WDTPRS: Writing in your books

I love books.  I enjoy and use books (cf. utor and fruor).  I might actually have too many books.

(Hmmm… Possible?)

I also write in books.

I write in my own books, occasionally, depending on the book.   I often read with pen or pencil in hand… again, depending on the book.  For example: I have often filled the margins of books on theological issues, or poetry, or contemporary issues, or novels…. or … cook books… ummmm… okay… nearly any book on anything.

I wasn’t always this way.  But, as I get older, I write in books more and more.  Also, some books don’t have adequate indices.  I compensate for the defect by notes in the margins and even making my own index in the back.  Ignatius Press is a real culprit for books with this dire flaw, btw.

Pros?  Cons?

What do you do?

Select your best answer and then add a comment.

I know that this may be as controversial as the infamous “Gins & Tonic?” question some years ago, but try not to come to fisticuffs.

Writing in books you own.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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73 Responses to WDTPRS: Writing in your books

  1. Philangelus says:

    Background: I have an MA in English.

    I go through periods of writing in books (my own books, never a library book) in order to find things I might want to reference again. This includes my Bible.

    My stepfather is an English teacher and his books and Bible are so marked up you can barely read the text.

    Currently I’m in a non-markup phase. The last books I marked up were my Lenten reading in 2007 and 2008.

    When I’m in a markup phase, though, it’s because I’m reading high-intensity, dense pieces and want to fully experience the book.

    Also, my then-boyfriend and I both read and marked up the same copy of Evangelium Vitae while we were long-distance, that way we could have a kind of theological dialogue with each other. :-)

    But none of your poll options fit my situation. :-) I’d have to vote for “Like a madwoman, when I do it.”

  2. Mickey says:

    Whilst I realize many people do this…I’m horrified when I see someone writing in a book, and don’t do it m’self. Books are like people, and writing in them (even terrible ones) seems wrong somehow.

  3. MichaelJ says:

    Conventional wisdom has it that marginal notes were the source of the “For thine is the Kingdom…” doxology that so many mistakenly believe- to the point of accusing Catholics of changing the words of Christ – is part of the Lord’s Prayer .

    For this reason, alone, I had to vote:
    NEVER! EXCOMMUNICATION for all who dare to sully a book with even a mark!

  4. benedetta says:

    I only write in margins of library books…Just kidding…

    No I am a non-notater. I like to be able to re-read something anew and notice new things so I don’t like to do write in the book or in margins.

    However I might use a sticky note to tab something in particular. And sometimes they get left and sometimes I remember and sometimes I do not remember why I flagged something with a sticky in the first place. For cookbooks I might insert a sticky with a note…I know, you might as well just jot it down, in the book. Sometimes I insert an article or something from a publication which I have read about the work or in reference to it and that tends to stay in the book. For Bible I use Holy Cards, Prayer Cards I have received or collected or something I have printed out which I want to remember to pray about or for and those are rotated around as we go.

  5. kabergeron says:

    I’m a librarian. I write in books. I’m fairly sure its against the secret oath that we take before we can be issued a masters degree, but I’ve always been a rebel.

  6. bootstrap says:

    Use eBooks and make notes, highlight, and e-mail yourself the notes and page references as often as you wish.

  7. RichardT says:

    Unless it’s a historic book, write in it. Your marginal notes (and, for cookbooks, blood smears) become part of the book’s character.

    There is a nice book of essays about books called ex libris (by Anne Fadiman, who edited the magazine of the Library of Congress). She contrasts the two types of reader as:

    – the courtly, whose admiration for the book leads him to treat its physical body with exaggerated respect; and

    – the sensual, who wants to possess the book ‘body and soul’.

  8. capchoirgirl says:

    English major here!
    First: You can NEVER have too many books. Never, ever, ever. Not possible.
    Second: As an English major, writing in the texts was a given. You had to, in order to remember things for essays, or class discussion, or your own ramblings, etc.
    Third: That said, I handle my books with great care. I treat them as Objects Worthy of Respect, which they are! However, that doesn’t mean I don’t write in them. I just do it judiciously now, and usually in pencil. :)

  9. VivaLaMezzo says:

    It depends on the book… but I don’t have a problem with margin scrawl in most cases. Sometimes I like to argue with my books and writing in the margins is the only way I can have a conversation and not look absolutely insane!

    By the way, President John Adams wrote in the margins of HIS books… so we’re in good company!

  10. I write in my own books. I even have a set of twistable crayons that I use as highlighters because they don’t bleed through thin paper. I also use ball-point pen, especially in older paperbacks with those thick, almost manila-construction-paper pages. Never pencil; when I make a note or underline something I don’t want it to smudge or fade!

    I have a lot of books that I purchased at a used book store, that came to me already marked up. I have added to, subtracted from, and annotated the previous owner’s notes in several of these.

  11. wmeyer says:

    I write in books which I study, and not in books I read purely for pleasure.

    I second the notion that “too many books” is an impossible concept — except when it’s time to move!

  12. JulieC says:

    So funny, Father. You even write your side notes in red. How many red pens do you go through in a year, I wonder?

  13. FrCharles says:

    I write in books. Then, when I come to look at a book again and see the shortsightedness and ignorance of my former opinions and questions, I know that I’m making progress.

  14. scarda says:

    I find that if I write in books, when I read them again I am more likely to read the marked passage, and miss finding/thinking something new. If I need to mark a passage I do a tiny mark in pencil, and usually erase the mark when I use the book again. People in the future may want to read an unsullied book.

