I'm running low on copies of my (tragically) out-of-print novel, so I ordered a couple for $1 each from one of those used book warehouses (that are now doing to small used-book stores what Amazon did to independent bookstores). I was thrilled to see that someone had underlined something in one of the copies, though only one line: "I'm sorry. It's boring to hear about other people's dreams."
Seriously, I love that. I love seeing evidence that someone actually read that bit and had a thought about it... and that by the weird process that the book-writing business is, a thought from my head whirled out into the world and came back underlined.
And why that line? And what made the reader pick up her pencil that moment, and no other?
(Reminded me of another weird writing moment, when I was listening to my husband read a story for Selected Shorts at the Symphony Space theater, and the story included a rotten pork chop. And I suddenly remembered where that pork chop came from: it had been left by college students, several years before, in the freezer of an apartment my mother owned in Fredonia, New York. How bizarre it was to have that pork chop come floating back into existence in a darkened theater in the city.)
Which is why I think people should write in books. I love the idea of a book as a conversation, or as an artifact that is physically altered by the act of being read. (A friend once cut up, glued, and painted a copy of my book and turned it into a sculpture. She worried that I'd be offended, but it was an incredible honor.) Why should a book look and feel unread if it's actually spent time with someone, had a relationship with someone?
JRL doesn't really agree with me, and won't even dog-ear a page. But he doesn't seem to mind the other thing I like to do: slipping notes and letters and business cards and whatever between the pages to find years later, or whenever I next take a book off the shelf.
What do you think? Clean or cluttered pages?