Monday, March 10, 2014

The Art of Reading: Marking Up Your Book vs. Never!

All bibliophiles have at least one thing in common: the love of books. Still, as I'm reminded every time I talk to another reader, that doesn't mean we express our affection for the written word in exactly the same way. I'm referring to how we read.

This post’s theme: marking up books. Do you make notes in the margins of your novels? Circle or highlight favorite quotes? Dog-ear pages? Or do you shudder a little at all those suggestions?

I shudder. When people talk about the book as a sacred object, some people mean the intangible story and others the physical book (and many mean both). Countless bibliophiles cherish their favorite tales and consider water damage, food stains, creases, scribbles, etc. proof of how much love they’ve poured into the book, wearing it to shreds with re-reads or taking it all over the place. I, too, value the untouchable story, but I also value the tangible book. I accept slight damages when they come as expected signs that the book is being put to its intended use, but for the most part I try to keep my books in as pristine condition as possible and will never willingly inflict perceived damage such as dog-earing pages, cracking the spine, or writing inside.

Of course, my real pet peeve is when others do these things to my books. To each their own summarizes my philosophy on many things and I don’t care if someone wants to highlight or write in their own book even if I would never do so in mine. However, I care very much if they borrow my book and do any of the things I’ve mentioned: write, highlight, dog-ear, crack the spine, etc. This extends from a conversation about books into a more universal discussion about how we should treat each other. Respecting each other’s property has always been an issue for mankind, because we have very different ideas about both the terms “respect” and “property.” People who don’t really think any human can claim something tangible as theirs alone probably don’t think that person can dictate what can be done with that item. More commonly, though, cases of borrowing property turn into conflicts when the borrower treats the item the same way they treat their own...and that’s not the same way the item’s owner treats their stuff. To someone who dog-ears pages rather than using a bookmark, doing so probably doesn’t seem like a big deal. To that person, it isn’t. My opinion, though, is that when you borrow someone’s stuff you should treat it like owner would.

Back to books, though, I do grasp the benefits of these practices. Dog-earing pages isn’t only useful as a bookmark substitution, but also for marking favorite lines or parts in a story. Then if you pick the book up later, you can easily flip to these beloved sections. Highlighting serves a similar purpose in singling out esteemed quotes. Writing gives the reader even more freedom to expand with their own reactions and opinions. Some people I know who write in books say they like to re-read the book later and see if they have the same responses. Some add new or differing insight in another color. I also know people who specifically search out used books with writing in them to see how their opinions match up with whatever stranger wrote in the margins. As for cracking the spine, I don’t think people who do so give it much thought. It makes the book easier to read and hold. I do cringe, though, when I see people do this in bookstores by habit and then not buy the book (which returns to the debate about respecting property that isn’t yours). As for food stains and water damage, the real question there is whether it’s more important to you to keep your book in good condition or read it wherever you are, even if that’s in the bathtub or while eating dinner.

What about you? Do you do any of these things to your books? Why or why not?

1 comment:

  1. I like the idea of a well annotated book. I do feel that it is a way of showing your love for a book, and it's a way of interacting with the author, which I too love. I however, hadn't brought myself to do so, yet. I am definitely considering it though. I just enjoy the thought of going back years after you've read the book, and seeing your thoughts on it and what you found interesting or funny. It also adds character to the book and makes it more personal, I think anyway.