I am forever urging my students to mark up their books, to scribble, deface and decode. It's only by interacting with the books we admire at the sentence level that writers can begin to unlock the secrets of how one's heroes have accomplished their magic. (I should add this need came painfully to me, as I do have the collector's gene, courtesy of my father, and am always aware of the value of objects. But in the end, I forced myself to pick up a pen, and I've never looked back.)
So I'm especially interested today, for a number of reasons, to see this item from The Guardian, in which John Banville has annotated a copy of The Sea. One of the nine screencaps is below:
The annotations are called out on the website, and I found this one most interesting and amusing:
p.88 [on 'succubus'] 'Really should get hold of a dictionary. I'll be interested to see if he/she got to the end of the book before selling it to the second-hand shop. Could have exchanged it for a Chambers or a Shorter Oxford.'
The notion of Banville with a dictionary should resonate for anyone who has read him. I was also struck by this one:
p.244 'Never noticed before the pre-echo of p.264. K[afka] is right, one works in deepest darkness.'
It always fascinates me when writers detect their influences after the fact. In contrast, I suppose I should confess that my second novel is heavily indebted to Banville's own The Book of Evidence - nothing after the fact there. I recently worked my way through the book, taking it apart, trying to figure out how he could break so many rules and still have the book succeed marvelously. Here's a sample of my own, far messier, marginalia:
I cannot figure out why this keeps posting on its side, but you get the general idea. I will leave it to future readers to determine how well I've internalized the lessons of this novel but I remain devoted to my idea that if you are a writer and there is a book you adore, there is no better exercise than stripping the thing down to its foundations to see what it's made of.