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Do You Mark the #Books you #Read ?

The Reading Experience

The Reading Experience

As a child, I’d often seen people reading books with a pen in hand– underlining, making notes, folding pages.

I have a horror of that– I try to keep my books as pristine as possible. I’m not anal about them or anything (right!), but I never take a pen to them, even those that I study for a project. I add sticky notes, in case the need to make a note of something is absolutely dire.

I read this article on books and readers, and it made me sit up and take notice:

There is something predatory, cruel even, about a pen suspended over a text. Like a hawk over a field, it is on the lookout for something vulnerable. Then it is a pleasure to swoop and skewer the victim with the nib’s sharp point. The mere fact of holding the hand poised for action changes our attitude to the text. We are no longer passive consumers of a monologue but active participants in a dialogue. Students would report that their reading slowed down when they had a pen in their hand, but at the same time the text became more dense, more interesting, if only because a certain pleasure could now be taken in their own response to the writing when they didn’t feel it was up to scratch, or worthy only of being scratched.

Looking back over the pages we have already read and marked, or coming back to the novel months, maybe years later, we get a strong sense of our own position in relation to the writer’s position. Where he said this kind of thing, I responded with that, where he touched this nerve, my knee jerked thus. Hence a vehicle for self knowledge is created, for what is the self if not the position one habitually assumes in relation to other selves? These days, going back to reading the books that have remained since university days, I see three or four layers of comments, perhaps in different colored pens. And I sense how my position has changed, how I have changed.

Makes some sense to me, and today when I picked up a book other than one from the library, I thought of trying out this reading with pen in a hand scenario. I didn’t manage to scratch a line. Maybe my habits are too ingrained now. Or perhaps, it reminds me too much of my editing stints, and ruins my reading pleasure.

What about you? Do you mark your books with a pen while reading? Or like me, do you like your books free of marks?

Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her literary crime thriller series, the Blue Mumbai, is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency. Both The Blue Bar and The Blue Monsoon were published in 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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  • rod says:

    I have marked up books when I was younger, but don’t do it now.
    If I’m reading an eBook, though, I will quite happily mark sections for reference.

  • I like highlighting parts I enjoy, especially on my kindle, so I can go back when I finish a book and put my feelings and thoughts together about my experience. I’ve never tried it with a physical book, but it’s worth giving it a shot. It would make our books more of a personal object, something forever ours rather than a passive story

  • Yes. I love to read books with a pencil on my left hand ready to pounce. Whenever it comes to the parts which I have questions with, I’ll write it in the margins, or when there’s some quotes I like, I’ll highlight them so tht it’ll be more convenient for me to look for the favourite parts of the book when I re-read it. But I honestly do not like to borrow my favourite book which have comments or highlights inside to my friends or anyone.

  • Marks give books character. Well worn. Well loved. It does get annoying when you open up a book and someone has doodled their name on every page, but I get a lot of amusement from used books that have notes from previous students in them (for example, how many times do you have to write ‘irony’ in the margins of Jonathan Swift’s ‘A Modest Proposal’?) Anyway, it’s nice to see where you’ve been or what you found important. I don’t hover with a pen, but if its good enough to mark I get up and find one. I have a fond memory of reading a book for college, a really tough book, and at the same time working on painting a set for a show at my university theater. I was pulling an all-nighter: one hour reading, if I start falling asleep get up and paint. While I was painting, one of my classmates wrote in the margin: “you’re halfway there! Kick this book in its thick little spine!” I discovered the note later that night and kept it always.

  • I often mark in books (both ebooks and physical books) to highlight awesome passages I want to remember. While with physical books it’s very easy to remember where in the book the passages are, it’s more difficult in an ebook without the 3d presence. In most books I read, there are wonderful passages that deserve credit.

  • daveb42 says:

    I almost never mark my books. The marks are distractions when I come back to the book. On the other hand, I have always been fond of the claim that John von Neumann was the first computer programmer, a claim based on a marginal note he wrote in one of his books outlining an algorithm to solve a problem being discussed in the text.

  • I mark my books.

    But to heck with that! I’m fascinated by the photo at the top. What I love about it is that it challenges the concept of ‘correct’ taxonomy!


  • I mark books that are nonfiction depending on what I want to remember. I do write in the beginning flap of books I buy when I bought it and when I read it. Otherwise, I take good care of my books. I hate when I see one spilled on or marked all over that is from being careless. 🙂

  • Totally depends on the book, but I rarely do it. The post you quoted also had an interesting take on it.. Watch this space.

  • walt walker says:

    Oh no, no no. No marks of any kind in my books. No folded pages, no creases on the spines of paperbacks. When I’m done reading, I want it to look like it still hasn’t even been read.

  • Phil Gentile says:

    To mark or not to mark depends on the type of book I am reading. I never mark a work of fiction, historical book or a biography. I do, however, dog-ear and mark interesting passages form spiritual books (like those of Anne Lamott) or philosophy books (like those of John O’Donohue) and how-to books.

  • While I never mark my novels or books for casual reading, I sometimes used to (ages back) mark text-books and other school books. Off late, I prefer using post-it notes to mark interesting pages. This is very useful for guide books, cook books and other travel books.

  • Until about ten years ago I would have shuddered as you do here at the very thought…yet I have discovered a simple pleasure in finding books well over a century old and seeing scribbled footnotes in them by people now long dead…those scratchings are memories and thoughts with their own power. So now…I have no abhorrence of notes and marks because a human yet to live, one day, somewhere, will see them and, for a few fleeting moments, will reach across all those years to bring our joy that caused us to make a mark on a page to life again…

  • Thank you for finding and liking my first review of 2015. I have reblogged your article. I too hate books which are scribbled on in any way. Someone I know underlines in RED pen! any paragraph or passage that she likes. I was horror-struck the first time I saw her do this!

