Memoir of a Highlighted Life

I know ebooks are coming on like gangbusters, the total wave of the future, but how in the world will we be able to highlight important words and thoughts? Yes, I can highlight on my iPad, but using my finger and the result on the text is far from satisfying.

I want a good, old-fashioned highlighter, thank you. I am persnickety about them, too. I use bright ink highlighters for most books, dry-type for thin paper, and both style with clips, so I can attach them to books, book jackets and covers. My favorite highlighter color is yellow, although I have gone through pink, blue, and orange periods. When I don’t have a highlighter, I judiciously use an ink pen. Really striking thoughts get a star.

For the first half of my life I never marked in a book. For our family, books were dear and priceless, (certainly more dear than today’s Kindle), and mostly not our own. I never entered a bookstore before adulthood. Ah, but libraries! I can recall going up the walkway into the library, trailing behind my mother, at the age of five. I would come out of the library trailing her in the same way, my skinny little arms bearing books. I imagine I wobbled to the car under the load.

There never was a torn page or crayon mark in any book in our home. Those Little Golden Books that some families have with crayon-scribbled pages and tossed helter-skelter in toy boxes–that did not go on at our house. For one thing, our family was too poor to spend 25 cents for a Little Golden Book. We did have Humpty Dumpty magazine, and even in it, no page was ever torn or colored upon. The connect-the-dots page was done very carefully. Our parents smoked, drank, and carried on, but never, ever marked in a book. To damage a book in any way was the greatest of sins in our family.

I was well into my thirties, with three published novels to my credit, when one day the daughter of a friend sat down near me with a novel she was studying for college English. She had an ink pen clipped to the book. When she left the table for a few minutes, I took the opportunity to open the book and avidly read all her underlined passages. I was fascinated.

For the first time, the thought occurred: “You are an adult. You own books. You can mark in them.” After that, I kept an ink pen (blue ink) clipped to each book I read, and I underlined with great abandon passages of thought and wit that struck me.

Then I discovered highlighters. My husband even took to buying me packets of highlighters for Christmas. He liked to buy the packets with varying colors. I have developed the habit of taking out the yellow ones and throwing the rest in a drawer. When I die, or if burglars strike, someone is going to open that drawer and wonder why I am hording every color of highlighter, except yellow.

Once I mentioned how much I enjoyed highlighting my books, and a friend said, “You devalue the books when you do that. No one wants to buy them.”

All the old sinful feeling of childhood washed over me for about ten minutes. Then the realization dawned of the joy and excitement I get when highlighting a thought I want to somehow press into my mind, or make it easy to find it again. My highlighting is evidence that a book is worth reading, and I have no intention of selling it.

I am fascinated by books that people have highlighted or marked in some fashion. When I come upon marked pages in a used book, I will instantly stop to read. I want to see if I agree that the passage was worth noting. Reading books that have been previously highlighted or marked is like peering through the lit windows of the homes of strangers at night.

I have inherited Bibles belonging to my mother-in-law and father-in-law–Big Mama and Pa. I am boosted by the underlining and notes made on the worn pages. Pens were used in their era. Most of the underlining in Big Mama’s Bible is done in purple ink, her very favorite. It is as if she speaks to me with those underlines.

In some of the books on my shelves, I have passages highlighted, underlined in ink, and starred. When I turn to those pages, I know instantly that there is something on them that is vastly important to me, and I want to see what it is. On occasion nowadays, I re-read a book and get the main points by reading only the highlighted parts.

Sometimes I imagine years from now, hopefully, when my son and grandchildren, and perfect strangers, who have bought my library of books from the sale spread out in the yard after I’m gone. I imagine them reading through my highlights and seeing my whole life.

Blessings until next time,