mardi 30 août 2011

What we do to books

What We Do to Books - Geoff Dyer in The New York Times.

I bought a remaindered copy of the British edition of Richard Overy’s “Why the Allies Won” (Pimlico) for £4.95 at Judd Books in London on Dec. 11, 2010 — I always write the date and place of purchase on the flyleaf, in pencil. A large-format paperback, it has a color-manipulated photo of a bloated German corpse on the cover, thereby suggesting that the Allies won because the Axis powers lost. It’s a dense work of analysis, lacking the propulsion we associate with the narrative histories of Antony Beevor or John Keegan, so even when immersed in the book — after a purchase-to-start-it lag of several months — I was unable to concentrate on it for more than an hour at a time. As a result it was lugged around to many places, in various bags, on planes and trains. In the process the corners became curled and the spine wrinkled. Spreading in direct proportion to the amount of the book’s contents that were being loaded into my brain, those creases became the external embodiment of the furrow-browed effort that reading it required. After a while, as these grooves deepened, the book refused to close completely when I laid it down. I love this. In the biblio equivalent of the corner of a bed being turned down, inviting you to get in, it’s as if the book were encouraging you not to abandon it, to keep at it. Which I did. I made notes, put pencil marks by passages that strikingly revised my understanding of the war: “For most of the Second World War Britain and the United States fought a predominantly naval conflict. . . . ” Hmmm. In addition to these annotations a couple of pages are marked by blotches of brown dried blood. George Steiner wrote somewhere that an intellectual is someone who can’t read a book without a pencil in his or her hand. My version of this compulsion is that I can’t seem to read without picking my nose — hence the blood stains.