Saturday, April 2, 2011
From the Depths of Space-Wormwood
This is a picture from a copy of Emile Zola's novel Germinal that I recently bought at a library book sale. It cost me a dollar. It has been sitting on my shelf awaiting its turn to be read. I finally got to it and sat down in my comfy chair to get started. Starting at page one, I was mortified when I realized that many pages of the novel had been written upon, commenting on its contents, the previous readers thoughts and literary analysis of the contents, and otherwise highlighted with what they viewed as important passages. I have determined that the previous owner of this book was an Atheist. Or perhaps a Christian, as every passage that mentions God, or the Church, or the clergy was annotated like in the picture. Perhaps the previous owner was a pervert as well. The religious passages were marked in ball point pen with either a cross as in the picture or with the word Religion or God (capital G) but the passages referring to female body parts, innuendo, or romantic encounters (as benign and tasteful as they are) were highlighted in pink highlighter pen.
This is wormwood.
1) The wonderful thing about reading is that there are already two parties involved in the transaction. The reader is opened up to a new world of the characters and setting of the novel but he is also experiencing the thoughts and ideals of the author. After reading any novel the reader "gets to know" the author a little bit. When I finish this novel it will be just as if I had met Emile Zola and had a brief conversation with him about his world view and opinions on the subject matter of his novel. The previous owner, with his incessant marking up of this book, has forced himself into the relationship Emile and I are developing. It is a relationship that he should not be a part of. I have little interest in "meeting" a nameless person who has this many congealed disparate issues.
2) The markings are a distraction. I am having trouble "getting into" the story because the annotations are constantly drawing my attention to this unwanted 3rd party.
3) The most likely reason the library sold me this book for a dollar is that it has been written in. The library lost value in its property and now will either have to do without this novel or buy another copy. If it does without, this novel's message is lost within the community that frequents the particular library. Who's to say that there is not some message within that may do someone some good. If it buys another copy it is a further drain on its resources that are funded by me and you and other tax payers.
Many years ago, while visiting an elderly woman, I was invited to look through her book shelves for any old books that I might like to read (and keep). As I searched through the battery of handmade book shelves lining both sides of her already narrow hallway I grew excited at the wide selection of historical, religious, and politically themed volumes I could choose from. I am a nut for old books and many in her collection were over 50 years old. I selected one after another that drew my interest and whilst thumbing through the pages I found that she had marked every reference to God, Jesus, the Church with comments (some not very flattering) in red ink. These were not the occasional, fleeting comments, sparsely dotting the margins of a page or two. In some of the books, every page was marked in the same red pen and thin cursive script. The books immediately lost their value to me or to anyone, perhaps, but herself.
Why would she give them away? I can think of only two possibilities. The first is that she was trying to tell me something about herself that she could not speak of on her own and she hoped that in my reading of them I would learn a little about her that she could not bring herself to say to me. The second is that she is a little off-kilter.
In her past, she claims, she left earth for a little while, travelling in a space craft where her hosts educated her on a great many myths that were developed, by man, over the history of his existence. Her annotations documented this extra-terrestrial education that she had received. Now I am faced with a dilemma. Were the markings in her books actual communications from an alien life form? Or were they ramblings from a woman that is no longer really here?
Perhaps, the previous owner of my copy of Zola's Germinal, also received information from outside of our world, opening up the secrets to a great many truths that man has forgotten in his long history. Perhaps there is another party involved in my relationship with Zola that I had not counted on. Perhaps representatives of a mysterious and intelligent race of beings light years away is reaching out to me. I am at a loss. Do I trust this information? If I do not, I am taking the chance that the secrets to the universe that have been handed to me in this book will be lost forever. Do I risk the possibility that I will not get to "know" intelligent beings from another solar system and thereby increase my own knowledge of the universe? And in increasing my own knowledge, place myself in a position of power in my own world?
On second thought, if there are intelligences scattered about he universe and they approve of their proselytes writing in books, they are NOT intelligent nor are they anyone I would willingly associate with.
In fact, if the marking up of books is on their list of approved practices, there is no way they can be anything like what we call "civilized". I guess I will just slog through this copy of Germinal, annotations, comments, pictographs and all, and then put it back on the shelf until next winter. It will help me start some fires in the wood stove...