I was in a used book store the Friday night and I found a few copies of Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson sitting amongst the clutter and the stacks. I have a friend who recommended it to me and it seemed like a short read (Don't be fooled; it's NOT!) so I browsed through what must have been required reading for last semester's college curriculum. There were several copies, some solid, some frail.
However, one immediately caught my eye with seemingly random letters from the title blacked out (I could never discern any coherent message.). Within, an enterprising student saved a few hectares of trees by using the book itself as a notebook for the class. Scattered throughout were a great many underlined passages and comments obviously written in an academic frame of mind. "Wife given what she never had." "Always seeking pain."
Perhaps this wasn't a student. Perhaps this may have been some studious fellow who enjoyed commenting on books as they read them. It's not unheard of. It's not impossible. And yet... and yet...
This person, male or female, I could not say, chose to also put their personal judgements of the character's actions and dialogue on paper. Most frequently in single words (with surprisingly few expletives) and also with very little sympathy. Chapters ending with comments like "Naive" and "What the f*ck is going on?". Paragraphs underlined with the simple comment of "Sucker!" by the side, condemning the fictional characters to forever be labelled as such.
I didn't read the passages so outlined to prevent the colouring of my own read. And so with heavy heart I replaced what would have certainly been a fantastically entertaining read and picked up another less editorialised copy. It was in better condition and, for some obscure reason, cheaper. Is the store placing some higher price on the book for its extra content? I did not dare ask.
And now I read the book, untutored by any anonymous mentors, the pages blank and lacking in both personality and cruel mockery. I am forced to admit that I am a little saddened by this quiet book. A faint regret fills me as I read: "Is this the 'bastard'? Am I at the part where someone is a 'Sucker!'?"
I wonder who will one day pick up this book and share in the views of this remote critic. Will they be upset that they were forced to buy such a copy, filled with the mutterings of an acerbic fool? Or will they cherish the joy of sharing a read with an old friend? A friend who likes to share their thoughts as they read along, invisible by your side.