Friday, September 22, 2006

Book marks.

Do you write in your books? Or does me asking that question make your skin crawl?

I used to think there was no sin greater than writing in a book. The AUTHOR wrote the book, I was just a humble reader. What could I possibly bring to the metaphorical table by adding my scrawl to a page?

Then I went to college and we were required to write in books. This was shocking to me. And I suspect, to many others after all those years of grade school textbooks that must never, ever be sullied by neither pen nor pencil. Those textbooks were so important that we had to make special covers for them. That was always the first assignment of every year, right? To cover your books. But in college, we had to pay for our books, they were ours, we couldn’t get in trouble for writing in them. In fact, we probably would get in more trouble for not writing in them. And nothing was more valued than a well-annotated textbook. Especially if it was for something kind of tough, like medieval literature. Especially if you could buy it used and it already had notes it.

My college was so determined to make us write in our books that we actually had classes devoted to it. And we were all required to take them. We bought multicolored highlighters and had intricate systems of marking out the most important bits. And for books like The Odyssey, we would mark the bits that different teachers thought important in different fluorescent colors. It was rough. I just wasn’t comfortable writing in a book. I felt…dirty.

It was a few years after college that it occurred to me that maybe it was OK. Maybe it was actually a good idea to write in my books. I remember the first of my non-textbooks that I ever wrote in; it was that big a deal to me. It was a book of the letters of F. Scott Fitzgerald and I wanted to be able to find the passage again. In fact, I bet if I went to the bookshelf right now, I could find that passage, it was in a letter to his daughter and it was exceptionally funny…except the bookshelf is in another room and I am lazy.

After that I pretty much lost any reverence I had for books. Oh, I love books, probably a little too much. I pretty much have an entire storage unit filled with books, some I have read and some…that I will read…eventually…I swear. There are stacks of books all over my apartment. In fact, there is not a single room that does not have books in it. The kitchen has it’s own bookshelf, the hallway houses a basket of poetry, the bathroom…well let’s just say there’s always something to read in our bathroom. But once I started writing in my books, I started treating them a little rougher, no bookmark, no problem, fold the page back (I swear I can hear people cry when I say that). And bindings, dude, just like hearts, they are made to be broken.

I don’t scribble in every book I own. But I realized that these were MY books and I could do what I wanted with them. Generally I just make notes to myself on a particularly lovely passage or cleverly used word. Sometimes it’s a reference to another book. And I also realized that I like to buy used books that have notes in them. It makes me happy to see what other people think.

But, in all honesty, I started thinking about this because I wanted to loan a book to an acquaintance. She doesn’t know me very well and that’s OK but the book I want to loan her is my favorite book of poetry. It’s…well loved. Kind of like the Velveteen Rabbit. When I first got it, I carried it around in my bag. One day a soda spilled on it. It is warped and stained but that doesn’t worry me so much. It’s all the little notes in it that made me think twice about loaning it out. The little hearts around the one poem I love so much. The “very clever” comments next to some particularly good similes. I am afraid that, not knowing me all that well, my rough treatment of books will scare her. And I don’t want her to know what kind of dork I am.

Yeah, a big dork. I know.


Jodi said...

I only write in books that you loan me.

Anonymous said...

I worked for a bookstore for seven years. I can't even buy a magazine that has a crease in the cover. I don't think I could loan you a book...

Anonymous said...

That's about the progression that I've gone through as well. I used to obsess over every crease in the dust cover and try to use bookmarks. Now I'm a bit more lax (particularly with paperbacks). I still have a hard time writing in books, though. I've tried to force myself to do it with some of the recent non-fiction I've read, but it just seems wrong...

victoria winters said...

No. I hate it when I buy a used book and there's writing in it or, God forbid, highlighting! Ack.

Brenda Griffith said...

When we live in an apartment books were *everywhere*. We kept the poetry in the bathroom so of course all the books are warped from humidity and actual accidents. As soon as we graduated to having a house we made sure it had a suitable “library”, and we bought lots and lots and lots of bookshelves (or had them built-in in one house… we are on our third house). The library may just be the landing at the top of the stairs, but it has two comfy chairs and books, books, books.

Writing in books? Nah. can't stand it. If it's in pencil, I take the time to erase it. I usually buy new just to avoid other people's thoughts in my entertainment.

ren said...

jodi- do you write in invisible ink?

ac- while i write in my own books, i would never write in someone else's. i'm not that mean. and i'm guessing that no one really wants to borrow the books that i do write in's mostly poetry and literary theory kind of stuff anyway.

chris- join me! be one of us! you paid for the book, just go for it! it's freeing!

victoria- i love it! but i love even more when you get an unexpected surprise, like a postcard or a bookmark or best of all, a letter tucked inside. less fond of the cookie crumbs and silverfish though.

brenda- color me jealous. i really wish i had a library. and hey! don't erase what i write, it's deep, man, really deep (heh, not really)

Anonymous said...

I write me name, month and year on the back cover right hand lower corner of each book. Other than that, I don't write in them at all. I keep a book journal where I jot down the book name, page and note so as to not write in my books. Folding pages is a huge no-no. I also stack them "according to height" not by author or anything else. Great, I just revealed what a gigantic dork I am.