone; and if I’ve downloaded them to my device instead of leaving them in the cloud, the books are just as accessible, if not more. I call that pretty useful.

I do like print books. Most of my life I’ve read books printed out in paperback or hardcover, occasionally getting crumbs in the spine when I just couldn’t put them away for a food break. My copy of Good Omens has a cracked spine from the fact that I’ve opened it to my favorite scene so many times (the drunk conversation between Aziraphale and Crowley, by the way). There’s a sensory feeling tied to print books that you just can’t get anywhere else.

But maybe because of that singular sensory feeling, I can’t bear to so much as dog-ear a page. The idea of scribbling notes in the margins of pages, let alone highlighting or underlining, makes me wince. The only non-textbook that I’ve done that to is Les Mis, and that’s because I’ve argued about his characters often enough that Victor Hugo can begrudge me some blue highlighter.

Ebooks, on the other hand, don’t offer that sensory experience — so I feel no compunction about marking them up. I highlight my ebooks in blue and pink and orange, I yell at characters in the notes or groan at puns, I bookmark favorite scenes. And if I’m in the mood for a particular book but I don’t want to read the whole thing, I can skip to the “notebook” function (handily available in the Kindle and Google PlayBooks apps) to reread my favorite parts.

That’s something that I missed, before. It’s an amazing kind of freedom to be able to yell at characters and plotlines and fill a note with exclamation points when I see the foreshadowing in a reread. (Can you tell I’m the kind of person who talks during movies?) Listen, I love interacting with media. It’s all sorts of fun. Whether you scribble in your print book or not, that’s great — you do you. I’ll be over here with my phone and the highlighter tool.

Having published a book, I think being able to read the finished product in ebook form is pretty darn neat. Somehow I know I won’t believe it’s  real until I’m actually holding a print copy in my hands. But I don’t care whether you mark up the copy in print or in the ether of the cloud; just so long as you mark it up.

Little Black Book

I have a small black hardcover Moleskine that I keep in my purse. Sometimes I write down funny things that people say, sometimes I make to-do lists, and sometimes I write down excerpts from books or songs that I really like, or scribble notes on why x book that I just read or y movie that I just saw is interesting. Sometimes story ideas make their way in there too, but mostly it’s just whatever happens to be on my mind at the time.

I suppose I could call it a journal or a diary, but those words have connotations that don’t exactly apply to my little black book, I think. “Journal” implies that it is a daily chronicle of my life (and I only update mine when I remember to or when I feel like it); and the last time I wrote the words “Dear Diary” I was seven years old. Haven’t done it since. So yeah — “little black book” suffices.

I’ve been writing in little black books since I was in high school. The first was a gift from my father before a family trip for spring break — and some eight years later, I am now on my thirteenth little black book. Mostly I’ve written them in pencil, sometimes in ballpoint pen, and one book I wrote entirely in glitter gel pens of various colors. Fabulous. One of my little black books is a stained-glass Paperblanks journal (bought at the MMOA), one of them is soft green (a gift from a friend); some of them are lined and some of them are grid squares; I have two new ones with the cellophane wrapping still on them that have Tolkien’s Smaug embossed on the covers, and when I finish my current little black book, Smaug is up for number fourteen.

Rereading the high school little black books is a study of second-hand embarrassment. It’s one thing to remember the things I did as a teenager, but seeing those thoughts spelled out on the page is different. On the one hand — cringe-worthy, it really is. On the other hand — I remember being that kid, and the last thing she would have wanted was someone telling her to take a deep breath and relax. And it’s nice to have a record of how much I’ve changed. I can only imagine what I’ll think of Book Thirteen in five more years.

I haven’t been meticulous about this. I only just started dating the entries as I write them. But there are things that I wrote down that I probably wouldn’t remember otherwise. Watching the sun rise by increments on Myrtle Beach; sheep grazing on a sheer cliff edge just past the guardrails of the twisting road; the rolling green landscape as seen from the window of a train. I remember them better because I nailed them down with words, pinning them like butterflies to cork, imperfectly preserved but still here. And that’s the point, isn’t it?