Annotating books

There’s this question among the reading community: do you write in your books? Do you make notes, highlight, or otherwise mark the books in your library? If so, why?

You could say that my journey exploring these questions started in high school. At the time we had to read a book in class for which we would eventually have to write an essay or where we would have to remember specific facts for a future exam on said book. Our teacher would give us each a random copy of the book from the school library. Most would hope for a nice and clean book, a brand new one, but others wanted those that had been written on, those that had the answers that would be on the test clearly marked (one less thing to think about right?). I always wanted the clean book, and I would never write on the book because then other people could cheat if they got my book! The outrage! And what’s the point in that right? Our teachers allowed us to put post it notes on our assigned book and we would later have to remove said post its, so that’s what I would do. At this point I didn’t see writing on books as a good thing, which is definitely true as schools have few supplies and they need the books to last for as long as possible.

At that point the only books I owned were the first four Harry Potter books. I never wrote in them even though they were almost falling apart from the countless times I read them. I didn’t even think about writing in them because that would stain them, deface them, make them less valuable right?

Then I’m off to college, where I actually buy (very expensive) books for various classes and I just write left and right in them because that’s what is encouraged. If your book is blank you didn’t do the work, but careful on highlighting everything because then you are also not doing it right! That’s where I learned to highlight the important and crucial parts, writing key words on the margins. I read Frankenstein by Mary Shelley a couple of times, either the whole thing or specific parts of the book for various classes in college, it now looks like this:

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Ah yes, specific underlining, boxing keywords, quotations highlighted and passages marked with post its! The different colors also signify the different times I read this book. 

The annotations are concise and when I look back I see the themes that I would use in the essays I would write. I can see the quotations I picked to back my points. It’s a very useful and good way to keep thoughts straight for such projects, but they lacked something I had yet to discover.

After college I didn’t write in my books once again, I thought that non-academic reading didn’t need and shouldn’t have any annotations involved. It was for pleasure, I just wanted to know the story and move on. Which, after four years of essays and analysis, was totally justified. I didn’t go back to writing in my books and in fact, I felt a complete aversion to doing so until I read The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood. The Blind Assassin was filled with words I needed to look up and phrases that I loved! It took all I had and I grabbed the lightest colored pencil I could find and started writing in the margins and underlining some phrases. And then, I saw this video:

Yep, I agreed with (almost) all she had to say on the subject and my mind was forever changed! I want my library to be mine, I want my copy of Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin to be unlike any other because it has my thoughts on it too. Then I also shared my copy with one of my best friends and she started annotating it too. So now it’s even more special because it will have both of our thoughts on it. No other copy in the world is the same.

Here are some examples of different ways that the books in my library are marked as well as some of the tools I use to mark them:

Now, how do you clearly mark a book as yours? Well, you put your name on it! ha! I learned about the use of ex libris many years ago but only in 2016 did I start adding my signature and some kind of mark to my books, signifying that they are from my library.

Another way that some books in my library are marked is with dedications. Some books are given to me by friends or family and I always insist that they write a dedication somewhere in there. This is partly because I want to remember that a book was given to me by someone and it changes the significance of that book, even before I read it. I have a few of those and although I don’t show those annotations here, believe me when I say that they are special.

Among the types of annotations I make now, most are simple highlighting of phrases that I like or that are especially powerful. Some are doodles and drawings, smiley faces, hearts, various emoji that show my reactions to a particular passage.

Yes yes, we can do this in an ebook (kinda), here are my annotations for The Goldfinch, which had plenty of them since it was a book club pick and I had strong opinions about it…

As you can see my highlights and notes are color coded and organized. But I don’t easily go to my Kindle app to go through these notes. (Unless I’m writing a blog about it XD)

Now, when I find books at thrift stores that are annotated I truly cherish them because they are unique. They are hours that an author spent on the book but also hours that someone spent reading and marking that book with their thoughts and emotions as they read.

Jazz by Toni Morrison. Annotated by what seems like two different people. Look at the different annotation styles, how it all fills the page margins. Unfortunately I lost this copy when my bookbag was stolen a couple of years ago. 😦

To end this post I’ll say this, love your books the way you like. If you want to keep them pristine so be it! If you want to write in them, doodle, make them works of art with paint, do so! I believe that everyone’s book collection is special as a whole already because each person dedicated time to put it together on their shelves.

Do you annotate your books? What are your opinions on this?

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