An Unexpected Gift From My Father

Monday, October 22, 2018

Delray Beach, FL– My friend Steve Leveen and I once had an enjoyable exchange on the question of whether you should write in the books you read.

There were good arguments on both sides. If, for example, you are reading the first edition of what might, one day, become an important book, it would be foolish to mark it up. If, on the other hand, you are reading a non-fiction book on a topic that’s important to you, underlining and marginalia could be very helpful when you want to refer back to it.

And here’s another argument in favor of marginalia: My brother Andrew just sent me a coverless and battered early edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses. “I ran across Dad’s annotated copy,” he said, “while cleaning out his basement. You were always the modernist. So I thought I’d pass it along.”

I looked through the book and, sure enough, there were notes on almost every page. Notes that he wrote in preparation for teaching. Some were scholarly (i.e., “See E Pound re this”). And some were personal (i.e. “Beautifully put!”).

I’ve sent it out to have it bound in leather. When it comes back I’ll read it. But I ’ll be reading it not for the story or to better understand Joyce but to hear my father speaking.