The Book You Can’t Check Out of the Library by Brandon Taper
The library is an open door to all who desire entry regardless of how much standing or sterling you have. Through that door, the library dares offer to everyone the treasures historically reserved for sultans, kings, and the rarefied elect.
We have movies new and old. We have magazines popular and esoteric. And of course, volumes of every imaginable kind of writing. And with each check-out experience is the promise, not written on any receipt nor spoken by any clerk, yet felt deeply by both employee and patron, of “More treasure tomorrow.”
But there exists a book which our library, or any library, cannot check out to you. No vendor stocks it, no collector prizes it, and no one can copy it for you. And yet it is a treasure all the same.
The book in question is the one penned by you. The book you write yourself in response to all of the other books that you take in and pore over and sift through and struggle with.
Since my school-age years, I’ve kept a notebook of reactions to and reflections on the books I am reading. Affectionately titled “Notes and Quotes,” this book gathers together the parts of a text that most impress themselves upon me (a beautiful piece of prose, a curious description, a frustrating turn of phrase) followed by my reaction to those parts (a reflection of awe, a bawdy giggle of applause, a harried harrumph of agitation). The result is a personally curated collection of meanings and gleanings, of great lines and dashed off thoughts.
Will I be quizzed on any of these writings? No, of course not. Thankfully, those days are long past. The joy of keeping this kind of book, this reading companion, beyond the layering of new thoughts upon new interpretations, like a fortified soil made of ink and paper, is the opportunity to revisit it later and to rediscover where my mind was at any particular moment in my reading life.
Some of these notes can elicit a blush or a series of rapid-fire eye rolls. Others are merely unpolished or nonsensical. But it is a good and necessary thing to be reminded that one is not Cicero, that one is rather quite capable of conflicting thoughts, didactic dead-ends, and even perfect incomprehension. We should bump into such truths more often in life.
These moments of rediscovery –finding past flashes of brilliance and embarrassment, reliving earlier whimsy and wistfulness– are the ones that make me smile most unabashedly. Here too the notebook offers a lesson about life and livre:
When you stumble upon either a past masterstroke or misstep, when you glimpse a line that now rings hollow or a passage that made little sense before but clicks finely into place today, just smile at the memory, smile at having the memory, at having done anything at all.
And then turn the page for more treasure tomorrow.