The underline

The underline is quite underrated. I know for sure because I don’t use it as much. I am a rather late convert to underlining myself. The last two books or so – my own not borrowed, you can breathe again – I have taken to underlying passages that resonate with me. I always thought that books had to be looked after in a way such that there were no dog ears, no underlines, no creases, preferably covered with a cellophane sheet so that no dust or pen gets anyway near it. For many years, I did manage just that. So many of my books look as good as new except for the yellowing pages. But lately, I have taken the opposite stance. Books should be a house – it should look like it was loved and lived. That means scars. That means underlines, dog ears and creases. I started with a pencil and have now progressed to boldly underlining my books in pen. There is something very satisfactory in underlining passages in purple ink in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus. Besides, it must be so much fun to pick up book years later and see which lines meant so much to me and recall why.

I credit my ‘underline’ conversion to the Strand Books tumblr, which features underlined passages of their second-hand books. They are such fun to read. Sometimes, the underlined passage doesn’t even make sense. Which makes me wonder – are you pro-underline or anti? If you are pro-underline, what goes through your mind when you underline them? Does underlining a line or passage reveal a state of mind? Will that state of mind be still relevant years later? Answer to these will take time to appear. In the meantime, let’s look at some sample passages I have underlined:

In an existence like mine forecasts could not be made; I never know what could happen to me in the next half hour, I can’t imagine a life all made up of minimal alternatives, carefully circumscribed, on which bets can be made: either this or that. (If on a winter’s night a traveller, Italo Calvino, page 19, underlined in pencil)

Perhaps everything lies in knowing what words to speak, what actions to perform, and in what order and rhythm; …But everything must happen as if by chance, without attaching too much importance to it, without insisting that you are performing a decisive operation. (Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino, page 140, underlined in purple ink)

…there are something that happen for which we can formulate no whys, for which whys simply do not exist and, perhaps, are not necessary. (Purple Hibiscus, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, page 303, underlined in purple ink)


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