This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, August 7, 2002

August 7, 2002 - Writing in the Margins

I was shocked and appalled to find out that John Adams, architect of the Constitution, 2nd President of these United States, actually (and I still can't believe this) wrote in the margins of almost every book he owned.

In one book, his marginal comments were actually longer than the book itself. Clearly, he took more pleasure in his disagreements than in the writing.

What are we to make of such a travesty?

It's possible, of course, that I'm a little demented on this subject. I have never struck either of my children, but, once, I did yell at one of them, at some length, with deep and genuine anger. She had written in one of our books, scribbled right over a title page.

OK, she was 2 years old. But a title page!

My reaction was utter horror. And that response -- out of all previous bounds of predictable behavior -- did the trick. She never wrote in one again. (Do I feel bad about that? Yes ... and no.)

Years ago, I had a library board member who came in and casually tossed a history book on the circulation desk. I walked up just as the circulation clerk opened the book, and stared uncomfortably at the inked margins.

"There were several errors," said my board member, haughtily. She glanced at me. "I have corrected them."

"You've done more than that," I said savagely. "You've BOUGHT this book. We will, of course, replace the copy you defaced." I might have lost my job. But it never crossed my mind. It was all I could do not to call the police.

I admit that my own grandfather also had this incomprehensible illness. I further confess that I found it interesting to see what he underlined and quarreled with. It gave me unexpected insights into his values.

But mainly, I kept thinking. "Granddad, you RUINED these books!" I was ashamed for him.

I suppose it's tempting, in this electronic age, to think that a book is no more than a kind of bound Post-It note. But I have books in my private collection that are more a century old. They have survived (thank God) the vandalism of generations. They retain the integrity of their typography. They make the statement their designers intended, their enduring look exempt from incidental graffiti.

And those comments! I've seen them. On an artfully crafted page, next to some precisely turned phrase, some imbecile scrawls "True!" Thank you!

Or to some thoughtful argument, rejoins the anonymous, "Oh?" Or "I disagree!"

People. Please. Unless you are John Adams (and I'm guessing here that you are NOT) keep your idle side commentaries to yourself.

Books, you see, have a life of their own. They pass from our too often indifferent care through book sales and bequests and personal loans to the hands of others. The people who tender their hard-earned cash for the privilege of considering the organized thoughts of writers really aren't interested in your random lapses of synapses.

To quote Granddad again, "Everyone is entitled to his opinion. But some opinions are better than others." Have a little respect for those few who actually got edited, got typeset, got distributed. If you must write in other people's books, at least have the decency to use a pencil.

Grumble. A President of the United States!

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