I took a book to work today, a library book, that I might read while eating my lunch. Don’t worry, I was going to be meticulous and not get food on the book. I’ve been reading and eating a long time. I only smear chip grease in books I own. Anyway, I grabbed one of the many library books I have in a pile on my shelf right now: The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje. Last year I heard him read at the Writers Festival from this book and I have been meaning to read it for an entire year so here we are, possibly to the day one year later, and I’m opening the book.
One page in, I see some words neatly printed in pencil in the book’s margin. The printed, book text reads (about our hero, who is a little boy on a big ship sailing across the ocean):
He ate several sandwiches, and after that he made his way down to his cabin, undressed, and slipped into the narrow bunk.
and next to it, there is an arrow drawn in pencil and a question:
Without steward guidance?
On the next page, our amateur editor adds a question mark to the phrase “two-stroke” (referring to an engine) and a page later, there is a tiny Boys’ written next to the typewritten phrase ..a small Boy’s Own Adventure.
I was only at page seven and in full bemused/rant mode.
I saw reference today to a study or article that said reading even six minutes a day is relaxing. WELL I’LL TELL YOU WHEN IT’S NOT. WHEN SOMEBODY TAKES IT UPON HIMSELF TO EDIT A LIBRARY BOOK.
Seriously, neat pencil printer, what is your problem? You can’t edit this book. It’s done. Also, who the hell do you think you are, editing Michael Ondaatje? Also, to whom are you addressing the questions? (and to whom am I addressing my questions? And how futile is all of this?) The other readers? Because you know, the library doesn’t send copies of books back to the authors when queries are pencilled in the margins. Those books just go back on the shelves for OTHER PATRONS to read and enjoy. Michael Ondaatje will NEVER HEAR your questions unless you send him an e-mail or a paper letter. THERE’S an idea! Write the man a letter with NOTES for his NOVEL. I bet he doesn’t have a critique group he can really trust to be honest with him. Dear Michael: Re: The Cat’s Table. See attached.
For fuck’s sake. Fucks’ sake? NO I KNOW WHAT I MEAN MOTHERFUCKER.
I think the best part is that on one page, there is a pencilled-in sentence that’s been rubbed out. Maybe another library patron erased it, but I like to think the Mad Editor did it him/herself. “Oh, sorry Michael Ondaatje. That note was off-side. I’ve removed it.”