I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library.
Jorge Luis Borges
One of my favorite websites in the world is Book Riot where a bunch of book lovers write eloquently about, well, books. Their tagline, “always books, never boring” is kind of how I would be inclined to describe my life, except I’m not sure most people can relate. I talk about books all the time in real life in real conversations with real people (partly why I’m still single?) and Book Riot helps make me feel slightly normal. Slightly.
Earlier, while browsing through the site in a somnambulant (yes I made an effort to put that word in there, and yes I learned that word from Gatsby) haze, I stumbled upon this article about “reading rules” and what they say about people. I didn’t think I had reading rules, but after reading it I realized (gasp!) that I do. (This is called an epiphany.) So now I’m wide awake even though it’s after 1 AM on weeknight in Manila and I have a potentially life-changing breakfast meeting tomorrow.
The last time I’ve really had to think about reading as an activity (as opposed to simply performing the activity) was when my friend Barby wrote her college thesis on personal libraries, including mine. She asked me questions about my books and the way I chose and bought and managed and displayed them and other questions that made me uncomfortable (in an intellectual way). I was the only one she met, she said, who had a library system that works. (It still works now.) I never really found out what she ended up saying about me, but she did buy me dinner after so I guess that was a good sign. I think if she were to ask me again now I’d have very different answers. But Barby’s done with school and I might not see her for a while so I guess the next best thing is to write about it.
So to the interested, and especially to those who aren’t, I hereby present my current Reading Rules, and then some, all of which are subject to change, really, without prior notice.
- Buy a new book only after finishing an old one. My father and I once had a “discussion” about this when I spent all my birthday money on expensive-editions-I-always-wanted-to-have-but-could-not-previously-afford. “Are you able to read everything you buy?” he asked me. “Tsk. That’s not the point,” I snapped back. Though it kind of is, in the long term. But for now I like amassing books for my library for when I can afford a house. This rule has spared me from overspending, or, at least, the guilt of overspending. After all, I can live wearing the same clothes over and over, but I can’t possibly just read all the same books!
- As much as possible, buy from bookstores instead of online. This is a personal advocacy of mine. If I want a community in the future where bookstores exist, I have to make damn sure I patronize them. I used to buy a lot of used books: there are plenty of treasures there and it’s a different kind of discovery to see how other readers have loved a book before I did. Unfortunately my doctor tells me I’m allergic to the yeast in the pages of old used books so I have to refrain from them unless I want to die of choking. (Don’t be surprised if I do.) I only buy online those books which are sadly not available here in the Third World, and when I do I get them from The Book Depository because they offer free shipping worldwide!
- No ebooks. This is not really a rule, it’s more like a general pattern I’ve noticed. I do have a dozen books on iBooks, and I’ve tried reading them but I quickly lose interest. It’s like having a long distance relationship that doesn’t work: what can I say, I have physical needs.
- Never borrow. This follows the whole books-as-lovers philosophy that has grown on me over the years. I want to possess every book I experience. Though I don’t mind lending when I’m through.
- “I only read fiction.” I’ve been trying to read books on economics and current events, but I always end up co-reading them with a book of fiction. I guess I just really love stories. Bullet points, however brilliantly argued, bore me. Though I don’t mind a good essay every now and then, I reserve my reading time for the mystical experience that fiction has to offer. Every time I read non-fiction, it hurts, like someone is stabbing my horcrux with a basilisk fang.
- The next book to read must be very different from the last one. If they’re too similar, I mix the plots up. If they’re written by the same author/authors of the same nationality/etc, I tend to get stuck, which I think defeats the purpose of reading at all. So I vary countries of origin, periods, genres and subject matters as much as I can. I also read several short and light books between big chunky heavy ones.
- Reread only when absolutely necessary for survival or sanity. There are books I reread every so often, like The Unbearable Lightness of Being or The Great Gatsby. But as a general rule, I don’t reread. Thousands of books yet remain unbought and unread. Sorry.
- Never read romance novels. As a safety precaution: to cultivate realistic expectations in relationships. I do advocate instructive romance movies.
- There is a special kind of bookmark and special color of highlighter that fits in nicely with each book. These must be chosen prior to starting a new book. I only use green, yellow and orange highlighter, and the color I choose has to do with the color and texture of the page. Bookmarks are chosen for their relative size to the book, and sometimes if the image seems appropriate. (Example: I used a “book foods” bookmark when reading Like Water For Chocolate.)
- There is a “Point of No Return” for every book, usually after about 100 pages. I have a phase when I start “dating” a book and during which I can decide whether to commit to it or not. It can take a while to get in the rhythm of some books (Henry Miller), while others require no effort at all (Jeffrey Eugenides). If it can hold me after Page 100, I’m in.
- Pity the book in mint condition. Creased spines and dog ears are byproducts of optimum interaction. A book needs to be read and felt and loved and made love to, and the best-loved books have battle scars to show for it. I draw the line at torn pages though. There is a difference between scars and amputations.
- Stop at recognizable breaks–ends of chapters, large page breaks, etc. On my trip to Mexico last December (shoutout to my erstwhile Mexican lover), I bought an “intelligent bookmark” from the Franz Mayer Museum shop which is magnetic and has a hole in it that basically allows you to stick it on the very last line you read. But it kind of ruined the pages, so I used it once (The Savage Detectives), and am now back to this rule.
- Annotations are encouraged. Unlike before, however, when I used to write them on the pages themselves, I’ve taken to writing them on post-its and sticking them in the relevant sections. This looks much better. Annotations are comments directly reacting to the text. Notes on the text’s implications in my real personal life are made in a separate book journal. Maybe soon, on this blog.
- Highlights and annotations made by other people borrowing the book are allowed conditionally. The conditions being: a) that the person use a different color highlighter from mine, and b) that the person be smart. And by smart I mean “of an intellectual calibre worthy of permanently marking my books” which is very rare indeed. Once I experimented by having one friend after another write on the margins of my book, culminating in a sort of forum in marginal notes format, but… I’ve bought a new, unmarked copy since.
- Cuddle with the book after finishing. A golden rule in all great lovemaking, and as with men, so with literature. Stroke it, cradle it in my arms, whisper sweet nothings and press it against my ample bosom when I go to bed. Sometimes, cry. Because it’s over now, but it was good while it lasted. And when it was good, it was great. And, on a related note…
- The Overnight Rule: After finishing one book, wait overnight before starting a new one. So as not to hurt the last one’s feelings and so as to keep my own from any sort of confusion. It’s an observation of common decency, really.