Found tucked into the French literature section of the library stacks is a 1917 book containing marks made in the margins and throughout the text. Several sections within the book have underlines, which is not too far out of the ordinary. But what seemed most striking in going through these sections was a certain paragraph — underlined — with the words “Do not use” scrawled next to it into the lefthand column.
In this book, only a few pages at the beginning of the chapter contain traces, after that there’s nothing at all. Given this, it can perhaps be said that the mark-maker was utilizing the book for specific research, as opposed to reading the book to gain more knowledge on a broader spectrum of things relating to French literature. Because the individual writing in the margin needed to write “do not use” as a reminder, it wouldn’t seem too far fetched to assume that the making of the original underlines was separated by time from when they went back into the book to get the information they needed. Otherwise, why would they underline the passage in the first place?
Going off in this direction, it’s interesting to think of the human mind’s ability to displace events and imagine scenes that one has never seen before. Going through this book and seeing what other submissions to book traces have turned up, one can’t help to imagine the decisive moment when the reader put their pen or pencil to the page. I myself am guilty of marking up my own books, thus completely understanding the yearning to mark passages that feels like — left unmarked — one will have lost some infinite sentiment, and the ink or graphite or highlighter yellow of a marker will anchor it down into the page, still there to be found when needed once again. Yet, in this case, why make a physical mark reminding oneself not to use a passage as opposed to making a mental note? It’s a curious thing. And beyond that, something one cannot find in the margins of an electronic book. Though, if it were possible to leave crumbs of data behind, showing where notes have been created, erased, or so on — would we even want that? Or would it perhaps be too uncomfortable? These markings we find in books are comforting to a point. In themselves, books can provide comfort. But to remember that in a sea of text there is still human connection is profound in a way. Marching on into an increasingly digital future, where will the connection go?