The Task: To leave little notes in the margins of library books, then return them to their natural habitat.
The Execution: Fear not, Librarian Friends. As much as I love marginalia – especially in used textbooks, when I was at school – I didn’t think you folks would appreciate if I defaced books that belong to the public. Friendly, hot-pink post-it notes provided a needed prophylactic between my pen and your page. Um.
As I said, I adore little notes in the margins of books. Especially when they’re unexpected. They’re a brief moment of connection between readers past, and readers future, or present – sometimes it’s a college student, analyzing an author’s work, and sometimes it’s a teenage girl who’s being made to read Animal Farm can’t stop thinking about her Jimmy, and sometimes it’s someone who’s reading for pleasure, who was struck by a phrase – it doesn’t matter. They’re little glimpses of humanity – it’s like people-watching for shut-ins. I wanted to contribute to that.
The Books: So, honestly, these were all on my reading list anyway – some, like The Aeneid, are part of the whole “Read Fifteen Classics You’ve Never Read Before” thing, on The List. Others are just for pleasure, or because I haven’t read them in a while, or because Hunter S. Thompson. Uh, actually, I think that covers all four of the ones I’m including here. So!
- Essentially, Ancient Rome’s answer to Homer.
A short synopsis of the Aeneid:
This dude Aeneas and his bros are from Troy, which is totally
fucked destroyed. They’re sailing, get lost, and run into this nice lady who lets them whine about their road trip voyage and the reasons they’re taking it, for basically forever. One of the reasons is that Aeneas is supposed to found a new city, but he’s really bad at it. He and the nice lady fall into bed for a while, but the gods are all “Dude, you have a job to do. C’mon.” Dude leaves and the nice lady kills herself. The Bro-jans get lost again, some people fuck off because they’re tired of getting lost wandering, and Aeneas’ ghost-dad shows up.
Our he-bros show up in Italy, and King Latinus is super nice to them, but his wife isn’t quite so keen. There’s a fight over a deer, and then there’s a war over the same deer for some reason. Aeneas gets back from visiting his old mum, sees his bros embroiled in battle, and calls a truce so that everybody can bury their dead. HOORAY!
King Latinus’ men decide that war is super lame (especially over a single freaking deer), and decidedly decide that the war will be decided by single combat between Aeneas and the guy who’s supposed to marry Latinus’ daughter. Um, war breaks out again, you guys, and Aeneas ALMOST spares the other guy’s life, but then he doesn’t. BAM. And then there’s a Rome! Yes, this is the short version.
So, since Virgil is not nearly as funny as I am, I decided my note should go in after the first Book of the Aeneid, because that’s far enough in to commit and early enough in to despair.
2. The Collected Poems of Sylvia Plath: A suicidal young woman pours out her pain, again and again and again, but is less funny than Dorothy Parker about it. She’s even less funny than Edna St. Vincent Millay, which is saying a lot, because Aunt Edna was pretty damned dark.
A short synopsis of the Collected Poems of Sylvia Plath:
Sylvia is very sad and is going to kill herself shortly. Also, the asshole editors include things that she never published, and likely never intended to publish, because after you’re dead you lose creative control of your work. Also also, the same asshole editors claim that she never scrapped a single piece of poetry, merely set it aside to finish later, simply choosing not to publish certain pieces because they “weren’t finished” – which they then went ahead and published, as-is. The asshole editors clearly have never met a poet, and apparently they expect us to neatly burn anything we don’t want published posthumously. Assholes.
I chose to put this note under Sylvia’s poem, Sheep in Fog, which was written two weeks to the day before she killed herself. Although I don’t personally agree, according to the Internet it’s the most clearly suicidal of her pieces – so I chose to post numbers to local and national suicide prevention hotlines, as well as a message of love:
3. Brave New World: Aldous Huxley’s (sadly antiquated) vision of the terrifying future. I hadn’t read this since high school, and we’ve made such technological progress even only since then that what seemed horribly plausible in those days suddenly doesn’t hold up. Did I mention I only graduated ten years ago?
Okay – quickly – the dystopia does hold up, and everything that matters holds up. HOWEVER – it’s really jarring to hear about tubes and suchlike that we no longer use for unnatural future tech. I really wish it was timeless – I do! – I didn’t think that kind of thing would stand out, but there was HUGE cognitive dissonance going on, you guys. Alors.
