Saturday, June 10, 2006

What Shall We Do, What Shall We Do, With All this Useless Marking?

I have been reading very slowly lately, which is frustrating when you're reading a long book--namely, Neal Stephenson's 900-plus-page whopper Cryptonomicon. The prologue is quintessential, kick-in-the-ass, hysterical, street-smart Stephenson, but as his plots thicken, Stephenson is bound to get into technical detail (or something like it--the entire middle of Snow Crash is pretty intricate but not what I'd strictly call technical). His explanations of the finer points of cryptology are worth reading, just not when I'm about to fall asleep. I digress!


Last night I just wanted to read some entertaining junk, so I tried Complicated Shadows: The Life and Music of Elvis Costello by Graeme Thomson, which I bought used at Amaranth Books in Evanston. For the most part it bored me (I went back to the brick-o'-Neal for a while), but the one who came before me must have been fascinated. I noticed the first few pages had been carpet-bombed in pencil--underlines and parentheses everywhere. Then I flipped around and found that EVERY FUCKING PAGE had been marked up, so much that it got difficult for me to concentrate. Example: Page 105, which I did not read to. I think I quit around page 10. You'll probably have to click on the pic and look at the large version to make all the marks out.

I'm a cheap fiend who buys a lot of used books, so I'm used to reading around college students' dutiful highlighting and margin notes, because those usually serve to emphasize a manageable number of quotes, facts, and/or ideas. But this person started marking stuff--"OK, I want to come back to this, and this, and this, and this"--until he/she ended up deciding to try and remember the whole damn thing. These aren't just the random marks of someone following the words with a pencil--notice how the underlines and parentheses always seem to cleanly mark a coherent fragment, or just one word.

I bet this dutiful Elvis tracker managed to win free tickets for tomorrow's Ravinia performance. I just now remembered to order a lawn ticket. More on that Monday. Or maybe this person brought the book to Amaranth completely embarrased by his/her obsessive actions, forgot the whole affair, went home and put on King of America and let the memory fizzle out.

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