A Rediscovery

From The Name of the Rose, by Umberto Eco

Thus I rediscovered what writers have always known (and have told us again and again): books always speak of other books, and every story tells a story that has already been told.


I can’t remember where I read it, but I’ve always remembered a line about how funny it can be to return to your old books from high school or college and to see the margins full of exclamation marks and “Yes!”s.

Ever since, I’ve laughed at myself a little whenever I pull an old book off the shelf and find just such ephemera of a lifelong reader learning at last to read with a pen — that is, to read for meaning and connection.

These days, the two most common marks in my margins are “ph,” which notes a well-wrought phrase I wish to remember, and cf. ____________, which of course means to compare with another author, book, or idea.

Instead of reading for agreement or amazement, it’s a way of reading for patterns: which ancient stories keep showing up, and how each author takes them and turns them just a little differently in his or her hands.