Notes In The Margins

I adore books. All books. No matter what the subject matter, I love their feel, their smell, the promise of what’s contained within, the delight of discovery.

I love being in bookshops, in the library, immersed in the written word.

It’s this enduring love affair that’s aroused my curiosity about the early conditioning of childhood and how we overturn it – or not.

My home is full of books, some of which may, quite possibly, never be re-read, but from whom I can’t bear to be parted.

They have a resonance to periods of my life, to places I’ve visited, to people I know or would like to meet.

Some are thoughtfully chosen gifts from my family and friends. They bring learning and insight, solace and escape, laughter and contemplation.

Small wonder then, that they are cherished possessions and treated accordingly.

My childhood books had to be treated with respect. They were to be handled carefully, not scribbled on or eaten over.

Heaven forbid that an errant crumb might lodge itself into the spine, or worse, remain undetected until a grease spot had materialised on the page.

No page corners were to be turned down, or spines bent back. In short, they were to remain in pristine condition.

At school, the nuns adhered to rigorous standards of book care, seizing any opportunity to remonstrate with their young charges should a writing implement hover anywhere near a margin.

Corporal punishment wasn’t allowed, but a tongue lashing of epic proportion could be delivered if a text book wasn’t covered in impenetrable plastic outside and revered within.

Fast forward a number of years to life as a mature student, where my text books were my own and I frequently noted fellow students not only scribbling in the margins, but to my total amazement, using highlighter pens on the pages and turning down the corners.

Logic dictated that my revision could be made so much easier by this simple expedient. ‘Go on’ urged that little inner voice we all know so well. ‘Just do it’.  But no,  I just can’t bring myself to do it.  It looked – and felt – like desecration.

Now, in my life as a writer I have even more of my own reference books.

One day I tried turning down the corner of a frequently referenced page.  It produced such a sense of guilt that I hurtled for the nearest bookmark.

Given my avowed love of my books, it should come as no surprise that I have this aversion and I’ve decided that I can live with it.

What arouses my curiosity is that this seemingly insignificant piece of early conditioning – or less kindly, brainwashing – refuses to be overturned, a trace that won’t be kicked over,  unlike so many of the others.


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