  • Aletta says:

    I find it difficult to scratch in books that are not text books or notebooks, but at the same time I find the markings of a book lover in a favorite book, how should I put this, romantic? There’s nothing like reading a book that’s been in the family for a while and finding grandma’s neat handwriting underlining favorite quotes and scribbled comments in the margins. I guess what I’m trying to day is, markings could add character and maybe even make the story more personal or be a sign that someone out there liked the story just as much as you do. Thank you for this post. What a conversation starter.

  • Thank you for sharing:)

  • admin says:

    For many years I have marked books. At times I look back at the words which speak to me and enjoy them all over again. The into to my blog shares why I mark what I read. Sometimes I have lent a book to someone and been told that they were blessed by observing what was highlighted or underlined. It spoke of where I was at the time and helped them gain perspective. My favorite Bible is so marked up that some of the passages are hard to read, but again; I am blessed when I go back and remember where I was at the time and what I came through.

  • El Vega says:

    I would never mark a book! It seems like book sacrilege. Instead I keep copious notes which are then promptly lost.

  • nikibayard says:

    um sorry guilty! an old habit learnt from school!

  • Samson says:

    I have always made marginal notes and marked texts that stood out to me. (I even have a system based on symbols to mark the text appropriately.) This is especially true of philosophical texts. The concepts and arguments will inspire me to think in different ways…or cause me to vehemently disagree. In either case I feel closer to the author (and I remember far more of the writing) than I ever would had I just passively read the text.

  • larosesemsem says:

    Hahahahahaha…. NO!
    The pages of the books I read are like sacred ground. & because of my “obsession”, I only lend my books to people I know will take care of them v__v

  • Lisa V says:

    Depends on the book – if it’s a teaching book…definitely. If it’s fiction…never. By the way, I used to be at InTransit99 – I have a new blog…come visit 🙂

  • jafarley says:

    I find it hard to force myself to mark up a book too, especially if it’s a hardcover. But I love looking back at old notes I’ve written in books; it shows me who I used to be. I usually find what keeps me from marking up my books is my ego and having a pretty, neat library. But who the hell cares…no one is likely to see them but me and I’m trying harder to comunicate inside my books when they’re speaking to me.

  • brinkling says:

    Interesting post! I hate doing it – it seems disrespectful and presumptuous of me to determine what’s important in a book. I absolutely despised the assignments in high school. I also won’t buy a book if it’s been marked up. Then I end up thinking more about who marked it up and why they chose that passage, rather than the story itself.

    The only time I think I’d be okay with it is if it’s a book I love and I’ve read multiple times. Then it might be interesting to me and it wouldn’t matter so much if I get distracted. Otherwise though, no thank you.

  • Actually, just last month I was thinking that I wanted to start marking everything I read. I’ve always been a bit conflicted about the books I mark and don’t mark though–the mass market bricks of Fantasy that I casually carry in a pocket? Can do. But the massive hardcovers I tuck carefully into a bag with similarly flat, non-abrasive objects? Nope–I’ve never been able to even fold the pages. I probably won’t ever change that.

    But I will say that I have marked reads before and there is something engaging about it. I’ve never looked back on anything I marked after the fact, however. But the idea that those books are a kind of second-hand journal is fascinating. I may have to start keeping that journal in the books I can stand to annotate.

    Or, at the very least, I will totally use that journal-in-annotations idea for a character.

  • I’ve really only marked a book once, and it wasn’t with a pen, but a yellow highlighter. I still have the book, a quite expensive hardcover, but wish I hadn’t marked it now. Making notes elsewhere would have been sufficient, or as you suggested, using sticky notes that could easily be removed later. It’s the only time I’ve ever done it, and I don’t think I will again, because I prefer them unmarked. Perspectives change with time, I suppose.

  • Margret says:

    I don’t mark my books, but you would find sticky notes. my granddaughter who is 10 make sticky notes and do not allow any marking on hers. Oh just her name so no one would steal it.
    Happy New Year my friend!

  • daisylistens says:

    I despise marking up my books, but as I as American high school student, my teacher basically requires me to write, take notes and such in the literature I have to read for school. I do take a lot of my notes off to the side, but I still have to write in the books or the teacher will not be happy with me.

  • I literally riddle my books with my thoughts, like if I find one of the character acting as an asshole, I would readily draw a line and an arrow pointing outwards from his/her name to write ‘asshole’.
    Plus, I am always adding anecdotes or connecting the dots throughout – thinking out aloud by writing, :D.
    Unlike you, I just cannot understand how a book is read without the trace of the reader throughout, that said, all of the books I go thru, specially study materials, are overwhelmed with my thoughts.
    You are never going to touch my books, 😀

  • I would never mark a book now. I have in the past for school work, and then only ever in light pencil until I can make a proper note later on a separate page which I tuck into the cover.

    I’d never dream of it in pen.

    By all means it is a good concept to become active as a reader but I will happily admit I am anal about books. I won’t write in them, nor fold pages etc.

  • logicalmynd says:

    The only time I will mark anything is if it’s on a clean page as I’m taking notes studying for that subject. I believe marking an original source of information, like a published work, is disrespectful to the writer and distracting to its next reader. But of course, if you own the book, do as you please.

  • Kama says:

    Once I did that, for sure. Now I don’t mark or fill in, even in language practice books. I don’t fold pages either.

  • Anggun says:

    I do it in nonfiction, but I have my cellphone beside me all the time to take notes on anything I find interesting from a book so usually they are clean

  • I’ve marked the books read by me.

