I’m re-reading Infinite Jest, finally. I found a nice first-edition hardcover at Pulp Fiction this weekend and decided it was time for another round. I can already tell it’s going to be even better the second time.
Sometimes second-hand books contain underlining or marginal notes. I like that. Highlighter or ink marks are vulgar and distracting of course, but you usually don’t find those in used-book stores, more in libraries. Last summer the library hung enormous skrim vinyl banners printed with blown-up pages on which people had made extensive, sometimes amusing, notes and lines. I doubt the authors of the marginalia ever saw those banners, but I wonder what they would have thought of their notes being put up on display like that. It would probably be like someone enlarging your grocery list and hanging it in an art gallery; not really an invasion of privacy, but it would still seem kind of creepy I would think. Probably worse, because your grocery list doesn’t broadcast your failure to make sense of Milton’s Paradise Lost. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
But I enjoy sparse graphite marginalia, it’s like a little window into someone’s private experience with a book. Especially a book as great and enormous as Infinite Jest, you know someone spent a lot of time with it, stared at it for hours and hours, and the pages contain evidence of the attention. It’s part of what makes a book object-like, as opposed to a neutral medium for information like a computer screen. It’s sort of trite to say so but my moderate bibliomania involves a serious affection for books as physical things.
The previous owner of my Infinite Jest had underlined the following words:
– anomalous gigantism
That’s just the first seventeen pages. As a list of words to look up, it struck me as odd that they included “infantophile,” which seems like a word any English speaker could pretty easily puzzle out, and “vectors” which is pretty much ubiquitous. But yet they didn’t underline a word I had to look up: “lapidary.” A lapidary is someone who works with semi-precious stones; from the latin “lapis,” meaning stone. So I underlined it.