The Inner Idiot

BeowulfI bought a copy of Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf on an excursion to Knoxville (and a visit to McKay’s), but I hadn’t really looked through it until last week as I began thinking about teaching Beowulf in my 11th British Lit. class in the “fall” (fall session in Georgia largely takes place during our extended summer). I was thrilled to find it so cheap, and it was in good condition. Or so I thought. One of the chief reasons I bought new books whenever I could in college, despite the extra expense, was the fact the majority of students who sell their books back display their ignorance in spades all over their discarded books, and I found it distracting. They either highlighted everything, and I mean everything (what was the point of highlighting, then?) in olive green highlighter (where do you find olive green?) or wrote insipid comments in the margins.

I found out, unfortunately, that my copy of Beowulf was owned by an insipid commenter who wrote copious… er… observations… all over the text. In ink. Stuff like “Ugh” or “Gag me!” after gory descriptions. Or “Yay! Build his huge ego!” next to the lines “May one so valiant and venturesome / come unharmed through the clash of battle” (lines 299-300). Or perhaps how the description of Grendel watching Heorot “builts tension.” Did you know that it “depicts Grendel as really demonic”? My favorite was the one about how Beowulf was alluding to Dante’s Inferno. What, you didn’t realize the Beowulf poet time-traveled, read Dante’s Inferno, which had to have been composed some 500-600 years later than Beowulf, time-traveled back, wrote Beowulf, and alluded to Dante? Because that’s how things work.

I showed Steve some selections from the text, and he obligingly pointed out that it must have belonged to a student. You think? Wow. Sorry. Sarcasm doesn’t travel well on the interwebs. Anyway, this should probably make most anyone who reads it wonder what artifacts of the inner idiot we have all left behind in discarded books. I was pleased to read even Tingle Alley’s recoil at being confronted by her college-age self. May I never locate one of my college textbooks.

Ugh, indeed.

Anyone know how to erase or remove ink without damaging pages in a book?

[tags]college, reading, literature[/tags]

One thought on “The Inner Idiot

  1. I had to buy new books, too. I could NOT deal with another's ramblings in _MY_ margins. I just could.not.do.it!

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