Under the Lines

Sometimes I buy a book for its cover, and this is one, a 1979 Bantam edition of Andrew Holleran's classic Dancer from the Dance. The cover ... well, it speaks for itself.

Flipping through the book, I was at first annoyed to see some pages with underlining from a red felt-tipped marker. I find other people's annotations in books extremely distracting to the point where I usually can't even read a page with someone else's notes on it. (My own notes are fine. Its the imposition of someone else's reading experience — someone else's consciousness — that makes it impossible for me.) But then I was intrigued. Only two pages had underlining. Why only two? It wasn't like a textbook, where sometimes you'll find notes in some of the early pages and then nothing later, the student clearly having given up. No, these were pages 73 and 75. One sentence on each page.

First: "He fell in love with people he did not know how to meet."

Oh, I thought, that's good. I'd be tempted to underline that sentence myself.

Then: "Frankie had never gone to a bar, had never wanted to, had heard of Fire Island but considered it 'a bunch of queens' and lived a life that, save for the fact that he slept with Malone, was hardly homosexual."

That second sentence is not one I would have underlined myself (I like bunches of queens; what would keep me away from Fire Island would be the sunlight, sand, and water) — but reading it after the first sentence, I was overcome with a sense of this underliner's life, or at least his (I would be shocked if the underliner were not a he) sense of life in the moment of underlining. When did the underliner underline? Did he buy the book new, or had he, like me, picked it up for pennies and added his own underlining after another reader, finding its sentences less necessary, had tossed the book away? Was the urge to underline a passing one, the moment of connection with the text a momentary mood, or did those lines delineate a life?

The teacher in me now thinks about a writing exercise: From these underlined sentences, write a story about the underliner. The editor in me wants to put together an anthology of such stories. The writer in me wants to write one.

The human that I am just wants to say: Thank you. I have seen your lines, and I have dreamed of you, and wished you well.

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