A short synopsis of Brave New World:
This one dude exposes (exposits?) the entire dystopia: people have lots of wild sex, but they don’t get pregnant, or have babies, because it’s vulgar. Parenthood, home, and family – that’s all smutty, and children are encouraged to have sex at about five years old. Because it’s play! Also, if you experience any negative emotion whatsoever, take drugs! Also also, don’t think, go to the
movies feelies. Further, all of humanity is sorted into five immutable castes and a lot of truly awful shit happens to make sure that people in each caste stay there – like alcohol injected into amniotic fluid. (Huxley gains points for not basing these castes on race while being a white dude from the thirties- an epsilon is an epsilon, no matter their skin color. Presumably it’s the same for alphas – there is mention of scientists in what once was India.) Alors.
Then this other dude who doesn’t fit in talks to the first dude (first dude is his boss) and asks for time off to take this girl to New Mexico to the “savage reservation” (I guess you couldn’t publish a book without being racist in those days, after all). First dude is all “I used to be like you, not fitting in and wanting to see other ways of living, BUT I GOT OVER IT,
BITCH PANTYWAIST!” but he gives Other Dude, Bernard, the time off. Bernard and the lady (her name’s Lenina) go to New Mexico.
At the Reservation: Of course they immediately run into First Dude’s date-who-got-lost-and-was-presumed-dead, because of course. Also they meet her son, who is First Dude’s son too, who is rejected by the “savages” because he is too different and can read. Um.
PREPARE FOR LOTS OF SHAKESPEARE QUOTATIONS, you guys, BECAUSE HIS COMPLETE WORKS ARE BASICALLY ALL SONNY-JIM HAS EVER READ. Well, former-girlfriend-who-got-lost, without the magic of future society, is now toothless and alcoholic and suffering the effects of age now that she’s been without the benefits of
Soma Society. Bernard and Lenina, who are basically without personality during this part of the book, take both with them when they go home to London.
Two thirds of the way through the book, and it’s all been setup, because when First Dude tries to fire Bernard and send him to Iceland, BERNARD PULLS SONNY-JIM AND FORMER-GIRLFRIEND OUT OF THE HALLWAY, and humiliates him, because Girlfriends and Parenthood. So First Dude loses his job instead, Former-Girlfriend swaps peyote-based booze for Soma, drug of the day, and Bernard becomes the toast of the town because Sonny-Jim is one of them, but NOT ONE OF THEM, at the same time. Whoa.
Sonny-Jim falls in love with Lenina, and falls in hate with the ‘Brave New World’ he’s been thrust into. It’s immoral, there’s no religion, and there are some wacky misunderstandings when he tries to woo Lenina and she tries to give him the business. HE IS TOO CHASTE TO FUCK, GIRL, SERIOUSLY. So one night, when Bernard tries to keep showing Sonny-Jim off at parties, Sonny-Jim is grumpy because GURLS and then Bernard stops mattering, in society and in the story. Sonny-Jim goes off to be a hermit, because FUCK THIS SHIT, YO but society won’t stop bothering him. THE END.
Uh, Brave New World got two notes – one, early on, because all the dates are A.F. – that is, in the year of our Ford – and when I reread, I immediately googled that shit and did the math. The book is set in what we would call 2540, and I wanted to save the reader the effort to look it up. The second note was a lot better – it was right before John (Sonny-Jim) discovered the moldy book of Shakespeare’s plays – one of the last in the world! – and it was a warning:
4. The Rum Diary: Hunter S. Thompson kicks Johnny Depp’s ass in an alley while all fucked up. Wait – that’s just what I wish happened.
A short synopsis of The Rum Diaries:
Okay – I’ll be honest; I haven’t read it yet – I’m reading a book by Margaret Atwood right now! – but I have it on hand, and will read it before it goes back to the library. At any rate, I Googled some shit, yo.
And it didn’t help me at all. Anyway, I flipped the book randomly until I found a good line, and I quipped. Don’t judge me. This is what I came up with:
The Verdict: This was awesome! Okay, so I’ve had no feedback from my
victims future friends (I totally put my blog address on the back of each note. I’m a hack) – but I really enjoyed this entire thing. Including writing the stupid synopses. Spending the afternoon trying to think what readers of each book might need to see, or want to see, or what might help – well, I felt amazing, and thoughtful, and kind, and awfully cheesy. This project, though? Total win. I might do this in every book I check out in future – after I read them. (Forgive me, Uncle Hunter). I would recommend this to anyone out there – put your honest thoughts and your contact info, and see what happens! ( I will let you know if I hear from anyone who found these notes.)