not writing books but writing in books

IMG_2115We’ve been having a discussion about writing in books. If you’re interested, check out the comments to Some People Buy Shoes (a prequel). I buy books. One thing leading to another, I mentioned that I had a slight problem with making more use of the library because I wouldn’t be able to write in my books.

This is the great thing about comments. I discovered that a lot (okay, most) of the people commenting do not, and would not dream of, writing in their books. So if you’re out there and you do, I’d love to hear from you.

As I said in one of my comments, I cannot read a book without a pen or a pencil in my hand. Cannot. I’m afraid something will be lost to me forever. It’s kind of like “catching days.” Writing in a book is my net for catching what means something to me in the book–the lines, the recurring images, the metaphors, the echos from page to pageIMG_2114.

I am in no way trying to persuade anyone to cross over. I’m just trying to explain myself to myself. Which is, at the moment, becoming difficult. Because the more I think about it, the more it’s out of character for me to write in books. I do want things in general to be perfect, and so many things I can’t bear to use for that very reason–journals for one thing. I don’t like to write in them because I’m afraid I’ll mess them up. Instead I “save” my journals and make notes on index cards and in spiral notebooks, where mistakes can be easilyIMG_2118 discarded.

I do see that journals are made to be written in and books are not.

Writing in books is the way I bond with them, and everyone bonds differently with books. Are there any other unique bonding methods out there?

I always write my initials and the year and month I read a book on the back page. Do the people who don’t write in books write your name in your books? Do you write in books you give as gifts?

30 thoughts on “not writing books but writing in books

  1. What a wonderful idea to note month and year you read a book. Like I said on my I Read page, I wish I had kept a list of every book I’d ever read.

    By the way, I read your stories “Frosting” and “Into the Woods” yesterday. I am in awe.


  2. I can see where this discussion is coming from – I have the same discussion at home every day.

    Due to being a literature student, I’m used to scribbling around in my books. The margins are full of notes (reading notes, comments, vocabulary annotations etc.). I find it easier to have them where I need them instead of them being on a separate sheet of paper. I always carry a book and a pen with me and I am not fussy about the spine being creased. I value books, more than most other things, but a good book is not fully ‘read’ if there are no comments and the spine isn’t creased.

    My boyfriend however thinks what I’m doing to my books is barbarous. He likes to have them look as if just bought, even if they are already read about a hundred times. I never read his books – I don’t want to crease their spines, I know I’d get into trouble for that. He cringes at the sight of me writing in my books.

    I see nothing wrong with writing in books – I do it constantly. I’m not a big library goer – as you said, you can’t write in them.

    So long story short: I agree with you, totally.


  3. I keep a tiny journal of all the books I read each year and the page numbers and the dates I read them.

    If I absolutely have to take notes on a book, I’ll either type up a word page or jot it down in a larger journal.
    I used to have a huge problem writing in journals, as well. Over the last four or five years, as I neared 30, I stopped worrying about it. My writing didn’t have to be perfect anymore. I used to rip out pages if they didn’t look good enough! Now I couldn’t care less. I just love the whole process of writing—no matter how it’s done!!

    For research books, I use those Post-It flags. There’s enough of a space to jot a quick note and you can place it right at the chapter or sentence you want to reference. The main one I used to research faery mythology for my current novel has almost every page tabbed. It’s ridiculous! But as long as it’s something I can remove without damage, I don’t mind it.

    As far as giving books, I do write a note with the date in the front…

    Dang, my comments are long… 😉


  4. You know what? Books are “made” to be of service to readers. And if you, as I do, get value from writing in your books, then that marginalia is helping them fulfill their function. I have a huge problem with the idea of equating “perfection” with blankness, with mint, never-been-used condition. I don’t believe that for one second. I believe that an object that has been used and personalized over the years is much closer to perfection than anything could be straight off the shelves in its Mylar wrapper. Clothes learn to hang on bodies; beloved toys become “real”; musical instruments bend to the rhythms of hands; kitchen counters absorb character from all the loving meals prepared on them; and written-in books are transformed into personalized reference tools with a special relationship to the reader who responded to them so mindfully.

    Whoa, sorry to get a little carried away there. Ahem. That, at least, is my ever-humble opinion. 🙂


  5. Oh, me too. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to know every book we had read?

    And thank you, thank you, thank you for reading my stories and for liking them. That makes my day!


  6. Susi-great to hear from you again. Yes, writing in books is a bit of a shortcut and easy retrieval method versus notes somewhere else. My husband agrees with your boyfriend. So we’ve been having some interesting discussions at home as well, especially given that he reads a lot of my books after I read them so he has to deal with my underlinings and notes. Thanks for sharing your opinion on this!


  7. Writing in journals is something I want to conquer because I love the idea of it and I have so many beautiful ones that I’ve collected and that people have given me over the years. Maybe I just need to DO IT.

    I did try a few years back–that’s where my notes are for the Tin House workshops I went to. Since then, though, I’ve been taking notes in a steno pad and then putting them into my computer according to subject matter, for example “dialogue.” That way they are easily accessible. But there’s also something fun about picking up the one journal I have and reading through my notes as they were happening. I also love the little post-it flags and post-it notes. You can see that blue one in my pictures.

    And I love the habit of writing a note and a date in front of books that I give as gifts. I have a bunch of books I was given as a child that my grandparents wrote in–some Bobbsey Twin Books that I loved.


  8. Emily, this is great! Thank you for ‘getting carried’ here on Cynthia’s blog. I am book lover who has always felt the need to keep every book brand spanking new. I live in house that is 100 years old. I love antiques. i bake on my grandmother’s board that has traveled oceans and years. i play the violin, and would never dream of buying a new one. I have seen the light! LOL.
    Thanks Cynthia for the great blog!