  • Leona says:

    I never mark them. But I have switched to ebooks for the last 3 years, and the e-reading devices give you the option to highlight and take side notes. I use that feature a lot, but I never mark my physical books.

  • Denny Sinnoh says:

    It might depend on what kind of book. If I did, it would only be in pencil. Sticky notes are better because it is easier to find the reference point when you need to come back to it.

    Also I would never mark library books.

  • I love my books and am very possessive about them. No I don’t loan them to people who treat my books badly which includes writing, marking or folding corners. My books are my babies 🙂

    I don’t even use bookmarks, am used to remembering the last page I read 😀

  • I’ve never felt right about marking books, I don’t even like dog earing them. It ruins the magic somehow.

  • ccyager says:

    My experience is mixed. In college I marked my books as needed — probably my peak time for writing in the margins. Now it’s rare. When I write notes, it’s usually with nonfiction books. Occasionally, if something strikes me in a novel or short story, I use a post-it to both mark the place and hold my written thoughts.

    Right now I’m reading a book I studied in high school English. Not one mark in the margins. The one book I wish I had marked up during my first reading is “The Great Gatsby.” My thinking has changed so much about that book over the years. It would have been interesting to have a written record of those changes.

  • bizigal says:

    NO! Sticky notes are the way to go.

  • anawnimiss says:

    The only writing you’ll ever find on my books is on the first page, where I write down the date(s) on which I read the book. But I always use a pencil. Never a pen. I add post-its wherever I need to!

  • Harshad says:

    Yes, I mark my books. I am complimented by one author that he was happy to see his book marked extensively as it showed how reader got involved with it!

  • casblomberg says:

    I mark my books. I’ve tried not marking them, but end up caving in almost every time I pick up something new. I guess I always thought if you didn’t mark up a book, it was like leaving it in pristine copy for something special, like a museum, and I never thought books were written for museums. I hated going to people’s homes and you couldn’t touch anything. It’s as if hundreds of people came through the doors, but never once left a mark. It feels cold and empty. I always wanted a home that was lived in, and I always like books that were lived in, marked up, touched, changed in some way. I like looking back and seeing what I thought was important the first time I read a book. I also like seeing how my views have changed over the years.

  • John Holton says:

    When I was taking algebra in eighth grade and not having much luck, my mother sent me to see her father, who was a math professor. After about twenty minutes, he asked to see my book. “There are no marks in this! How do you know what you’ve studied?” he asked. He then got an algebra book off his shelf and showed it to me: he marked each page that he had read with a check mark each time he read it, and the book was full of marginal notes, underlining, worked problems, etc. Some of the pages had hundreds of check marks on them; others were dogeared, there were paper clips on some of the pages with notes attached (these were the days before Post-It Notes), index cards were tucked into pages with notes written on them, etc.

    Maria Popova, who maintains the Brain Pickings website, reads hundreds of books and marks them up with alacrity. She has her own system where she builds an “idea index” inside the front cover, so that she has a way of finding an idea quickly. And she marks up pages.

    Since the stroke, I no longer use a pen, but I do most of my reading on the Kindle and highlight passages as I go along. Admittedly, I complain when I get a book from the library and find that it’s been marked up, but someone reminded me that the book might have been donated, and that the original owner might have read it and made the marks.

    Clean pages mean that you’ve read the book; marked pages mean you’ve studied it.

  • Bumba says:

    Thanks for the post and thanks especially for all the comments because now I know who I shouldn’t loan my books to.

  • shaymaq says:

    I can’t read or study without taking notes and using markers to underline or highlight important stuff.. I am a visual learner and this help me a lot in memorizing information

  • daveallen says:

    I used to consider all my books sacred texts, and bent over backwards to keep them in pristine condition. As I grew older, I found I got a lot more out of them when I wrote notes in the margins or highlighted passages.

  • Gail says:

    I highlight, underline and attached colored tags. When I read a line that resonates with me, I want to be able to return, reread, and savor it over and over again.

  • dweezer19 says:

    I have a sister who does this but me? No can do!

  • aldreaalien says:

    I could never bring myself to mark a book, although the sour memories of turning the page in a library book to find someone else had (and spoiled the plot) might have something to do with it.

  • Great post! I have been marking up my books since I was seven years old, a habit of ten years now. Maybe it’s because I’ve always enjoyed writing more than I did reading. Nonetheless, if a book was rather expensive, $20+ and hard cover, I wouldn’t consider taking a pen to it, not even a highlighter, but I’m a fan of the paperbacks. I highlight, underline, cross, fold, throw, bend, and I make it mine. This of course, is only if a book, in the first few chapters, interests me. If not, I’ll preserve it, and I’ll donate it.

  • I like to read with a pencil in hand. It’s a carry over habit from grad school, though I don’t read print books much anymore, so I guess marking e-text doesn’t feel as extreme as marking the printed page 😉

  • lynnsbooks says:

    I never mark my books – I admit that I don’t keep them in pristine condition. They get battered around sometimes in my bag for example but I don’t fold the pages and I don’t write on them either.
    Lynn 😀

  • Lisa V says:

    I keep my books free of marking, unless it is a spiritual book filled with memorable quotes or life-changing words.

  • Oh yes! I do that… with great pleasure, since books are something “alive” and they need to feel your interest 😉 It happens many times to re-read some of my books and everytime is a good feeling to see my pencil marks on the edges… :-)c

  • atempleton says:

    If I love a book, I live with it, and sooner or later spill coffee on one or more pages. I used to doodle in my textbooks. But older editions I try to keep as pristine as possible.

