Thursday, March 18, 2010

To mark or not to mark

The other night a friend posed an interesting question: Do you write in the books you’re reading? She didn’t present it as an accusation – more as a philosophical query. She seemed to really be asking not only, Do you write in books, but should you?

A colleague I never see any more always wrote in books, including ones he’d borrowed from the library. He’d sometimes come running up to me, open book in hand. I came to know this meant he’d found comments someone else had left in the margin of a book, as if to justify his own messy habit. I believe he’d usually jot something next to the remark, adding his comment to the ones he discovered left by some stranger. Kind of like being an early blogger, long before blogs existed.

As a person who often writes about books, I need to make some sorts of marks for myself when I’m reviewing. I usually rely on Post-It Notes, but have been known to dog-ear corners and even write on the sacred page, though I try to avoid this. I'll admit it, sometimes the urge to write on the page wins. This happens most often when I'm not enjoying a book, as in the poetry collection above with the note of frustration: me, me, me.

Yet even when I’m not reviewing, I often make note of pages I appreciate, and later transfer the passages to a notebook. Mostly, I restrict this to an inspiring line or phrase. But Philip Pullman’s Golden Compass series saw me scribing vast tracts.

I wonder, do other people do this sort of thing? And if you do write in books, do you boldly use pen (as I apparently used to) or pencil?


daniela elza said...

I have to admit I boldly underline. You will know my favourite books and the ones I rely on heavily as well marked. I would use pencil because I can console myself I will eventually erase it. (But over the years have realized that I never will, or will have time to.) I have on occasion used pen when there was no pencil at hand, but then I will mostly put a little dot or star in the margin to point me to the place. Funnily, I rarely write in the margins when I do not care much about what I am reading or I disagree. Most of the purpose of my underlining is to be able to go back to those thoughts later. Occasionally, I come across a book where so much of what I read I want to underline, that I think it might be easier to underline the parts I do not care about:-)

I am curious now, which poetry book has the me me me scribbled in the margins. or do we remain discreet about it. :-)

hg said...

I love that you boldly underline! You're an inspiration to writers-in-books everywhere.

As for the 'me me me' poet, if you see me in our non-virtual life you can ask. As for here, yes, we shall remain discreet. (But now I wonder, if one can be dis-creet, how is one 'creet'? What a language!)

daniela elza said...

Hope to see you at the event at the JCC on the 20th of April. Hope you will be able to take part. I am bummed I missed your reading at Spoken Ink. Hope that went well.

Anonymous said...

Hey Heidi ... I am a pro-writer, so put me firmly on that side of your survey. I write all over the margins, in between the lines, on the covers - back and front. One thing I love about my Kindle is that I can write my myriad of sentient thoughts all over and even recall them, bringing up the original passage -- like my own written bookmarks!

I treasure my grandfathers set of Shakespeare as he made all sorts of his own personal comments (circa 1890) in the margins. Like for example ... on the "to be or not to be soliloquy " ... in his perfect penmanship in dipped ink he writes: "As a Christian I am not to condone suicide or even raise the spectre, but isn't this man's essential struggle? Life, death, or worse, a life of death?" (He was a WWI vet).

Anytime you want to visit SF ... just say the word :)

sois sage, J.

hg said...

'...a life of death' -- your grandfather was a poet. With dipped pen no less.
And you with your Kindle, all in the space of a measly 120 years.

Anonymous said...

I'm a little late coming to this conversation but I'm compelled to add my 2 cents. I am in te camp of NEVER write in books. My mother is a great reader and admonished her children not to 'deface' any book, and most especially library books. We were not even allowed to turn down the corner of a page as a book mark.
Now that I can do what I want, I don't so much find the need to comment as much as I want to mark especially good passages to come back to. Funny thing is that I rarely go back to them - almost as if making the mark renders needing to return superfluous. It's already bookmarked in my brain.
The alarms still go off inside me if I see writing in the margins of a book and I admonish myself to relax. If I can still read the words, what does it really matter? The comments might even be interesting. I still can't bring myself to take a book in the bathtub though!

hg said...

Oooh, the admonishment about no books in the bathtub makes me think I need to do another post about reading in the tub. Absolutely one of the best places to read, though maybe not library books.
Oh, luccaj, I hope you'll decide to live a little. Get out a pen and scrawl something in a book. If you're afraid, start with the telephone directory. You'll feel happier, I promise.
And really, it's never too late to add your two cents' worth. Always encouraged.