Well, BBAW has come and gone, but I must admit that the book meme we completed a week ago sparked an idea for a blog post. I completed the entire meme – approximately 15 questions or so – that detailed my personal reading preferences. The ONE question that elicited the greatest response was the one that asked “Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you?”
OH MY! I had no idea that the book world was so divided on this one issue. I had several mention that the fact I write in my books truly surprised them. Hmmm….I wonder what “online personality” has come across in my posts. Anyway, I thought that I owed the book blogosphere a more detailed explanation of my (apparently) taboo reading habit.
First of all, I do NOT write in library books or books that I borrow from others. I am respectful of others’ property and would never presume to mark up a book that is not my own. If I read a library book with the intent of posting a book review, I tend to use an index card as a book mark (I do not dog ear books that are not my own either). I make notes on this card to spark ideas for the review. I keep a running list of characters, prominent settings, page numbers for memorable quotes, and perhaps a personal commentary or two. The card is promptly thrown away after the review has posted.
I also rarely write in books that I am reading for pure pleasure — cozy mysteries, for example. I allow myself to completely escape into the story and do not take the time to stop and write while reading. I do, however, break (or rather, crease) the spine when reading the book (I know – another taboo) – but I do not view the broken spine as book rape. I view a broken spine as I would view wrinkles on an aging parent. They show that the book was fully enjoyed, loved, and became an old friend along the way.
I always mark in books that I read for study purposes – especially those books that I teach, as well as those books that I read for my summer classes. I ALWAYS use pencil. I don’t use pen for several reasons, mostly because the perfectionist in me is afraid of making a mistake and I don’t want to cross out. I also use pencil because it is lighter in color – and therefore does not distract me when I re-read the book. I tend to asterisk portions of the book that I want to quickly identify as important to the plot or character development. I tend to circle word choice – either because I am unfamiliar with the word and want to look up the official definition at a later date, or I am taken with the beauty of the prose and want to reference it. If I notice foreshadowing – I like to mark the page as such – and then when I discover the event that was indeed foreshadowed, I add the corresponding page number. In the back of the book – on a blank page – I like to keep track of all the pages that I believe offer significant quotes for a class discussion.
Someone questioned whether the writing in my books distracts me when I re-read it. The answer is no. Actually, I find that it enhances my reading experience. There seems to be some connection that if I have already written down an insight, I no longer have to focus on that one thought. It frees my mind to perhaps dig deeper and find something else that I missed the first (or second or third) go around. It is always quite interesting to me to see what attracted my attention in the past. Perhaps I was experiencing something in my personal life that caused me to notice something that I would have otherwise ignored at another time in life.
Would anyone want to borrow a book that I have defaced? Well, perhaps my students would think that my insights might help them on the final exam, but other than that – NO. And that is fine with me. I have taken the book and made it my own. I have related to the book – and the author – in such a way that it has become an integral part of my literary life, and I would not wish to share those personal thoughts with anyone. I have no problem recommending books to others, but I would greatly encourage them to either purchase their own copy – or perhaps utilize the local library.
As a side note, let me give you an example of how I LOVE my marked books. I read The Hobbit for the first time five years ago when I consented to teach it to my British Literature students. I am NOT a fan of fantasy fiction, and this compromise was truly a great sacrifice on my part. The first time I read the book, I focused on the the character names (for some reason they are very difficult for me to discern) and basic plot time line. In each of the subsequent years, I have been able to focus on other aspects of the novel. The fact that Oin and Gloin are always fire starters (and how Tolkien does an amazing job of developing consistent characters throughout the course of the novel). I have been able to truly focus on Bilbo’s development as a “burglar” and subsequently a hero. I have been able to see the strong correlation between Bilbo’s quest to steal the dragon’s treasure – and the Christian walk (if you don’t see that correlation – that is OK – this is strictly my interpretation of the book). And there is so much more.
This copy of The Hobbit is totally falling apart. I have an entire section that is separated from the spine. There is writing on nearly every page. I finally purchased another copy of the book to use in class this year BUT…..I will forever treasure this first copy. I plan to shelve the book in a prominent place – as this book represents to me a literary turn in my life. It proves to me that I can read and understand and enjoy fantasy fiction. It has shown me that there is pure joy in re-reading a book over and over again. It is like the ratty, old, blanket that Linus carries around and would never forsake. That is the significance that this book holds for me.
I hope that I have not offended too many here with my highly controversial reading habits. I hope that you will still welcome me in the fold of book bloggers, for I truly do LOVE books. I guess I just have a different way of showing my affection.