Thursday, 15 November 2007

Booking Through Thursday

This week's BTT is something we've covered a while ago, but I'll throw it out there again. For those who were baffled last week, apologies for the incorrect hyperlink on 'Booking Through Thursday' - just pop along to Every week they pose a bookish question for those of us who have run out of inspiration by Thursday, and then I encourage all of you to ponder it yourself. This week: many of us write notes in our books. Are you a Footprint Leaver or a Preservationist?

Well, we came across this perilous question in my review of Anne Fadiman's Ex Libris, I think, which can be read here. And you may remember that I am VEHEMENTLY against writing in books, or defacing them in any manner. The library trainees recently went on a training session about boxes and foam pads (it's like a rollercoaster, I tell you) which included the speaker tearing pages out of a book as a shock tactic. Although the book was destined to be thrown away anyhow, it was still painful... an actual physical pain, running through my body, and quite a loud involuntary gasp. Shared, I'm proud to say, by those either side of me. Anyway - books are not notebooks, they should be treated with dignity.

Having said that.... this is where the hypocrisy comes in. My name is Simon and I am a Footprint Leaver. Very occasionally. Though a repeat offender, I must confess. The worst instance is my Collected Works of Shakespeare - reading this, while being shaken around on Filipino Jeepneys, I had to scrawl notes (always in pencil, mind) or remember nothing when I started writing essays months later. Nor could I keep a notebook - the quotations would take an age to write out, and while I could jag a line on a rickety journey, legible writing was beyond my capability.
What is amusing is the type of notes I make in the books, when not simply underlining. I write things, for the most part, not as analysis, but pointers. I.e. when I later write an essay on a certain topic, I'll be able to locate all the relevant passages. Which leads to such erudite pronouncements as 'death' alongside deaths, or 'time' by the use of the word 'time'. As Our Vicar's Wife's teacher used to say - "If you are the cream of the intelligentsia, Heaven help the skimmed milk".

Howsabout yourself? I promise I won't shout if you perennially leave footprints...


  1. No, not a footprint leaver, not since leaving university anyway, but i have a worse sin to confess than tearing out pages. I ONCE CUT A BOOK IN TWO!! It was Harry Potter and the Goblet of fire - 2 copies purchased for a four person family, 2 of whom were 8 and 10. The ten year old not being a fast reader, the 8 year old was beginning to fret. As we were in France for two weeks, this was not a minor consideration. So i grabbed the book (hardback, it had just come out) in both hands and tore at roughly the stage Son no. 1 had reached. Handed him one half and 8 year old the other. Look of horrified admiration on face of then husband... I've never done it again. When the next book came out we bought one each.

  2. Peter the flautist16 November 2007 at 11:05

    I never write, or make a mark, in books (even rather boring textbooks in physics) except to put my name on them so that when I lend them to my PhD students I get them back again. I hate, HATE, HATE! looking at books with bits underlined, crossed out, "corrected" etc. I have torn a book in half once (obsolete yellow pages telephone directory), but that was just to show someone how easy it was and that it didn't require any real strength. If you want to annotate books, get a pdf version and use the excellent annotation/editing features of Adobe Acrobat.

    Dark Puss

  3. I am absolutely opposed to writing in library books. Why would someone do that? I know why, I suppose, but it isn't right and it's a form of vandalism. Anyhow, what a person does with books he or she owns is a different matter, in my mind. I tend to take notes and leave my mark in a trusty little notebook/journal or use sticky notes, but when neither are handy, I may pencil in a little notation to lead me back to a particular section, word or passage I want to remember for later.

  4. Lots of annotating done at university (in my own books, not the library's)but none since.
    Like Alis and her Harry Potter, a friend of mine cut A Suitable Boy in half so that her husband could start it before she'd finished it!

  5. Peter the Flautist16 November 2007 at 15:57

    Dark Puss waves a friendly paw in the direction of "Literary Feline". I agree that what one does with one's own books is a matter for the individual (but I still hope that you don't write in them!).

  6. I guess I am both. I always highlight and write in nonfiction, but never in fiction. Go figure!

  7. I love books that have been annotated by a previous reader espcially if they say interesting things. I hate red pen or highlighter pens though. With pencil or black ink you can look through or round the notes, or read them if you want to, but garish colours scream at you and stop your own thoughts. I did my MA thesis on Mrs Radcliffe and reader response theory, and what better reader response than legible annotation. There is a wonderful book called 'Marginalia: Readers Writing in Books' by H. J. Jackson which others who actually like annotations might enjoy.

  8. Well I'm going to say it LOUD AND PROUD I write in ALL MY BOOKS.Every single book I read because they are not for other people, I don't lend, they are mine while I'm on this earth and when they become someone else's well, that's just tough!I love to get a book that someone else has written in, one of my treasures an early edition of a Virginia Woolf with marginalia. I underline and marginalise and comment and I love doing it, so much part of the two way reading process for me now and essential for writing a blog because I'd never remember what I wanted to say otherwise. Notebook hopeless, never to hand, pencil always around, hundreds of them all over the house. Then I write loads on the front blank pages, words that sum up the book, comments, quotes oh it's endless and I don't feel in the least bit a miserable offender over the whole thing because, let's face it, no one dies as a result! Come on you lot,let yourselves go, give in to the joys of marginalia and live dangerously:-)

  9. Ditto to dovegreyreader. It was such a feeling of freedom to realize, hey, this is MY book, I can write in it if I want (but certainly not library books or books on loan from a friend - leave notes on paper slipped in those).

    A pencil slash across the corner of a page I might want to return to - or straight line down the margin of a passage - but I seldom leave much in the way of comments. In the blank pages of the front or the inside cover of a paperback is where I make notes that I want to keep and would have a hard time finding again - especially if the notes pull from different places in the book.

    Also, with buying used books I love to read any notes a previous owner may have left.

  10. The only book you should not write in is the book that does not belong to you. I write in my books, I make shopping lists in the back, I annotate, scribble, add things in the margin, underline. The longer this rubbish about books being some sort of Sacred Object goes on the fewer people who might start reading and loving books will because of this attitude. Of course some valuable books are not for writing in if you want to retain the antiquarian value... but let us not be precious about them. It`s like people who listen to classical music with that particular snobbish expression on their faces.

    For some reason it won`t accept my log in

  11. Peter the Flautist18 November 2007 at 10:45

    My personal refusal to write in books is a purely personal, emotional, and irrational, reaction. My dislike of reading books with other people's writing in is I think more rational as I don't want to be influenced in advance by other people's comments. I don't think of books as Sacred Objects in the least. nor did I claim they were. I do not understand Susan's point about how writing in books might assist people to read them or love them more. Perhaps she could expand upon that a little as it seems an interesting idea.

  12. I don't mind if people write on them in pencil but I really hate it when they write on them in pen. Of course other people's annotations in your books can be wonderful -- isn't there an essay by Charles Lamb something about lending books to Coleridge and getting them back scribbled all over and hugely improved? I once lent a book to that great and now sadly late Romantic scholar Jonathan Wordsworth and it was returned in a sort of post-Coleridge condition -- I was actually both slightly peeved (it was a brand new book) and delighted -- and it is now a valued possession.

  13. Belatedly, thank you for mentioning your review of Anne Fadiman's Ex Libris - the perfect Christmas present for the other book addict in my family. Though where she will find to put it I can't imagine!


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