  • What’s most interesting is the range of responses. Unless it a Hemmingway first edition then – for me – books are just paper and I will gladly jamb them under a door as a stop. It’s the ideas and the language that I love and I have on-going conversation with the author on every page. If I saw a book that I wrote on a shelf in pristine condition I would assume it unread. If I found it marked up, dog earred, and beat up I would be happy that someone spent sk much quality time with it. Even if they hated it.

  • misspee says:

    I used to mark my textbooks back when I was highschool. When I was in college, I had expensive textbooks which I never wanted to mark, but it made studying difficult for me. So even if the books were pricey, I had to mark them extensively.
    I would never deface my other books, or fold the pages. I always make sure that each book has a sort of a bookmark in them, so that if someone borrows them, they wouldn’t have any reason to dog ear them. Although, some of them, especially those I read extensively, have definitely seen better days.

  • I am guilty of doing that, though I’d prefer them to be clean. I need to keep it clean next time:)

  • Pen, no. Pencil, yes. Since I review books I often like to keep track of comments, ideas, and typos that I come across while reading. On my Kindle, it’s easy… It has a note feature where I can highlight and comment whenever I feel the need… but with paper books? I carry around a pencil and an eraser.. I leave little comments in the margins so that I can find text when I go back to write my reviews.. but I always erase it afterwards (as I then donate my read books to the local library–and i’m sure not everyone would appreciate my critical comments).

  • I like to put my pen down when I read a book, so that i am no longer at work. I used to mark school set books, but I would feel very uncomfortable making any mark on a published book. I even use a pencil for my name if I lend a book.

  • Indywrites says:

    Never, I hate marking a book, except writing my name on it – twice. I am possessive of my books.
    I mark only if I am editing a book or reading a really badly written book and have been told to look for errors.
    Why ruin the pristine pages.:)

  • hya21 says:

    Like you, I don’t underline my books either. The closest I got to doing it was in text books – and even then with a pencil so I knew I could go back and rub the marks out.

  • Birgit says:

    OK-I am guilty when it comes to studying for a test because that is one way it keeps in my head as a reference. I did try sticky notes once but when I looked back I could not find the sentence I was looking for. Now as for my regular books that I own I never ever underline, use a highlighter or fold the page. I have a thousand book markers for that.

  • Pasduil says:

    With fiction, never. (Except on Kindle!)

    With textbooks, reference manuals and such, I sometimes do, though usually not. I guess it depends whether I need to be able to rapidly access certain material, and the book itself doesn’t provide the cues for me to do that. Also I may need to note “gotchas” for my future self if I’m liable to misunderstand or overlook some point.

  • I never mark my books…I find it quite irritating ….

  • wallcat says:

    I’m not a fan of marking books because sometimes other people may end up reading them afterwards. I’ve bought second-hand books before to find them with markings all over the pages that have nothing to do with why I’m reading it. My sister also works in a library and has had issues with brand new books being returned with scribbles all over them, which I personally think is a bit disrespectful when it’s not your copy and other people will want to use it afterwards (they actually charge people who do this.)

    On the other hand there’s something nice about each owner of a book making their mark on it because of the history and memories behind it. I also realize that some people need to make notes to help them in their work. I’d just rather not have that in my own copies. I prefer to try and keep my own books in good condition, but many of them do show ware from me carrying them around with me so much.

  • I never mark a book because that seems like the desecration of art. When I was in college and got a lot of my text books from the used shelves at the university book store, I found books that the previous owners had highlighted so extensively there were few unmarked sections left. I wondered what the point of that was. 🙂


  • tmorsecode says:

    In college, I marked up textbooks and even novels I had for my English classes (I really disliked doing the latter). When I go back and re-read books, I like to have a fresh take on them as opposed to being distracted by thoughts I had the last time or lines I thought were cool. To compensate, I jot notes or favorite lines in a notebook as I’m reading.

    Anne Fadiman wrote an awesome book about this very topic called “Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader.” I’m going to be reviewing it on my blog soon if you want to check it out!

  • I used to write in my books, now I keep a journal with me when I read and take notes. When I was in college, I was discussing writing in books with a history professor I worked with and she told me there is a whole area of study regarding maginalia–the notes within the margins of texts. For a historian, that sheds light on the thoughts of the person who owned the book as well as how it was interpreted based upon the the historical period that the reader lived in.

    Anyway, great post. Thanks for sharing!!


  • Topaz says:

    I’m like you – I absolutely can’t STAND marking up my books. I did it to one book and felt terrible afterwards – it feels like I’m tainting something, you know? With that being said, though, I’m not at all afraid of having naturally marked books. I feel like it tells so much of a story to see faded peanut butter marks smeared on a page when I couldn’t bear to put the book down even while eating, for example. It’s subtle things like that which truly make the book mine.

  • cricketmuse says:

    Our school latched upon the idea of annotating our textbooks. The principal glanced at me ready to address my horror, knowing the librarian I am would probably succumb to apoplectics. I compromised and students annotated passages of text. We also hand out sticky notes. Myself? I mark all over my textbooks and appreciate ones that I inherit from other teachers, kind of like receiving a well-traveled road map to help guide me on the journey of teaching. As for my leisure reads? Never! Those I revere I leave pristine, as you mention. I wonder at my approach sometimes.

  • A.J Sendall says:

    Just cannot and will not do it. It always seems like an act of selfishness when a person defaces a book that others might have enjoyed reading after them. Same goes for people who break the spine by folding a book in half, or laying an open book down outside where the wind tugs at the pages. No need for either.

  • hesterjones says:

    I’m guilty of marking my books but I always do so with a pencil so that it can be rubbed out!

