Letter to a Future Lover by Ander Monson is a hard one for me to have concise and consolidated thoughts on partly because the series of essays in this book cover many very interesting nuances about books, libraries and what we leave in them. Monson’s essays all read more poetic than I was anticipating, and while I always appreciate poetic language, that combined with the flurry of ideas being thrown at me, occasionally I needed to take a break to put together the peripheral bits and bobs that had collected.
There is a lot that can be taken away from this book and there is a lot that I did take away. I think I’d have to write a whole book in order to properly put all those thoughts down and while I love the idea of writing a book, I always envisioned a book written by me would be more in the fiction genre than academic. One of the more pervasive question this book brought to my attention is one that often pops into my brain when I’m having a staring into the distance moment, which is what makes a book a book? This book is a collection of essays that were written on notecards, left in libraries and books, then found again, and reprinted alphabetically and bound into a pretty cover. There are, as I understand it, versions of the book in which you get a box of the notecards. Is that still a book? How does that change the reading experience? If I were to go back to my copy and reread it right now would I disagree with the notes I made in it less than a day ago? The point is, this collection of essays explores reading as an experience, an experience in which the only evidence of it happening is often in the marginalia.
I’ve always thought that the beautiful thing about literature classes is that when you gather ten people from all walks of life to talk about a book, what you’re really talking about is how that book was read ten different ways. Our lives determine what we take away or leave in (as is the case with marginalia, or as Monson points out coffee rings, hair, or lists we made and never checked off) the books we read and when we go back and reread, it feels like a completely different person, a stranger, left their mark on your book.
It’s similar to sitting down and watching a movie that was your favorite when you were seven. You recognize the scene that used to excite you and feel nothing but nostalgia for the excitement and some other scene that you never really understood suddenly makes sense and is now your favorite. In the moment you realize this change has happened (whether you’re watching a movie or reading a book) there is a question of self that is raised. A tiny identity crisis that is only resolved when we finish the story, relate it to our current lives, and let the marginalia be the history that shaped us.
I don’t know that I’d recommend anyone to sit down and read this book straight through. The essays are short, never more than three pages. This is a book to go to when you want something to think about. I’d recommend reading it one essay at a time and not in order. Use this book as an opportunity to stick it the people that tell you you can’t read the last page first. Read it and revel in the fact that you are in charge of your own reading experience and no one else in the history or future of the world is going to have an experience just like yours.
Common Place Book Entries
“Maybe you already know that a book is an artificial intelligence, designed to be tried on and played obsessively like a software subroutine, a difficult first-person shooter scene, or a favorite song you’ve listened to too long.” -Letter to a Future Lover by Ander Monson
“Sometimes books are canyons that we enter seeking echoes of our thoughts.”
-Letter to a Future Lover by Ander Monson
“Maybe sadness is a game, a maze, a labyrinth, in which you’re made to reel but still you feel you’re circling to a central point.” -Letter to a Future Lover by Ander Monson
“With too much time alone who knows what compartment of ourselves we might discover? Better to fill it with another’s words.” -Letter to a Future Lover by Ander Monson
“What I can’t comprehend is endless.” -Letter to a Future Lover by Ander Monson
“Going through a loved one’s books after they have passed, we might find their mind alive again in marginalia.” -Letter to a Future Lover by Ander Monson
“I didn’t always care like this. Look what books have done to me.” -Letter to a Future Lover by Ander Monson
“still I want to understand your small, weird heart.” -Letter to a Future Lover by Ander Monson
“Living here you come to understand the silence is not so silent: there are the sounds of creaking wood in blizzard wind and the sibilance of soft snow through pines on moonlit nights.” -Letter to a Future Lover by Ander Monson
“I’ll meet you where the future meets the past.” -Letter to a Future Lover by Ander Monson
“Our memories, monuments, unceasing, unspeaking. They go on forever until they, like everything, become ash.” -Letter to a Future Lover by Ander Monson
“We never were able to understand ourselves until it was too late.” -Letter to a Future Lover by Ander Monson
“Some words have freight, are freight- when pressed they spring back, retaliate, they bring a fright, bring fight to nights otherwise loose with dreams.” -Letter to a Future Lover by Ander Monson
“If I avoid, am I what I avoid?” -Letter to a Future Lover by Ander Monson
“I admit that was a bad idea. Collect enough of them and you can map my life this way.” -Letter to a Future Lover by Ander Monson
“We leave marks all along each other as we pass and pair and disconnect in discotheques. I fear it’s what we’re for.” -Letter to a Future Lover by Ander Monson
“and god we know there must be field beyond field after this, something must come after this, because this cannot be all, and if we wait and nothing does, if all our demon dreams are random chemical fire filtered through the sieve of brain that must make meaning out of everything, then what?” -Letter to a Future Lover by Ander Monson
“If we could know it all, ourselves, our selves, then our life would be a coma, series of commas searching for an exclamation pint, a program hardly worth running on our malfunctions.” -Letter to a Future Lover by Ander Monson