Boston: 5/30 – Pencils

An unexpected consequence of falling asleep in a book.

As a frizzy-haired, bucktoothed wild child, I often found myself getting lost in books. I used to have this one binder full of laminated environmental fact sheets about endangered animals and conservation efforts from the World Wildlife Fund that I’d flip through after school. I didn’t really understand the science-y jargon, mostly because I was 8, but I got enough from the pictures and brief captions. My little fingers flipped through sections sections about Amazon deforestation, acid rain, and pandas so often that the laminated corners started to peel and the holes began to split leaving some of the pages loosely dangling from the rings.

I remember my Dad finding me on the floor of my bedroom crying about panda bears going extinct in the Amazon because of all the acid rain. I was determined to take on acid rain and deforestation, one angry letter at a time. The section about whales eventually led to a temper tantrum at a whaling museum because I was upset that somewhere out in the world, a whale was being harmed for an oil lantern, as if those were still regularly used. I remember asking my Dad to make a trip to the post office so I could send WWF the $5 in coins I had saved up. I spent hours getting lost in that binder. Although I eventually found my own style of activism, I’m sure 8-year old me would be very disappointed that I am not a biologist and/or animal conservationist.

In 3rd grade, my teacher tried to encourage students to read by allowing us to bring in our own books. We were free to pick whatever book we found at the scholastic book fair, at the library, or from the bookshelves in our homes. Having the autonomy to explore topics that interested us individually made reaching our weekly reading goals attainable. Her approach to reading inspired us to flip through a variety of genres without making it feel like an obligation.

Her only rule was that the books we chose had to be within our reading level. We couldn’t bring in books that were too easy, but of course, we had to be able to read and understand them so classic literature and Shakespearean sonnets were out of the question. This rule was totally rational and it’s kinda hard to imagine that any third grader would walk in with Herman Melville’s Moby Dick as their book of choice. Unless, you happened to be a stubborn 3rd grader with an affinity for whales.

To this day, I cannot believe how well my teacher was able to hold herself together while watching a third grader’s brazen attempt to read through the introduction of Moby Dick. She told me that I could read the book only if I was able to get through the first page knowing all but five of the words. After trying my absolute hardest to read through some of the scariest looking words my 8-year old brain has ever seen, I was still determined to read this book. When she would ask me to define some of the words, I’d either make something up or simply say “it’s a big word and I don’t know how to explain it to you BUT I definitely know what it means.”

To this day, I am relentlessly stubborn, but luckily I’ve also learned how to embrace humility. Now (I hope) my stubborn nature only comes out when debating trivial things, or when someone tells me I’m not capable of doing something. I may not radiate self-confidence all the time, but a majority of the most transformative periods of my life occurred after someone questioned my courage or determination. Like that time I fearfully learned how to ride a motorcycle by myself in Ho Chi Minh City after a random English man said “it was a waste of time” and that “I’d never make it out of the city.”

Anyway, this post is about pencils because I’ve recently got back into reading… like, a lot. I bought a kindle and decided to use that in lieu of social media. Instead of pushing myself to read one book at a time, I’ve learned that freely cycling through three at a time is the best method for me. I have two books that I’m reading on my kindle, and one physical book that I’ve slowly been working my way through over the last couple of weeks.

I’ve spent hours flipping back and forth through the pages, rereading the sections that either really resonated with me or the ones that I’m still trying to wrap my head around. Part of my reading process is annotating — mostly through underlining words or sentences, and by filling up the margins with little notes and/or dates so if I ever decide to return to the book, I’ll know when certain passages sparked something within me. Most of my books are secondhand. I prefer having books with creases down the spine or little marks where the previous reader dog-eared a page (I know, this is considered blasphemous to many hardcore readers, but I love it).

Finding a book with a note scribbled into the cover makes my heart melt. Seeing old receipts or leaves nestled into the pages, presumably used as old bookmarks, is one of my biggest delights. I can’t remember the last time I bought an actual bookmark, my current bookmark is a receipt from a cafe which replaced the random piece of string I found on my desk. These things are little reminders that another set of eyes got lost within the pages of the book you’re currently flipping through. Seeing annotations from another person feels like an intimate little book club with a stranger. Ugh, I seriously can’t get enough of it.

I often read before bed and this time around, I decided to annotate using a pencil. I’ve been neglecting the physical book more recently, but I didn’t think much of it since it was all part of the cycle. I felt bad though, as one does with totally inanimate objects, and decided to flip through a few pages before bed. Unfortunately I was exhausted from work and promptly fell asleep. I moved the book to my windowsill yesterday morning, and placed a random Bobby pin into the pages as a book mark. Last night, when I crawled into bed at 2:30am after another closing shift, I felt a sharp pain in my thigh.

It was a fresh Ticonderoga pencil.

See ya, bookworms.


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