  • kmandana says:

    Yes, I too love keeping my books pristine. But having said that, I’ve got a bunch of my grandparents books and he sometimes added his comments or underlined lines…..and there’s something so direct and immediate abt the connection that makes, for me…eve3n tho’ he’s been gone 20 years).

    Also when I pick up second hand books, it really makes me wonder abt the prev owner (what were his or her favourite writers, their personal lives, etc) when there are comments…like a nice interesting dimension to the book, that I wasn’t expecting!

  • ForesterCary says:

    I do mark my books when reading.

  • I would never write in a book, and haven’t since I was at uni studying English Lit! On another note … I love the colour-coded book shelves in the pic you’ve posted alongside this article!

  • NOOO!!! I can’t take doing that!!! I only do that when the written material is a hand-out for a lecture or anything and I need to remember the important parts. I mean I don’t even like it when people open books too wide and create wrinkles on books, especially hate it if the books are new or at least in very good condition (almost like new) and they do that.

    I love sharing books, but I really like to choose who borrows from me. My sister used to be irked whenever she borrowed a book and I would be telling how to hold it a certain way. She used to think I was being…dunno the proper term, but for lack of a proper one, let’s say selfish, in the I-dont-want-to-lend-you-MY-book-it’s-mine! kind of way. That wasn’t it at all. I just wanted (want) that when people borrow(ed) things from me, they should or were supposed to give them back in the same condition. It’s pretty much the same principle, too, when it comes to other things. Respect for someone else’s property. right?

  • Brian Bixby says:

    I visit many archives and noncirculating libraries at which pens are banned, simply because too many people who DO mark books can’t break themselves of the habit with other people’s books, even rare ones. And I find comments and underlining done by other people in library books absolutely annoying. Please let me discover the text on my own, and grant you the same privilege! I don’t want to know that you dislike the author’s politics, or underlined a sentence because it was crucial to YOUR term paper.

    You might guess from this that I don’t mark my books. Never could understand the practice of underlining in particular: how do I know a passage is important until after I’ve read well past it to establish context? And once I do understand its importance, why bother going back to underline it? OK, I know it works for some people, but not me.

  • Tony Michele says:

    For me it depends, when I read for school work, research I prefer to mark them. I prefer not to mark novels cos I would love to be able to give them out someday.

  • Marie Keates says:

    This was something we had to do to our English books at school and college and I still have a copy of Colleridges works with my pencil notes. I’ve never done it since though and I hate the way people turn page corners. Ha e they never heard of bookmarks?

  • that was the first thing i was taught to “not do”, the only signs of my reading a book too many times is pages that came out of binding because of too many times schuffling.

  • draliman says:

    The very thought of scribbling in a book makes me feel slightly ill. I still have all my university text books and they’re in pristine condition (and there wasn’t any usable internet back then so they did get used!).

  • ashokbhatia says:

    No way. Each book is a delicate flower which needs to be taken good care of! I keep a separate diary into which my areas of interest get noted down.

  • Peter Nena says:

    I also like my books in a pristine state. Unmarked, clean. I have trouble reading a book whose pages are marked . The markings distract, slow down. So I do not mark. Recently I bought second-hand Literature book with the first 10 pages underlined with a pencil and also marred with random remarks about characters, themes, plot, etc. I passed by a shop and bought an eraser.

  • I never mark up a book! I buy the little tags that act like flag markers! I don’t exactly know why, but marking up a book really upsets me. I also have trouble sharing books for much the same reason. I’ve had friends mark up my books on loan–I think that’s rude. LOL! I thought I was the only one who was neurotic about this. Ha!

  • A book is a treasure and I would certainly not mark it in any way. For some strange reason though I have no trouble highlighting book sentences on my Galaxy Tablet.

  • It depends on the books. If it is a workbook, I will write on it. If it is a phrase that helps me to the points, I will highlight it.


  • sudeepanair says:

    I like to keep my books as clean as possible, dog ears are a big no-no and even the spine has to look good, even after multiple re-reads. But I have done enough markings on my textbooks in school and college, still feel guilty about that. And lo and behold, today I see my 7 -year old marking out some words in her story book. It breaks my heart to see that. I did ask her why she is doing it and her reply depressed me even further – just like that! I am yet to observe her reactions when she re-reads her marked books. After reading the article that you shared, I am now intrigued…

  • Arlee Bird says:

    I’m another one of those who like my books to remain new looking without markings, creases, or anything else. However, I do like to read what others have marked on their books. Those notations can be interesting as well as sometimes revealing.

    Tossing It Out

  • thortonjakes says:

    My observation: marking books is a class trait. My friends that came from affluent families all marked books, because they wanted to annotate passages for discussion or personal reflection in some academic context. Added to the family library. Paying $10 or $20 for a book wasn’t a burden, it was a fun thing to do on the weekend. The working class people–books were valuable to them, a luxury or rare treat. Something to be cherished, passed down, kept pristine. Pay $20 for a book, or $20 for groceries or the gas bill.

  • jdai90 says:

    I’m a “marker”. I am constantly highlighting favourite passages that I read. I also write the page number in the back. It doesn’t feel like studying or work, it’s just a way for me to quickly reference the passages later. My books tend to get a lot of wear and tear. What can I say, I love my books…hard :).

  • rabbiadar says:

    Yes! I mark my books with marginalia, usually with a mechanical pencil. I also look in used books for interesting marginalia – comments on the text, especially useful comments. I assembled most of my rabbinical library from used book stores in Los Angeles, and the books I prized most were those from the libraries of learned rabbis.

