I borrowed this book from my friend Erin. She read it when we were still co-workers and as she read it she’d underline passages or draw shapes in the margins and take pictures of the passages she liked and send them to me in text messages. The first text had a picture of the first page of the book and she said I’d probably like to read this book because the first paragraph mentions weird sex and Wittgenstein. I’d made it clear to her these were among my interests.
So in the copy of the book that I read were many asterisks, check-marks, and smiley-faces. I don’t have a fully satisfactory model of what features in the text predict which of the shapes. I think smiley faces are for passages that are funny or charming. Asterisks and check-marks belong to more serious passages that I assume are more personally resonant. I can’t discern a systematic difference in the text corresponding to each of these symbols. Maybe sometimes she felt like asterisks and sometimes she felt like check-marks and just sampled randomly from the two. Maybe the passages that would have provided the crucial data for understanding her generative model were left unmarked because she read it when she was on the train and she’d left her pen at work, introducing bias. I’d rather have a little bit of noisy data than a lot of biased data, my PhD advisor once said. Hell I’m the same way. Anyway I liked the check-marks because it made it seem like Erin had graded the book and Maggie Nelson got a very high score.