Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Ink on Ink

Once upon a time, I went to high school. And, whilst in that high school, I took some English lit classes. (Shocking, I know.) Well, Junior year, one of these teachers required us to write in our books. Write in our books.

When I got that assignment, my head sort of imploded. (Don't worry, my ego quickly swelled my head back to a normal human size.)

Back when I was a much smaller sized human being and didn't understand that my father was not ten feet tall, my parents gave me books and taught me how to respect them. Respecting books included a few things: Never throw/chuck/manhandle a book; do not leave books upside down, cracked open on the table to hold you place -- use a bookmark; do not, under any circumstances, write in a book.

I would never write in a book. Writing in a book would be disrespectful of all the good things that were books, disrespectful of the authors, disrespectful of my family.

My teacher wanted me to do this?

Well, that year, some of our first readings were focused on weighing the merits of writing in and not writing in books. These were very interesting readings and many made strong points. One I remember clearly termed what my family would have considered inappropriate book treatment 'carnal love' and the way my family treated books 'courtly love.' The author said we were putting books on a pedestal, whereas he or she (I can't remember which) preferred a more 'passionate' approach. I thought some of the descriptions of carnal love sounded like an abusive relationship. (Hey, these included descriptions of tearing pages our of the book to make it lighter, or slamming it shut if a bug landed on it to preserve the insect corpse in the book.)

I did see merits in writing in the books. Those who supported it hadn't lied when they said it would make that copy belong to me. Even the one's I'm not fond of, I still have, because I don't want to lose the thoughts I left in the margin. It is nice to look back at the books and remember how I thought back then.

Once I got out of the class, I can only remember ever writing in one other book: Ender's Game, Senior year, when I re-read it to analyze it for a term paper. But, except for that, I do not writing in my books. Too many childhood memories of "Books are our friends. Treat them with respect." I found a decent middle ground, though, with which I am very happy.


Yep, I put post-it notes in my books. Not all books, of course, because that would be impractical, but then again, I wouldn't have wanted to write in all the books either. I'm post-it-ing a book right now, actually. I'm reading Burmese Days right now, and I know I'm going to need to be able to reference it later and remember what some of the Hindi means whenever I open it again, I'm leaving a ton of post-its inside this book. It's actually having a visible effect on the book. If I lay it flat on a table, I can tell where I left a lot of notes.

I like leaving post-its in books. I can still respect that book, and I can have the joy of leaving my thoughts behind in the text and also finding and enjoying the thoughts later. It's my fine line between carnal and courtly love.

Do you write in your books? Do you never write in a book? Are you a middle of the ground sort of person?


  1. If it's a non fiction I usually ink it up or take a high lighter to it. I dog ear a lot too. I see no need to harm a good fiction novel ;)

  2. I've never written a book. I don't think I could do it. But I did once accidentally bleed onto a book, due to a nasty hangnail, and that's probably a hundred times worse than writing in a book.

  3. My mother was a librarian so I did not write in books until I was in college and then it would depend upon the book. I could never take pen to Thoreau or highlight Hemingway but like you, when I found post-it notes, my books became laden with yellow,pink,green,orange tags. Especially my reference books.

  4. T. Anne -- Your last sentence makes me wonder if you would ink up a bad fiction novel. ;) You draw an understandable distinction in your inking.

    Megan -- I've never bled on a book, but it doesn't sound like anything worse than what happens to books in, say, a back pack or a purse. It'll give it a 'lived-in' quality.

    Piedmont -- It's interesting the sort of authors you wouldn't highlight or ink, because those sound to me just the sort of authors my high school teachers would have wanted me to annotate.

  5. I could never write in a book. I like the post-it note thing too.

  6. You're so cute. I love the post-it idea. I wrote in textbooks in school (mainly highlighting) but the only time I write in novels is if I'm giving it as a gift. I write a personalized note.
    I'm def gonna use your post-it idea. So many times I've wanted to make a note about something, but post-its never occurred to me.
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  7. Susan -- It's nice to know I'm not alone in this.

    KAH -- Post-its go up there with duct tape on the list of Awesome Things One Should Never Be Without Because Invariably You Will Need Them To Save The World. I also put pens on that list.

  8. I never wrote in books until college and then I marked those suckers up.

    I teach high school and for some books I require students to purchase their own. Then we coach them, going through and paraphrasing, writing comments in the margins, and looking for vocab. It's a great learning tool.

    On the flip side, I also tell my three-year-old to treat her books nicely. Books are friends, right?

    BTW- I meandered over from the Public Query Slushpile. I'll be back!

  9. Stephanie -- I understand that it can be a good learning skill, and learning to annotate a reading is certainly a useful skill. A lot of my friends in school liked to buy their own copy and write it in. I'm glad you stopped by. :D