Thursday, June 19, 2008

Marginalia and Big Brain Academy

Do you write in the margins of your books?
"We kept my Middlemarch, read at eighteen, in which were registered my nascent attempts at literary criticism (page 37: 'Grrr'; page 261: 'Bullshit'; page 294: 'Yccch')" (Fadiman, 8-9).
(Coincidentally, and of no particular importance, I'm actually reading Middlemarch right now. Small world.)

Aside from making me chuckle, this little passage got me thinking about my own journeys through literature.

I think I took my mom's directive, "Don't write on the books!" too much to heart. I never even thought to write down the things I thought of while I was reading. On the contrary, I treat my books with an almost reverence. I take pride in their beauty. I'm not sure I have a single book in my meager library with writing in the margins with the exception of those I was assigned to read for classes in high school and college. When I was reading about Fadiman and her library, I was sad that I couldn't look back at my childhood discoveries and attempts at scholarly critique. I'm sure it would have been quite comical at the very least. :)

It's important to note, well-loved and oft-read books have their own beauty. Take my copy of Ender's Game (my favorite to date) for example. It's a mass market paperback copy covered in Contac Paper by my mom years ago. The Contac Paper is all bubbled and flawed, the binding is bent, and the pages are worn. The part of me who loves beautiful, clean, new books thinks I should buy a new copy. The current one is dwarfed by the gorgeous, hardback Harry Potters and, well, pretty much every other book on my shelves! But then again, the part of me that read Ender's Game back in the Seventh grade loves the history behind it and finds it irreplaceable. How could I ever buy a new copy?

As far as the Sesquipedalians Quiz goes, as I expected, I didn't know a single one. (Though admittedly I knew the general subject of ithyphallic. *blush* And, I also happen to vividly remember the individual who introduced me to the definition of the word phallic (if you guessed Brandon Burton, you are correct!). ) However, this selection particularly resonated with me, albeit at a much less intellectual level:
"...I was about to subject my friends to the killer quiz when my editor, who had no desire to become a victim himself, said gently, 'Hold your horses, Anne. Not everyone loves tests as much as you do.'

He had a point. When I was growing up, not only did my family walk around spouting sesquipedalians, but we viewed all forms of intellectual competition as a sacrament" (Fadiman, 14).
Now, I don't claim to have spouted sesquipedalians as a child, but I do think that my mom raised us to enjoy intellectual stimulation more than your typical person. We were raised on brain stimulating memory games, reading, math worksheets, memorization activities, and the like, and we thought of them as entertainment.

Paul and I are nerds, as you both know, so when we got our Wii as a graduation present this year, what's the first game we went out and bought? Oh yes, Big Brain Academy. It's a game full of IQ Test type activities! You can see the size of your brain! You can race each other to see whose brain is bigger! We think it is the epitome of fun. But, as Anne Fadiman had to be reminded by her editor, not everyone loves tests. We've introduced it to several friends, and most often the reaction ranges from apathetic to negative. I guess we can't all be nerds!

(As you can see, my book came a day earlier than I expected! Hooray!)


Jennie said...

Also, I worry for my own children. James is only four months old, and I'm already dreaming of summer reading clubs, solfege singing competitions, and memorization games! My poor, poor children.

(Is it kosher to reply to your own post? Oh well.)

Lisa said...

You'd better teach all that! I wish I knew Latin . . .

Petey said...

Kosher is only a concern if you're concerned about Jews eating it.

Turns out though that my parents definitely subjected us to cultural activities instead of mathematics or linguistic games. My mother often dragged us on "field trips" which have led to me learning everything from the operations of Kennecot to Smith's ice cream production, to many a symphony or musical theater trip.

Thus it was when we were bored, we'd create plays (which always went on too long), write stories, or create our own music. Oh good times. Am I better person because of it? Probably not.

Lisa said...

Well, it makes you both more interesting, and thus keeps me amused. That's totally a good thing!