My brother wrote in his books. My late brother Michael died in 2012. He was just shy of his 51st birthday. He was left-handed, and his cursive had that slight, backwards tilt that lefties must adopt in order to write in a language that was designed for the dextrad. Amongst those languages which read from right to left, when Michael wrote in Hebrew, he generally wrote in block letters. As for his Urdu and Arabic, I doubt he was possessed of any written literacy. Yet, when his notes were printed, the tilt went the other way.
Why bring this up? In the winter of 2016, I opted to read more fiction. Classical, canonical fiction. My younger brother Michael had several lit classes as an undergrad that I did not. My fiction collection is post-1900s and he had a veritable library of pre-1900s work. I chose an aged copy of Guy De Maupassant’s Selected Short Stories.
The book has faded, brittle pages. A yellow sticker with black letters, about three quarters of an inch tall by two inches wide, urges the student to “Buy Used & Save!” The penguin on the book’s spine informed me that new, this volume would cost $1.25. When opened, the old book smell; the almond smell of benzaldehyde, the botanical notes of vanillin, the floral aroma of 2-ethyl hexanol, and the sweet odors of toluene and ethyl benzene, transported me back to the deep stacks of the Michigan State University Library.
Why Guy? I am a Sherlockian, and there are multiple references to the Franco-Prussian war in the Holmesian canon. All I know of the great French short story author is that a) he wrote a great deal about that conflict and b) I like short stories.
So Guy de Maupassant it is.
The book opens with his best-known story, le Boule de Suif; the Ball of Suet. It is the story of a group of French desperate to escape the occupation of Paris by the Prussians. The eponymous ball of suet is in reference to a dumpling of a prostitute who is amongst the évadés, and the abuse she suffers at the hands of both a Prussian officer, and her more “civilized” French compatriots.
But I digress.
My brother wrote in his books. These notes were written in the early to mid-1980s when he was in school at Syracuse, and later, at the University of Michigan-Flint. Always in pen, and as mentioned, in a backwards tilted scrawl, instantly recognizable as my brother’s hand.
Some of his notes were simple and directive.
This section only
Some were explicative, clearly based on classroom discussion and the professor.
Note verb choice
This is motivation, not inspiration. Know difference.
Themes: class barriers in France
Upper/middle class are asses
Nobility of the worker
There were notes on the history of the conflict.
F-P war 1870–1
Nap 3 vs. Otto VB
Eliminate French influence
3 years occupy
Many of us have written in our books. We do so for a variety of reasons. But none of us, I suspect, write in books so that after we die, our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, husbands and wives, can pick up an old book, start to read, and magically, stumble upon a handwritten phrase that makes the living smile happily at a note from the past.