Confessed sacrilegious | THE VIEWER

It is public knowledge that by lending an underlined book we are showing others a part of our privacy. The lines we draw to highlight the passages we like the most constitute a bond between the book and us, like the recognizable scars on a lover’s body. There are those who prefer not to underline their books so as not to disrespect their integrity. The day I told Camilo that I was writing about this, he responded with a message: “Are you writing about the sacrilege of underlining books, when you have stickers And can you make notes in an agenda? “Of that sacrilege?” Her tone went from horrified to didactic: “Sorayda, books are not underlined. There are some stickers What do you put where you want to remember an appointment. If you can’t control your urge to scratch, you scratch the stickerand that’s it.”

It is a respectable opinion, but the dimension of my connection with a book is reflected in the marks I leave on it. If I had to present a plea before a court, I would rely on the wisdom of Umberto Eco: “For the love of a beautiful book we are willing to do anything base.”

Before deciding on the variety of blue tones of Alpino pencils, I underlined my books – considering some exceptions – with fluorescent markers. A foolishness that I regret daily. I have sometimes thought about replacing the books that I underlined with those markers during an adolescent outbreak that lasted longer than advisable. Considering the possibility of making amends for my fault, I realized what the renovation plan was going to cost and I had no choice but to take the blame.

I have contemplated using those stickers which my friend likes and which I prefer to call “eyelashes”. I go to them only when it comes to old books, photography, paintings or illustrated albums. I stopped using them with others because I found that in each case my experience is different. The stroke with the pencil makes my attention stop on each of the words that I underline, a gesture that helps the fragment, or a good part of it, to remain recorded in my memory as if I had written it myself. Although it is true that over the years I cannot remember it in its entirety, I can easily locate the pages marked with the blue lines. Using tabs is more like riding a fast train. The tabs are signs that tell me the name of a town I once passed through. It may be that as I passed by I saw something that caught my attention, but the intensity of the first emotion does not remain so vivid in my memories. If there is no scar, it is as if a wound had never existed.

Is underlining books an act of literary vandalism or a symptom of bibliophilia? In a 1991 lecture, Umberto Eco said that bibliophilia is a manifestation of the love of books. He spoke about the different types of bibliophiles, among them, those who read with a marker in hand: “The reading lover, or the scholar, loves to highlight contemporary books, among other things because, over the years, a certain type of underlining, a mark in the margin, a variation between black marker and red marker, remind you of a reading experience.”

Other confessed sacrilegists were Julio Cortázar, William Blake, Alejandra Pizarnik and George Steiner. In addition to practicing the art of underlining, they all wrote notes in the margins of their books. The good Cortázar was not content with marking his favorite passages, he also pointed out his disagreements with the authors, argued with them at the point of a pencil and did not forgive them for a single mistake. On the first page of Paradiso, Lezama Lima’s novel, he noted: “Why so many typos, Lezama?”

I chose a book from the shelves to photograph a page with an underlined fragment. After seeing the photo, Camilo could fulfill his warning to “tear his clothes with anger.” It is a copy of Editorial Sudamericana that was printed in Buenos Aires in 1946, Strange Fruit, by Lillian Smith. I vaguely remember the face of the old bookseller who sold it to me in Barcelona. The story the novel tells appears fragmented to me. But on one of its pages I found the trace of our shared hours: “And the white boys whistled softly when she walked down the street and said dirty words and rubbed their mouths with the back of their hands, because Nonnie Anderson, with her soft black hair brushing her face and those black eyes set on a face that by divine right should belong to a white girl, it was something you had to look at twice.” I could see the lovely Nonnie Anderson crossing the railroad tracks, returning from that place where she was waiting for him to summon her again.

Camilo’s indignation was evident again: “And in colors! Do me a favor. Why don’t you draw a little tree next to it, or a yellow sun?”

I think that if you remembered that from a certain age onwards, rereading all the books we like is humanly impossible, the practice of underlining would seem less crazy to you. Life is so short. That could be the motto of confessed sacrilegists: we underline to know where to look twice.

 
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