Do you, or don’t you? Do you push against all the years of threats and take action sure to incite the wrath of teachers, nuns, and librarians everywhere? Do you dare write notes in the margins of books as you read them? Be honest.
If you do, you follow the likes of many literary giants including Mark Twain, Romantic-period poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Charles Darwin, and many others. Oral historian Studs Terkel is often quoted as saying, “Reading a book should not be a passive exercise, but rather a raucous conversation,” and felt insulted if friends did not jot notes in the margins of his books.
My teachers left their mark on me, and for the longest time, I would not dare deface even the books I owned. I felt like I was desecrating something I greatly valued and could not bring myself to do it.
Now, I read with pencil in hand, and I love engaging physically with the text. Over the years, I’ve tried many methods of marginalia, but I have settled on my trusty lead pencil to underline passages that speak to me and commit my thoughts to the surrounding white space. Stars and asterisks call attention to special sections I want to easily find while flipping through the pages.
I circle words I don’t know the meanings of, look them up, and then include abbreviated definitions. I most enjoy underlining well-written phrases and paragraphs, ones that leave me wishing I had written them. My husband says he loves reading books after me, that he often enjoys my notes more than he does the actual book.
So, what about you? Do you write in your books? If so, what do you write? What does creating marginalia do for you? Do you ever go back and look at your notes? If so, what do you find interesting or surprising? If you don’t write in your books, why not? What keeps you from it? Did you ever get in trouble for writing in a book when you were young? What’s your reaction when you come across a book with notes written in the margins? Tell us about your experience writing in books.
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