    I don’t know if anyone is going to prize my books someday, but many of them have now got two sets of notes, mine and the previous owner’s. I like to think of it as added value!

  • aramiru says:

    I like to keep my novels pristine clean. However, I seem to be viciously uncaring for such things if I’m either working or studying.

    All the books I’ve used for school and work are full of notes and highlighted segments. I just focus on what I need to do to get the job done.

    Usually, I end up simply buying another copy of the book that I had to markup if I really enjoyed it.

  • Sammy D. says:

    It depends! Yes, I highlight and take notes in books I study.

    Sometimes a novel cries out for written interaction – notes to track characters or figure out chronology of events or for particularly moving phrases. I enjoy revisiting my marked up novels at later dates; they speak to me of my time and place from earlier readings.

  • k7reads says:

    I use those small bookmark-ish PostIts and place them at the top of a page I enjoyed

  • Rachana says:

    I like my books free of marks 😛 “I try to keep my books as pristine as possible” pretty much sums up how I feel about dog-earring pages and underlining sentences.

  • Yes! I also add sticky tabs when the book is loafed with treasure.

  • kschwalje says:

    If I’m looking at the book as something I’m studying rather than just reading for pleasure, I’ll highlight/write in it. Mostly, though, the books I write in are not “good” (keeper) copies but second-hand paperbacks.

    As to the comment about circling typos — if I come across a typo, I’m done. I close the book and pass it along to someone who doesn’t proofread for a living!

  • smilingldsgirl says:

    I totally write up my books . They become little journals!

  • Sigh…confession time. If I see a typo I circle it in pencil. It’s just a pet peeve but I find it irritating that a book can go through all the levels of editing required to be published and there are still typographical errors.

  • Arielle Joy says:

    I personally have always been a ‘highlighter’. Much like when I used to read textbooks to mark passages I thought would need to be reread and studied as important information, I mark up passages as I read that speak to me or spark a particular feeling. I mainly read e-books and the kindle app makes it very easy to highlight and make notes while reading for later reference. I am a book blogger and the capacity to highlight and make a few notes while I read allows me to write a well-thought out review when I finish reading a novel.

  • I MUST mark my books. I’m an English teacher and to read without a pen in hand just feels weird. If a book is a really good book, then the author has created beautiful lines and I have to note them, a kind of ‘wow!’ Over and over, I’ve been able to go back to a book and find exactly what I want [to quote] because I’ve done that. Or, I mark to trace foreshadowing or theme. It’s the coolest experience to get to the end of a book (The Book Thief for example is loaded with gorgeous turns of phrase in addition to the following:) and show how a character changed or grew or said something that echoed something said in an earlier chapter. My student’s eyes light up and they track with me like no other time when I walk them through the book like that. They can then admire the artistry of the author. Once you see how a book is constructed, you have a deeper appreciation for it and marking it achieves that.

  • jowensauthor says:

    I think I marked up a few text books when in college, but I don’t when doing normal reading.

  • macjam47 says:

    I definitely do not mark in my books or dog ear the pages. I like my books to look like new when I’ve finished reading them.

    • May I ask why? I like my books, like my life, to look like I enjoyed the hell out of them. Otherwise, what is the point of reading?

      • macjam47 says:

        I share my books, so I like to keep them in the best condition I can so that they will last through many readings.

  • macjam47 says:

    Definitely free of marks and also of dog eared pages. I use a bookmark and notepad.

  • mindocr says:

    Reblogged this on Mindocr’s Weblog.

  • I used to get paperback copies of hardback fiction books that I wanted to study for structure. I marked up the paperback with no guilt pangs. Now, though, the electronic version serves that purpose. It doesn’t bother me a bit if others mark their books, as long as it’s theirs and not the library’s.

  • shanechall says:

    I’ve always hated getting used books and discovering notes of any kind (even nice ones that say “This book is for you!” it’s like, yeah, I know, I got it in the mail from you).
    Also, for knowing that I’ll most likely give away or sell a book I’ve read at some point, I keep the pages untouched as a respect to the future receiver.

  • I mark mine thoroughly. I can’t stop myself. The only downside is that I can’t donate them afterwards.

  • Rahul says:

    I mark my books. Underline them, post my thoughts, disagreements, my ideas on same page – however, I don’t do it in ugly haphazard manner. I always use a good pencil or a fine pilot pen whose ink doesn’t blot. I mostly read history, politics and such non-fiction – it eases my understanding, and also – I would rather pay more for that used book that has been marked. Every “book” must take characteristics of its reader – and that makes “every” book unique in experience. Along the Daryaganj’s Sunday market – I have often looked for books which has fair amount of markings – for when I want to buy a used book – I also want to buy the impression of the previous readers. To call marking books as “criminal” is not right — with marking we feel closer to the text we read, we engage more with the author and the text and the idea itself.

  • RStorey says:

    I used to feel the same about marking up a book, it was criminal. But now with ereaders, I greatly appreciate the ability to highlight text and record my thoughts.

  • Dalo 2013 says:

    When I read a books that really moves me ~ I mark it up and treasure it 🙂

  • I only highlight and summarize paragraphs in textbooks. So I can find something fast ; or in the past skim and cram for Exams. My fiction books, unless used and pencil -priced , on the title page; are read with dust cover off; so it looks like I never read them. It is a penchant of mine, a peccadillo.

  • Grace says:

    While I was a student, I definitely marked up my books. Since we were doing close readings rather than reading for pleasure, I underlined, highlighted, and wrote comments in the margins as a way of engaging in a dialogue of sorts with the author of the text. Adding your voice in the text is a good strategy to feel more engaged even when you’re dealing with dry material. And, as mentioned in the excerpt in your post, it can be quite entertaining to go back and read the comments you wrote way back when. As for personal reading, since I borrow books from the library, I usually keep a notebook to write down passages that move me.

