Written by Caitlin Smith
Earlier this month, Georgia Grainger, an employee of Dundee, Scotland’s Charleston Library, found herself in the middle of a literary mystery. A patron came to her with an odd question: why did all of the seventh pages in the books she had been checking out have the seven underlined? Turns out the answer is pretty simple: elderly library patrons keep track of the books they’ve read with small markings, so they don’t wind up with the same book a second time.
In our age of Goodreads and Kindles, it seems so antiquated to resort to that kind of logging system. We can keep a record of every book we’ve read on a website, we can share that list with our Facebook friends with the click of a button. But instead, these elderly readers, just need a pen and a favorite page number.
Though even library computer systems can keep track of what books have already been checked out by whom, there’s a simplicity to this homemade system that I’m drawn to. A voracious reader in my early years—often checking out ten or twelve books at a time from the Keller Public Library—I did find myself picking up books in the Young Adult section and wondering if I’d already made a pass at them.
Back then, I wasn’t sharing my bookshelf with anyone. I read, returned, and checked out something else. If a book particularly piqued my interest, I’d tell my parents or friends, but I wasn’t concerned with making sure it was known to the entire world that I just couldn’t put down Jenny O’Connell’s The Book of Luke (I read this at least three times sometime between the fifth and eighth grades.)
Of course, back then, I didn’t feel the need to prove myself as a reader. I read all the time, and anyone who knew me knew that from simple observation. I spent my evenings pouring over novels until my eyes burned. That’s not so much the case anymore. I challenged myself to read thirty books this year and am already woefully behind. As an English major, sometimes I think that makes me a phony of sorts.
None of this is to say Goodreads and other social media aren’t valuable to readers and writers alike, or to ignore the fact that a technological gap between generations might not be the real reason behind these endearing acts of micro-vandalism. Part of me just can’t help but admire the old ladies of the Charleston Library—reading discreetly, for nobody but themselves.
Although writing in books makes my skin crawl (I just got over annotating last year), I think I’ll try to implement the spirit behind it within my own reading life. Reading shouldn’t be preformative, and nobody should feel like they have to prove they enjoy it. We should all take a page from these Scottish readers’ books—just not the one they’ve marked for themselves.