However, two things have occurred within the last year that may change my stance on this. Maybe. You have to understand, I have always considered books almost sacred; I hate finger smudges on covers and curled edges and sticker residue that won't come off and those fat black marker lines discount book stores slash over the top of the pages. Monsters.
I've been debating this question of 'yea or nay' for a while and finally had the genius idea to write a discussion post about it. So bring me your biases! Bring me your book-marking habits and your philosophical rants! Let's talk about this and after a good discussion maybe I can make up my mind as to whether book-marking is a sin to the literary gods or an irreplaceable gift to the readers who will come after.
The first event that set me asking this question was a visit from my sister and her family. She is a voracious reader and, though they're just younglings, all her kids are well on their way to becoming so as well.
So what does the best aunt ever hand over for the trip home? That's right. A stack of books.
I slid them over to my sister one by one, making little piles of which books I bought for which kid, and she slid them right back to me. "Write their names in," she said; "They love it."
As a library clerk, writing in books bleeding ink, ruined pages, and library fines. It's been instilled in me from my earliest days that you DO NOT WRITE IN BOOKS.
This blew me away. I'd never thought of it like that before. So I grabbed the nearest pen and wrote notes in every. single. book. I told them how much I loved them, why these books were special to me, why I wanted to give them a copy, and how much I hoped they'd enjoy it. Then I went a little crazy with the copies of Austenland and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society I gave my sister, underlining some of my favorite sections, because I realized that if I did -even if I was hundreds of miles away- it would sort of be like we were reading it together. I love that idea.
Now I love the idea of writing notes on the blank pages in books I'm gifting. But I still can't bring myself to write in my own books. Outside of maybe a self-help guide, adding to a book feels sacrilegious. My books are pristine. To the point that, any time I'm browsing through secondhand books, I seriously reconsider purchasing if there are any highlighted sections or chicken scratches.
Which brings us to even number two, which was my reading of 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff (which I reviewed earlier this week). Her philosophy of reading and books and book ownership and book loving has kind of blown my mind.
I wish you hadn't been so over-courteous about putting the inscription on a card instead of on the flyleaf. It's the bookseller coming out in you all, you were afraid you'd decrease it's value. You would have increased it for the present owner. (And possibly for the future owner. I love inscriptions on flyleaves and notes in margins, I like the comradely sense of turning pages someone else turned, and reading passages some one long gone has called my attention to.) (pg 27)
I'll have mine til the day I die -and die happy in the knowledge that I'm leaving it behind for someone else to love. I shall sprinkle pale pencil marks through it pointing out the best passages to some booklover yet unborn. (pg 56)I want to be this person. I want to be this person so bad. This is such a romantic notion and I adore everything about it. Expect the reality of writing in a book.
Past the Post-It idea, I've got a friend who buys two copies of her favorite books, one for marking up and one for reading. This nicely skirts around that dilemma -expect the issue of space. Do I really have enough room for multiple copies of the same book? Is it just silly?
While I debate what I want to do, I'm dying to know how other Book Dragons feel. Do you write in books? Do you think it's a sin? Do you have a system or -like Helene- do you think it adds to the flavor and history of a book?