As you know, I recently got a Kindle.
I’ve already got quite a lot of stuff on it – it’s actually kind of worrying me how easy it is just to one-click your way to a whole library of books. Just like going to a car boot sale, or Primark, it all seems so cheap that you fill up your basket with things you don’t remotely need, or even particularly love, in the mistaken belief that it’s a bargain – until you tot up your day’s spending and realise that you could actually have bought one amazing thing instead. From, like, Marc by Marc Jacobs or something.
Anyway. My Kindle spending is a whole different issue – and it can’t be a bad thing that it’s making me spend more money within the publishing industry, right?
The point of this is that I have already amassed quite a collection of electronic reading matter. It’s a mixture of adult and YA, mostly, some great books and some (using the same Primark-shopper logic) that I probably wouldn’t have bothered to buy in hard copy.
Something that I have been finding fascinating is the ‘highlighter’ function. As you may know, it is possible to electronically highlight passages of books on Kindle, and also to see what other people have highlighted, or how many people have highlighted the same parts.
One of the first books I read on my Kindle was the magnificent ‘You Against Me’ by Jenny Downham. There was quite a lot of highlighting going on in this book, with one brilliant passage towards the end that had been highlighted by multiple people. A great function is that you can see exactly how many people have highlighted certain parts – surprisingly, people seem to gravitate towards the same sentences to highlight.
Anyway, ‘what a good idea’, I thought. Highlighting is such a good thing.
Then, after that, I read quite a few ‘adult’ books, and was surprised to find that nobody had highlighted anything at all.
I read Joan Didion’s beautiful, life-changing, awesome ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’ (followed by her devastating ‘Blue Nights’) and could scarcely believe that there were no highlights. If ever a book was made for highlighting, it’s that one.
Then, straight afterwards, I started reading ‘The Carrie Diaries’, Candace Bushnell’s Sex and the City prequel for teenagers. Yes, it’s full of highlights.
This can only lead me to think that YA books get highlighted more than others.
I think this is a shame. I am an avid highlighter – not yet on the Kindle (as I haven’t quite figured out how to do it yet!) but in my actual books. Certain tomes – such as my copies of ‘Your Voice In My Head’ by Emma Forrest, Courtney Love’s biography by Poppy Z. Brite, ‘The Bell Jar’, ‘Franny and Zooey’ – are full of underlinings and highlights.
Although I’ve never grown out of it, I suppose highlighting is kind of a stereotypical teenage thing: ‘how does this relate to me/help to define me/put into words things that I can’t say myself?’.
In ‘The Carrie Diaries’, seven people have even highlighted a passage about the futility of highlighting (!), but in general it is the ‘deep’ thoughts, the universal truths, the things that apply to us that we thought nobody else would ever understand.
Like many people obsessed with books and music and films, I have a natural tendency to look for these highlight-able thoughts everywhere. My walls were always plastered with famous quotes and my favourite song lyrics. I would painstakingly transcribe whole songs into my diary. I would bore my friends silly with how I heard this amazing lyric that spoke directly to my soul (often by Tori Amos, just as likely Brian Molko); I would insist upon reading aloud entire chapters of books that I thought were particularly relevant to our lives at that moment – I couldn’t sit quietly in the library for long without exclaiming ‘oh my god, Ali/Lou/Rach – you have got to hear this!’.
By highlighting, I felt that it gave me ownership, that it really was mine and really did help to sum me up. It helped me to remember them, to form a reference library of myself. And I still do it – thinking it’s to remember the construction of a sentence or a particularly beautiful word choice, but I’m sure it’s still just as much for the same reason it’s always been.
I think highlighting is a good thing. We should try our best not to grow out of it.