A bookworm’s tan

When I was an undergrad in college, there was one sight that consistently greeted me at the start of each of my literature classes. The professor would walk into the classroom and head to the front with a novel or small anthology in hand. When this happened, I’d straighten up in my seat and see that, without fail, the book was covered in colorful post-it notes and many times even notes scribbled in the margins. I’d always rest my eyes on it, a bit awestruck.

What struck me about the post-it covered, scribble-bearing book was that it reflected the deep immersion and interest of its reader. Though I was a diligent student and an avid reader, I had never felt the impulse go that far and write on little post-it notes and plaster them all over my books. This is simply because I had never liked one of my school-assigned books enough for it to prompt the desire to question and record things with post-its. I never felt the need to either because I could usually remember the pages where the important, useful parts were found. At times, I admittedly thought to myself that notes and post-its were a bit excessive. I clearly wasn’t one of those people, and I couldn’t fathom becoming one. Despite this, I secretly admired them.

I’ve always been someone with deep-set passions and interests, but up till the halfway point of graduate school, I hadn’t yet found a topic that I was genuinely passionate about. So, I thought to myself, I will probably never be someone who feels inclined to litter their books with post-it notes. I’ll never be one of those people.

So I thought.

This began to change a few months ago when I began watching the Spanish series Isabel and became fascinated with the story of the Catholic Monarchs of Spain, Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon. When I finished watching the series, I was thirsty for more. I wanted to see for myself how historically accurate it was, and I wanted to know more detail about the monarchs: their origins, their decisions, their role in unifying Spain, their joys, their struggles. I had finally found my kryptonite, a topic that triggered a passion and an insatiable curiosity.

So, I did what any reasonable person would do. I scoured the internet until I found two lengthy biographies written by respected scholars and purchased a copy of each, one about Isabella and one about Ferdinand. I also took special care (re: spent more money) to secure copies of the biographies in Spanish; one was written and published in Spain, and the other is the Spanish translation of a biography originally written in English. If I was going to read biographies about the Spanish monarchs, they should, of course, be in Spanish. As I placed the order for the books, I began to realize that I probably had no business thinking of my professors and fellow students’ habit of covering books with post-its as “somewhat excessive.”

Not long after the books arrived, I decided to delve into the biography about King Ferdinand first. I began making my way through dense, rich book, reading slowly and periodically consulting with Isabel to see how accurate its script was. I was completely immersed and soon found that there were too many sections of the book that I thought were worth bookmarking. So, I began to do what I never thought I’d do: scribble my notes and questions on little post-its and place them throughout the book, thinking all the while, I’m slowly becoming one of those people.

Last weekend, I wanted to enjoy the nice weather, so I opted to do my reading outside. I moved a lawn chair on my back porch so that only a small portion of it was in the sunlight. I brought my book, a stack of post-its, a pen, and a glass of sangria and set them all on the little table next to my chair. I plopped onto the lawn chair, stretched out my legs, and cracked open the book. My lawn chair was arranged in such a way that only my feet and a few inches of my legs were in the sun. This was a strategic move seeing as my skin is burns easily.

So there I was, feet in the sun, reading my book and sipping on sangria. I quickly became immersed in the biography. There were tales of battles, of defeats without combat, of painful losses, of wounded egos, of family disputes, of a demanding queen, and of a strong and able soldier king. My mind was whirring with all of the information I was learning and with the growing certainty that Isabel had been stunningly accurate. The only pauses I made were to reach for my glass of sangria or to scribble a note on a post-it and paste it on the corresponding page. The time passed delightfully slowly as I savored each page.

After a while, though, I got thirsty, so I closed my book and straightened up in my chair. A glance down at my legs revealed that quite a bit of time had passed. The sun now reached all the way up to a few inches above my knees, now a rosy color. Not thinking much of it, I went inside to refill my glass. After a minute or two of being indoors, my eyes adjusted to the reduced brightness. I took another look down at my legs, still warm from the heat of the sun, and immediately thought, “Ohhh no. Dear God, my legs shouldn’t look this way!”

My skin, typically white as snow, was red like a tomato. I had suffered a mild sunburn from the tops of my feet to a few inches above my knees.

After contemplating my legs a few seconds, I confirmed that it wasn’t a serious burn and let out a sigh of relief. I pushed out of mind the hideous visions I had of the painful healing process that always accompanies serious burns. It then dawned on me that I had gotten this burn because I had been so immersed in my reading that I had forgotten about the passing of time and the movement of the sun. I couldn’t help but let out a laugh; I had been oblivious to the fact that my skin was burning because I was completely immersed reading about kings, queens, and battles –among other things. There was no longer room for doubt or denial: I had become one of those people who could get completely immersed in something.

A couple of days later, as I stood in front of the bookshelf in my closet, holding the biography and eyeing the colorful post-its peeking out of the pages, I realized what was special about books covered in scribbles and notes. They tell two stories: the ones originally typed on the pages and the ones about the impact those stories had on their readers. My biography about Ferdinand did just that; it bore testament to the curiosity and awe that the story inspired in me. I put the biography back on the bookshelf, and as I slid the closet’s mirror door shut I caught sight of my legs. The mild burn had healed and left behind a slight tan. I looked down at my tanned legs, smiling, and conceded that I was definitely one of those people, and that, at least for a while, I had more than post-it covered book as proof.

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