In the fifth grade, I started to collect quotations. I had a notebook full of them. I carried it with me wherever I went, adding lines and phrases I came across in books and movies and real world conversations. It was, like all of my favorite activities, a little bit silly and strange.
I remember being teased about it, but in a loving way. My friends would laugh at me, and then ask to read through it, and then give me suggestions of quotes to add. They meant well. They wanted to be helpful and included in the project, but I preferred to only write down the lines I discovered on my own. It made the collection something I could call mine. It belonged to me.
Although I grew up in a house where almost every wall was made into a bookshelf and filled completely – a house that a friend of mine recently referred to as “the house made of books” (a line I adored, and immediately wrote down) – the first adult book I remember being solely my own was given to me the same year I began collecting quotes.
In the fifth grade, my father pressed Emily Dickinson into my hands. I fell in love. I read and reread, aloud and in silence, line after line. I wrote my name on the inside of the front cover. I drew stars on the pages of my favorite poems. That book belonged to me, and I belonged to it. And although I didn’t truly recognize it at the time, this was the beginning of my love for literature. This was the beginning of a life devoted to the written word.
In school, year after year, I learned how to annotate books. I was taught how to pick out what was important. I was shown how to make notes in the margins to refer back to later.
Like most of the things I learned in classrooms, I didn’t appreciate it at the time. It felt like an obligation. It seemed insignificant. We all rolled our eyes and sighed heavily and asked “when will I ever need to do this in the real world?”
But as it turns out, I do it every day. Every time I pick up a book, I have a pen ready to underline and circle and take notes to refer back to. It becomes a sort of game, a hunt for wonderful words and phrases, a search for beauty.
And when I find it, which fortunately happens often, I mark it down and later go back to transcribe it into a notebook full of quotes. It’s a little bit silly and strange, but it is the way I have learned to read and write. It is the way I have learned to love reading and writing. It is the way I have remained hungry for and inspired by literature for the past eighteen years.
When I find a beautiful line in a book, it is like uncovering a secret. And by revealing those secrets, by hunting them down and capturing them beneath the weight of my pen marks, I become a great discoverer of treasure.
I have a large collection of all of the gems I’ve found. I have bookshelves filled with notebooks filled with breathtaking quotes. They are not my words, but in a strange, silly way, they belong to me. They are part of me because I love them. Because they are the tangible result of a childhood spent in a house made of books. Because they ensure I’ll always live in a house made of books. Because they make me feel home. Because they represent a life devoted to the pursuit of beauty. Because they shine on my walls like gold.