I have always marked up books while I read -my Dad used to do this and I loved reading his notes scrawled in the margins. My marking up takes all kinds of forms (i.e. highlighter, scribbles, symbols, circled words) and has a variety of purposes. Sometimes I admire the author’s style, or find a bit of dialogue that I want to share with my book club. Maybe it’s a passage in a book I’m reading with my students that we absolutely have to talk about. It could be a word that catches my fancy, or a place where I’m annoyed with the writer and wish I could tell her, or him, so.
Recently I find myself marking up places in books where the author has created an image that catches my fancy, that makes me see or feel something in a new, fresh way – all done with words! I am a bit fixated with descriptions of place at the moment. Just yesterday I copied an entire paragraph from Jane Gardam’s Last Friends, the 3rd book in the Old Filth trilogy. The passage describes the sea in Terry’s hometown using words to depict an image of an unfriendly beach with “derelict gray dunes… empty except for knives of grey grasses”, creating a glum mood.
I copied a number of sentences from Marilynne Robinson’s Lila into my journal, including: “They stood there together in the road, in the chirping, rustling silence and the sound of the river.” How beautiful, and unexpected – the silence felt by two people in spite of all of the noises. Of course I’ve experienced that. Or, Colum McCann in Transatlantic describes a wind “that muscled its way into the grass” – I love the use of the word muscled and can totally see and feel the grass rippling.
I am working on my own verbal images to describe place, using these “mentor” texts to spur me towards fresh sensory language. (Without overdoing it, of course. But, as our students often do, we sometimes have to go overboard with a new idea before we conquer it. We’ll see.)