By Rachel Abelson

So Team Bronte's proto-Jane Eyre bite-sized juvenilia is fetching the big bucks these days. (Harvard's library has a nice archive of more, if you are interested in  looking at fanzines with million-dollar cover prices.) But that’s all just my segue into what I’d really like to blog about today, which is juvenilia marginalia: the purple-inked bubble-exclamations of literary young'uns, and their chickenscratch between the lines.

The inner blogosphere of Black Balloon has been abuzz with fake authorial gushiness versus real teen gushiness versus the gush-worthiness of David Foster Wallace faking out teens for real. And this past week, when a package of my old books arrived from my mom, complete with my own teen copy of Wallace's Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, all three confluenced in a cosmic and darkly underscored conclusion. 

When it comes to foreverness, I take a backseat approach. Like DFW, sure, I got my own worn copy of The Drama of the Gifted Child; I'm not ashamed, but you're not going to find my private ruminations on my self-help perusals. 

So you can maybe see why I was surprised to find in this box of books from my old bedroom an insanely marked-up copy of Wallace's Brief Interviews with Hideous Men.  


The surprise was not just the margin-writing; it was that I had zero recollection of Brief Interviews. I don't remember buying it or receiving it, let alone tattooing every single page of it, sometimes underlining whole paragraphs and punctuating everything with geo-puffy, ink-bled exclamations. No, I have never, ever read Brief Interviews with Hideous Men.

Still. The juxtaposition of the purple ink color against the green, rehearsed angst? The hyperbolic and visceral adoration of Wallace's stylie? It did seem like my younger self's dramatics. Even the handwriting was close. Was I losing my mind? Had I in fact read the line "It is a machine that moves only forward" and seen it as a metaphor for "Life"?

Marginalia transforms the book into an object. It makes the text more performative, a conceptual sculpture about participation and permanence, the script of two consciousnesses interacting. (I am sorry I just wrote that sentence for a lot of reasons, but I can't help it; it's way true!) Marginalia is why we are bashful when loaning out our libraries, why we diss the techno-rigidity of the Kindle (death of the reader, birth of the user), why we opt for erasable pencil and unstickable Post-its—and also why we shouldn't prefer this pencil/post-it impermanence. More than anything, what makes my copy of Brief Interviews awesome is that it's a time capsule.

Because at first I was embarrassed by this DFW collection and its mysterious teen-grafitti. But it all began to endear itself to me, and when I finally figured out the copy belonged to my long-lost high school bff, I totally teared up. What could be a more honest depiction of the experience of a good read in real-time, the fireworks felt when the perfect writer is paired with his or her perfect reader? My copy of Brief Interviews is basically a play-by-play as DFW swiftly and sublimely blows my friend's mind: it's a moody, cleverish young lady with oodles of passion and wit having nothing short of a prose orgasm in milky gel roller.

And where does it all lead her? When she's reached the last page? Behold...


She wants to write!

Photos: author