Saturday, September 25, 2010

Book Marks

We didn't have many books in the house where I grew up, and because I couldn't afford to buy enough paperbacks to feed my science-fiction habit, most of my reading material came from the local library. It was modern, well-lighted, and amply stocked; when I had exhausted its science-fiction collection, I moved on to what we inside the genre call mainstream novels (starting, as I recall, with John Updike's Rabbit Redux, which hooked me because of the odd and arresting title, and the fact that it began on the day of the Apollo 11 moon landing). And it was amongst the mainstream novels that I first encountered tracks of the library-book annotators: readers who couldn't keep their thoughts to themselves, victims of a kind of literary Tourette's syndrome that compelled them to underscore words, sentences, and whole paragraphs, and sprinkle the margins with pointless exclamation marks and remarks.

It always annoyed me; always struck me as a pernicious form of vandalism. I valued books because they were an important part of my life and I possessed so few of my own. And besides, why should I care what strangers thought about the books I'd chosen to read? Their jotted egoblurts annoyingly snagged my attention, and were never interesting, polarised between so true! and utter rubbish! Accumulating my own library, it never occurred to me to jot my own thoughts in the books I owned. Even when I had a regular gig reviewing for Interzone magazine, I wrote notes on sheets of scrap paper as I went along, keyed to page and line, rather than scribble in the margins of review copies. So reading this excellent article about author's libraries and the value of annotation, has given me pause for thought. Can it be true that all this time I've been denying posterity the opportunity to peer into my thoughts? Why, I haven't even signed any of the copies of my own books that I keep on my ego shelves . . .

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Dude, Where's My Human-Powered Ornithopter?

Right here. Leonardo would be thrilled. Pasquale would be appalled.
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