When I was about 8, I voraciously devoured every Enid Blyton school story I could get my hands on. Literally. The covers were gnawed off almost obsessively. Folds were made that marked the boundaries of which bit would be torn off that day. By the time I was 11, I looked back on this habit with loathing and gave out mini codes of conduct with every paperback I lent, so that they would return to me pristine and unsullied by the grubby hands of my excessively carefree friends. My brother is still regularly made to suffer for sitting on The Complete Sherlock Holmes (a Christmas present) and bending the cover irreparably. I would never, ever, ever have dreamed of actually writing in any of my books.
However, I’ve found more recently that the increasingly poor editing of (specifically, but I doubt exclusively) certain ancient history books has led to me read with a pen (yes, my children, a PEN) to hand in order to correct errors. You might be marvelling at my unbounded hubris, but let me show you what I mean (errors coloured green):
“The plot was ostensibly led by the son of Caesar’s old friend and former lover of Servilia, Lucius Junius Brutus, who had been a supporter of Pomepius until his defeat at Pharsalus. Then, as a favour to his mother, Caesar had employed both him and his brother Decimus. Yet the family had a long tradition of Republicanism: their ancestor Lucius Brutus had expelled Rome’s last king in the seventh century BC.”
Taken from ‘Cleopatra the Great‘, by Joann Fletcher (Hodder & Stoughton)
If you read the first sentence, I’m fairly sure it implies that Brutus was his mother’s lover. I’m not aware that any sources report such a scandalously incestuous affair! Secondly, any schoolchild knows (and certainly as someone writing pseudo-authoritatively about the Roman republic should know) that the Brutus who helped to murder Caesar was called Marcus, not Lucius. Fletcher is confusing him with his tyrant-ejecting ancestor. Decimus Iunius Brutus Albinus was in fact Marcus’ distant cousin, not his brother. The actual Lucius Brutus (i.e. one of the first pair of Roman consuls) ejected Tarquinius Superbus, the last king of Rome, in 509 BC, which, I’m fairly sure, is the sixth century BC, not the seventh.
This particular section is the worst by far, but similarly pathetic errors litter the section of the book that deals with Cleopatra’s relationship with Caesar. How is this tosh being published? None of these facts are particularly difficult to research accurately!
Thus, I feel no guilt in scrawling in the margins in blue ink. If there are clear errors in a book, then surely it’s one’s duty to correct them for future readers? Vandalism of books is no laughing matter, as the recent prosecution and jailing of bibliohooligan Farhad Hakimzadeh has reminded us, but when you’re not talking about priceless first editions, correction of sheer idiocy is just fine by me.
I still really hate it when people fold the corner of a page down, though. Use your memories, people! Or a bookmark.