  9. I used to write in books all the time… and I still do write in the non-fiction books. But as a lover of fiction and a writer of fiction, I’m afraid to mark up something so pretty, especially if I have a hard cover first edition (which gets stored on the “nice book shelf”… going back to your discussion of how you shelve your books). I’ve started using the smallest post-it notes, and writing all over the post-its and sticking them on the page near the thing that struck me. I just can’t bring myself to write on them any more. The only person allowed to write on them is the author. I’ve become a freakish author groupie who gets them signed on the title page at book readings.


  10. Oh, Emily, what a wonderful comment. I could just see the Velveteen Rabbit coming to life, and now I have a wonderful vision of my books dancing around my study and opening themselves to various pages, proudly showing their badges of love. Please get carried away anytime you feel like it. : )

    And as I said in an earlier comment, I am working on my attachment to “perfect” in other areas of my writing life and my life in general.

    Jennifer, isn’t it great that we are not all alike? That we each have these individual approaches to our lives. Wouldn’t it be boring if we all liked to write in our books?


  11. Oh, I like the “nice book shelf” idea. And, alas, I too am a “freakish author groupie” who loves to have my books signed. There’s something about seeing the author holding the book he or she wrote and that is headed for my bookshelf. Surely there’s some sort of magical transfer or power from author to book.

    BTW, interesting trivia: bookcase, bookend, bookmark, bookstore, bookworm BUT book shelf


  12. Absolutly! Actually, nothing is as fascinating as diveristy – it is something I hope I am successfully showing my children. Something about Emily’s words made me see it in a different colour. I have always seen books as treasures. But as treasures and tools that can be used, well that adds a whole dimension! Of course, I will see how I feel after I actually do write in a book (we are such creatures of habit). i will try in pencil first, that way I can erase if it does not agree with me. LOL. sorry to be carrying on so…


  13. To each his (her) own. But, not in a million years… Not for the next reader, nor for me the next time thru the book, would I want to effect the emphasis of the author in/on his (her) own story. FYI I am the husband previously referenced.


  14. I’ve been using pencils for years, but I’m trying to be bolder. So now I’m using Emily’s pens, which I love (see Things), and working on letting it be okay if I make a mistake or draw a crooked line.


  15. I write in books….If I read something that I don’t want to forget it’s like it’s imperative for me to mark it! 🙂


  16. Aww, I’m glad y’all liked that little tirade! The last few days I’ve really been getting a lot out of my underlining practice, as I’m reading a book about museum curation, which features lots of great gross-out passages, and I keep needing to page back and read them out loud to my partner whenever he enters the room. 🙂 I’m such a thoughtful spouse.


  17. I’ve been rethinking this. My books are MY books, why shouldn’t I make them my own by recording my thoughts as I read them? And someday, those notations will be part of my legacy.

    I’m glad we had this talk! 🙂


  18. Oh, yes, it seems we do have a lot in common – I cannot make much use of any library, either. I love the way handwriting looks on a printed page, I must admit. This habit started in college, with textbooks and my Bible. My entire Old Testament, and some of the New, was marked up with notes and what they meant to me, but I accidentally lost it in a Chinese phone booth. As for other books with notes and underlines – I think it’s fun to re-read books and see what I was thinking the last time. Plus, they’ll be fun to hand down to my kids one day (once my husband and I eventually decide to procreate…). To the writer, perhaps a finished work feels complete when it’s pristine on the printed page. To the reader, it may not feel complete until a connection is made with it, and some readers connect best by marking up the margins. Glad to see I’m not the only one who does this! 🙂


  19. Owlandsparrow, I agree that it’s fun to see what I was thinking the last time I read a book. And I love what you write here:

    “To the writer, perhaps a finished work feels complete when it’s pristine on the printed page. To the reader, it may not feel complete until a connection is made with it, and some readers connect best by marking up the margins.”

    Thanks for reading and thanks for adding to the conversation. Hope to see you again!


  20. I have to write my name and the year I bought it in! I don’t write in the book, but I make sure that i have a scribbling pad for me to write down anything I find helpful, and it so happens that every time I go through the scribbling pad, it works like a time machine and puts me back in that time frame 🙂 the best thing about books for me is that it helps me create memories!!!

    And like I read in a book called Inkheart the author (Cornelia Funke) says “The book begins collecting memories, and forever after , you have to open that book to be back where you first read it! ….. and ends it with memories cling on to printed paper better than anything else”


  21. Maggie, I love the Cornelia Funke quote. With so many books I can remember where I was when I was reading them. That last part especially is lovely–“memories cling on to printed paper better than anything else.”

    I will take a look at Inkheart. Thanks!


  22. I don’t often write in books but I do underline and highlight sentences or passages that speak to me. I frequent the library quite a lot and so when I’m reading something that I want to go back to, I’ll fold the corner over (I know, I do feel a little guilty for doing this, but I unfold it once I’m done with the book – not sure if that redeems me!). The other thing is that I will write quotes or passages from books into my journal if it’s a book that I won’t be buying. On the subject of journals, I wholeheartedly encourage you Cynthia to just start writing! Get your favourite pen and write away, no matter how your writing looks. It really is a treat to go back months or years later and look at what you’ve written.


  23. Cora, thanks so much for reading this post from–gulp–6 years ago. And thanks for your comment. How people interact with books is so personal–I write in mine but would never dream of folding a corner over! And I have just recently started writing in a beautiful sunflower yellow journal : )


  24. Pingback: writing in books: 156/365 | catching days

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