Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Pencil pusher

Reading All the King's Men, by Robert Penn Warren. This volume is different, in that apart from the plot and its drama, there's also a tiny duel between two previous readers of the book, carried out with their notes, all over the text.

An unfortunate side effect of getting your books from a university library is that they are often heavily marked or highlighted. Sometimes I can overlook it, sometimes the markings are so distracting I can hardly concentrate on the book, and sometimes (rarely) reader comments, written in the margins, are almost as entertaining as the text itself. I was raised to believe that marking in books is a vulgar, rude, and gross habit. My mother was fond of specifying the sorts of things that we did or did not do, and we did not write in books. If you need to underline a sentence that says, say "Jack Burden was very popular," and then write "popularity" in the margin, perhaps literature is not your field.

Anyway: All the King's Men. Some pencil-pushing prick took it upon himself to fussily correct Robert Penn Warren's grammar throughout the text. Any time a sentence starts with the word "well" the pencil pusher has circled it. He also objects to Warren's use of "was"--crossing it out and writing "were" in the margin dozens of times and further making himself obnoxious by adding penciled commas and other editorial marks. How do I know the Pencil-Pusher is man? Because he hates women. In the margin on one page he wrote, "It's all the fault of the damn woman," and "Cherchez la femme."

Then there's the Red Pen Person (also male, I suspect) who, enraged at the Pencil-Pusher's antics, wrote "devil" or "freak," and in one case, "dude, go get some fresh air" under his corrections, along with copious red underlining of text. (A third commenter interjected with "Who is this misogynistic jerk?" in response to the Pencil-pusher, who tacked the following ending onto one of Warren's sentences: "I still hadn't learned that she's no good for any man.")

In other words, there's quite a lively conversation happening in my copy of All the King's Men. Here's what I have to say to the Pencil-pusher:  Sir, you are a loser. There is no doubt in my mind that Robert Penn Warren can write circles around you. Believe me, I'm the first person to deride a badly-written novel, but All the King's Men is a masterpiece and who are you with your "weres" and your commas and your prickish little pencil?  Remove the pencil from your own eye before pointing out the dangling participle in another's.

To red pen man: Dude, go outside and get some fresh air.  I believe we are in agreement about the pencil man, but, red pen?  Really?

To the third person:  Well said.

*Disclosure:  I originally wrote this in September, 2007, and came across it while browsing my stats and it made me laugh out loud.  I know it's a bit pathetic that I am mining my own content for content.  On the other hand, it got something like four page views, so it will be new to most of you. Link to All the King's Men is affiliate. If you are so inclined, entertain me in the comments with stories of ridiculous things you've found in library books.  (I confess, that despite my upbringing, I did once write, very lightly in pencil, "Lies! All Lies!" next to a paragraph in a parenting book that discouraged breastfeeding beyond the first year.)

11 comments:

  1. I'm going to guess these were men with either no lives or lives that were so repressive and suffocating that adding notes to the margins of library books was the only outlet they had.

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  2. Writing in library books does show a certain lack of civility, although it sounds like it was quite entertaining to read.

    When I was taking a Great Books class in college, I was able to borrow my parents' copies of the Greek plays we were reading. They were wonderfully annotated in both sets of handwriting (both of them taught the class at different times), and I learned so much from them --I have very fond memories of those annotations.

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  3. I LOVE All the King's Men! LOVE. If you translate the Italian quotes from Dante, it lends even more meaning to the text. I was lucky enough to have a friend who spoke Italian who explained that to me.

    Best book ever.

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    1. I will have to reread it with that in mind. My daughter is taking Italian this year, so maybe she can help me.

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  4. Finally, a book review of a book I've read!

    I do not approve of writing in books, although somewhere along the way I got over that to write notes in my cookbooks, where it's quite handy to have them.

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    1. Cookbooks are definitely an exception to that rule!

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  5. Well (circle!!) my mother specified that one must never repost blog entries. I hope one can hear the sarcasm, as it was (were).

    Writing in books is sacrilege, cookbooks excepted. I haven't run into many annotated books but I do find lots of disgusting food bits stuck to pages. I also found a letter written to what I think was a therapist/psychologist in one book. That was embarrassing.

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  6. Well played, @Not Beehive!

    My first reaction is that patrons writing in library books means that civilization is doomed. But how fascinating to find that conversation there.

    I generally cannot write in books, but I am writing my comments in pencil in some books I have been asked to read for church. And I do write all over my cookbooks.

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    1. I don't find a ton of writing in books from the public library, but the university library has some real doozies. Maybe people think that because they're paying tuition, they're entitled to write in the books? Cookbooks totally don't count in the no-write rule. I write in my cookbooks too. It's practically a requirement.

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  7. I've never read a review of the NOTES on a book, but what a find! And the commentary ON commentary--precious!
    Years ago I worked at a public library in a small town and people would write their little reviews of books in the front covers, a practice I found charming.

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