  • I never write in my books. I have a blank journal to write my favorite passages from books referencing where I got the words from. I feel that many of the books I reread affect me differently at different points in my life and wouldn’t want to lock on to a specific feeling at a specific time. I prefer to be open to how the words affect me each time I read them.

    • Wise thinking. At 49 years old I realize how much I never understood and how truly terrifying, the lyrics to my favorite band Pink Floyd are. As with any poetry or prose our level of life seasoning enriches or horrifies our tastes.

  • Doug Story says:

    I often interject, in fact, yell, while listening to audiobooks…just funnin’. I mar non-fiction and dandy the fictive.

  • jcckeith says:

    For my textbooks for college, I highlighted some because in many of my classes, the professor would simply go through the chapter telling us what to highlight, that these were the things we specifically would be tested over. An example was in my Anatomy I class, she would go through each chapter and have us highlight the bones, nerves, veins, muscles, terms, etc that we would be tested over.
    In all of my other books, some I would never mark at all, not sure why, I would instead keep a pad of paper and a pencil near me when I read them and write down phrases I liked or words that sparked an unusual interest. H.P. Lovecraft works are my favorites to do this with as he uses so many unique phrases and excessive adjectives.
    And the other books, I didn’t intentionally have a pen ready but while reading, I would encounter a paragraph or phrase that spoke to me so profoundly that I felt compelled to seek out something to mark it with so I could come back to it over and over again to remind myself of the inspiration or insight it gave me.

  • I only mark the books I have to read for school or work. I underline, highlight, flag (sticky notes), you name it I probably have done it at one point or another.

    The books I read for pleasure I like to stay in pristine unmarked condition as much as possible.

  • wscottling says:

    In the days before the printing press, people marked up their copies of books without a care (look up marginalia) and that was before there were “a million copies sold!” If it was good enough for them, it’s good enough for me. I mark the heck out of my books, and I tear them up for crafts when I’m done with them too, because I know that there are over a million copies of them out there somewhere. These are not sacred tomes. They are printed in bulk, my markings are not going to make one whit of difference.

  • I do often mark non-fiction, but I rarely mark works of fiction.

  • Louise says:

    oh god no. Although it was an interesting fact about how the reader slowed down and it became more dense. I use post it notes or write my own sort of cryptics on a notpad next to what i am reading.

  • Anna says:

    I never mark any of my books which I read for my personal satisfaction. I did mark the ones for school but never my fiction books. It just felt so… wrong. Like you, I want to keep my books pristine and unmarked. I’m even conscious of the way I open the book I’m reading because I don’t want the spine to get too much cracks or creases. Lol.

  • I can hardly read without a pencil in hand. It’s the biggest impediment to reading on my nook. There’s no magic to me in a book except for the ideas and language it contains. Reading is conversation for me and a chance to figure out just what I think. Very similar to Joan Didion: “if I didn’t write how would I know what I thought?”

  • kyarborough1 says:

    I don’t mark as a general rule. I like to read about readers who hold conversations with themselves in books (like John Adams), but I just don’t read that way. It doesn’t really have anything with not wanting to spoil the integrity of the book as much as I do all my thinking after I’ve put the book down, not while I’m in the story.

  • Being a former teacher: red pen poised in hand ready to strike, to cross out, to correct, to mark, to point out ones superiority to the plebeian students… Such power! Such negativity! Such destruction! But read the students’ works with no pen in hand – sometimes one discovers a jewel! A treasure! A glimpse of something one could never create oneself!

  • taytaqua says:

    Love my books free of marks. I could never bring myself to do anything to mess up my book. I too like to keep them looking pristine.

  • Norm 2.0 says:

    I’m like you, I can’t write in my books. I don’t know how else to say it except that it feels like I’d be defacing someone’s work. I like my books to stay as pristine as possible.

  • roughghosts says:

    One of the few pluses of ebooks is that I highlight freely. With paper books I have been known to run a thin pen line down the margin of a particularly profound passage and note the page in question inside the back page. Books are to be lived and sometimes that living needs to be acknowledged.

  • gilshalev says:

    Nice post 🙂 I don’t think I ever have or ever will write on a book. It feels like vandalism to me… now eBooks – that’s a different story.

  • I love using highlighters; a bright pink for a word or prose that moves me and a yellow one for highlight something to come back to. 😉

  • I can’t write in a book. Like you, I use sticky notes, if I need to. Usually it’s a passage that inspires me for my own writing. Most of the comments on this post are anti writing in books, especially fiction. For me, to write in a book (whether fiction or not) is like purposely putting a wine stain on a white table cloth.
    Interesting post. 🙂

  • I write in my books and the experience of coming back later and seeing how my perspective had changed rings true for me also.

  • davidprosser says:

    Free of marks every time. I’m not keen on the habit of turning page corners down either.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

  • Jay Dee says:

    I never mark the books. I used to fold the page over to mark where I left off, but I never do that anymore. I always use a bookmark. Underlining text in a book seems like such an awful thing to do for me. I prefer them looking pristine, especially because I may want to read it again or my daughter may want to read it in the future.

  • jetgirlcos says:

    Fascinating topic! For me, it depends. For instance, I love antique books and I would never put a mark in one of those. (strangely one of the most interesting things about them, for me, is if someone else put marks in them, preferably long ago…) I use a pencil (never a pen) when reading relatively new paperbacks in French, just to underline words I need to look up later. Then I write those words in a notebook. In college, I highlighted my textbooks from time to time, and made margin notes. But generally speaking, no, I like to keep my books as pristine as possible. Cool post 🙂

  • Doug says:

    People still read hard copy? I can’t remember the last paper book I bought, but I do highlight and add notes to my kindle books. Nice thing is they sync across devices and I can remove them or edit them later if I want, and they’re searchable.

    When I did read paper books I used to photocopy the page (or use a hand scanner), annotate the copy, then file it – whether it was a writing idea, research, usable quote, or whatever. Marking a book up is pointless if 6 months later you can’t find whatever you thought was useful or worth remembering.

    • Jay Dee says:

      Many people read hard copy. I usually do. I find it’s more difficult for me to get into an eBook. I prefer to have the physical book in my hand. And knowing that Amazon could just go ahead and delete any book from anyone’s Kindle makes me glad I have the physical copies.

  • Luanne says:

    Very rarely. It reminds me of teaching and studying.

  • I still mark up things — articles more than books — that I read for my work as a policy analyst. Though I use post-its more often now. Haven’t written in a work of fiction for years but I do do reviews so am in constant dialogue with the text in any case. And, of course, all my own fiction writing is inevitable part of a larger conversation with other writers.

  • wgr56 says:

    I’m not sure when sticky notes were invented, but I think it was long after I had graduated from college, so with those kind of textbooks, I had no qualms in using a highlighter pen. My personal collection is another story entirely, and I wouldn’t dream of marking them, bending a corner or doing anything else that leaves them in less than pristine condition. I’d even prefer to give a book away than risk loaning one of my treasures to a friend and risk having it come back to me ruined.

  • Dan Antion says:

    I marked my text books in college (before Post-it notes) but nothing else – ever. I don’t even mark reference books that I work with

  • gabrielle says:

    Knowing that you had a pen in hand, Damyanti, did it change the way you read the book? It’s an interesting exercise to try. I don’t mark books and I read fast therefore I sometimes have to go back and re-read pages because I’ve missed something. I think the pen in hand would help me slow down and take it all in.

  • excelsizeus says:

    I love the topic of your post. I used to worry about ruining an edition for a future reader until I went to a museum exhibition on mortality which included many images of books lined up printed out from a John Berger book on Art. All the effort for a future reader may be wasted if it is dumped in the bin because they don’t like print, don’t share your taste in books, or don’t care for reading. Nowadays, I mark my books, I bend the corners, and I enjoy them to the best of my ability.

    Books lent to me, however, are treated with the utmost respect. I don’t want to impose my opinions on anyone.

  • lahowlett says:

    Even before I became a librarian for so many years, I never liked to mark up my books. I’m still that way. I also use bookmarks because I don’t like dog-eared pages. Glad to see that I’m not alone!

  • Andrew says:

    I’ve only ever done that with one book: Moby Dick. Now, part of why I write reviews is to etch the book in my mind or so that I can go back and look at how I felt.

  • I love pristine books and cringe at marks, folded corners which I refer to as dog’s ears and scold any child cracking the spine of a book in the library! Having to repair numerous books and finding a Where’s Wally (Whaldo for the US) with him circled on every page, it riles me to see such desecration to books! Study guides are a different story and I can bear pencil markings through those books. ?

  • Kaleiyah-P says:

    Before tenth grade, I’d just read the book. But when our teacher expected us to make annotations and underline and stuff, it became a habit for things I’d read for school. I’ve actually found it helps me comprehend things better. For pleasure reading, though, I don’t mark anything up.

  • I mark. I remember reading a Toni Morrison book while in college and marking constantly. I continuously felt that Toni was speaking through characters. Now I wish I hadn’t sold that book. I’d like to read my thoughts.

  • The very thought of marking books makes me shiver! When studying I never marked or highlighted text – I would sometimes use post-its, but more often than not I took notes and referenced the page number. The words seem sacred to me, not my own – it feels wrong to mark them in any way. Maybe it’s just one of my idiosyncrasies, but I’m happy with it! Interesting post (and article) 🙂

  • Jemima Pett says:

    I can’t bear to see all these people ‘reading’ books with their highlighters ready to pounce. I can’t see how it really helps to mark a phrase here and a paragraph there.

    I read fiction to read (although I sometimes think I’d like to remember a particular phrase and then forget it), but if I’m reading stuff for notes, then I take notes – in a book or to file carefully for reference or revision. But then I’m old school, I suppose, when books were to be kept carefully for future readers’ enjoyment and use, too!

  • I hate to mark my books I read with pens and highlights it destroys the image of the book and makes it look like a workbook instead of a book of art. Thus, why I like my reading tablet because I get to hightlight and takes notes while my book remains clean and simple.

  • I actually haven’t done that been when I see school books that are highlighted are not helpful because its usually something that the newest reader will not probably need.

  • shoreacres says:

    I underline from time to time, or mark paragraphs in the margin with a vertical line. I’ll star quotations I like, or write questions and comments in the margins. I don’t do it with all books, but often with my favorites I do, and since I read and re-read, I’ve ended up with some books that have comments in them from over a twenty-year span.

    A book with no marks reminds me of the “living rooms” of the 1950s, with the furniture covered in plastic, and no one allowed to go in. Since I experience reading as a dialogue, I always like to go back and see what was said!

  • Fay R Kesby says:

    I don’t write on book a lot unless I’m doing a project on them but I will highlight occasionally and I’m a bugger for folding down the corners of pages of my favourite bits. But I’m a bit cruel when it comes to books – if I get a brand new one the first thing I do is deliberately bend the spine until it makes that lovely cracking sound. I am evil.

  • I’ve highlighted text in some of the non-fiction I’ve read, but never in fiction books.