    I hope that people in the future will love the books I have loved. Recently that hope is fading to the hope that people in the future will be able to read.

  15. Will D. says:

    I picked up the habit in college, along with festooning the pages with post-it flags. It makes it easy to quickly find the important bits.
    HOWEVER, marking up a book that belongs to someone else is a very grave crime. Never, never, never do it.

  16. ivan_the_mad says:

    I once read a book called “How to Read a Book” by Mortimer J. Adler. He encourages the reader to read with pencil in hand, and I’ve found that it certainly helps. He was also a Catholic convert :D

  17. I will usually write and highlight (another heresy, I know) in my own books, as it helps me later on to remember the important points. Never in some one else’s book, and absolutely never in a library book.

    On a sad note, I had a seminary classmate who would not only mark up library books, but would use a pen to do so. It took all my strength not to smack him upside the head with the book he was marking in. He later left the seminary (on good terms), but maybe his propensity for marking up library books was his downfall.

  18. Martial Artist says:

    First, I was blessed cursed from an early age with a facility of remembering large quantities of (occasionally) useful facts, thus I am a poor notetaker. I have what would probably be considered a semi-eidetic memory. In college texts, if I was impressed by a factual statement I could frequently recall about where in the book the relevant page was located, and had an internal “visual” sense of on which page (left or right), approximately what part of the page and whether and where illustrations lay on the relevant page and its facing neighbor.

    Second, I have had many occasions to resell books and writing in them reduces their resale value.

    Third, on books which serve as references, I have grown to desire to have them in a computer searchable form, and have noted a growing tendency to be able to find some such academically useful books in either eBook or PDF form, which I have gleefully begun collecting—particularly those from the Mises Institute.

    Ergo, I am strongly discinclined to add marginalia to my books. As a compensatory behavior, I have taken to collecting files of potentially useful quotations as MS Word or text documents on my PC.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  19. tealady24 says:

    And I thought I was the only one! I love to write in my books; I make little checks or stars to remind me of passages in case I want to re-visit this tome. Comments and notes are a necessity. What is life without books?!

  20. ies0716 says:

    I’ve never written much in books. When I was in college I tried it a few times but never really saw the usefuless of it. To each his own, though.

  21. Giambattista says:

    I generallyALLWAYS read a book with a pencil in hand. I underline stuff and write in the margins. I’ve always hated highlighters so I opt for the standard #2 pencil with an eracer so that I can “undo” if I want. My wife hates reading a book after I’m done with it. lol

    There are some books I wouldn’t do this with (i.e. leather bound breviary, for example). However, any paperback and most hardbacks are fair game.

  22. Bos Mutissimus says:

    In my freshman Metaphysics class, Fr. B****, S. J. (RIP — a fine, old-school Jesuit who was utterly dedicated to intellectual endeavor and was a true Son of Ignatius) taught the class to offset words with parentheses, draw a line to a margin, and define the word: “act” (a perfection); “potency” (the positive capacity to receive a perfection); “motion” (nothing more than a transition from potency to act), etc.

    His motive was that we would 1) learn the terms well [I still retain the information] and 2) to train us to write marginalia well on our own. He pushed us on to more advanced notes in Philosophy of God, in which he encouraged us to ask questions in the margins, as way of preparing for class, and ultimately, fully grasping the material.

    Under his influence, I expanded my personal use of marginalia to everything I read, esp. after graduation. I found after a few years that I was underlining & writing indiscriminately; therefore I tried to cultivate the habit of reading first, thinking, then underlining / writing (hm — “think before you post?”). I still practice it, but with more moderation. Always trying to improve.

    As to the books, I write only in my own, and since I have been fortunate enough to acquire in the last ten years or so many out-of-print Catholic Theology books (such as an Unreconstructed Ossified Manualist might enjoy), I am more careful, & often abstain from writing in the ones that are more rare, delicate, valuable, or worthy of pristine preservation (until they can be digitized some day). I might, for instance, in a decent copy of Herve’s Manuale Dogmaticae Theologiae, but certainly not in Jungmann’s Mass of the Roman Rite — too rare.

    I make my own indices, too, even if the book already has one. It’s helpful to me to highlight key points or quotes in the book that are otherwise not covered in the index.

  23. MicheleQ says:

    The older I get the more I find myself writing in my books. I also love to read books that others have written in. It’s a great way to share ideas and gain insight.

  24. jkm210 says:

    I rarely write in books, and I am a librarian, so that probably has something to do with it. However, I took a class on Atheism in college, and we had to read a book called Atheism: A Philosophical Justification by Michael Martin. That book is heavily marked up with obscenities that I directed toward the author, as if he could somehow glean them from the margins of my book. :-)

  25. Geremia says:

    I very rarely write in books, and I read a lot. I do like reading what others have commented in books’ margins, though.

  26. Karen Russell says:

    With the proviso that I own the book–yes, whenever I feel like it. Especially cookbooks. How else can you alert the next reader to the pitfalls and disasters and successes? And I enjoy seeing the dates when I first tried the recipes and remembering what stage my life was in at that time.

    There is NO SUCH THING as too many books!

  27. GirlCanChant says:

    Full disclosure: I’m one of those people who won’t even bend the spines of books because I think it looks terrible. I have 1,000-page epic fantasies that look like they’ve barely been opened.

    That being said, I was totally against writing in books until I got to college, and started taking philosophy courses. I realized I was never going to make it if I didn’t underline and annotate the heck out of everything. Always in pencil, though. Guess that’s the musician in me. ;-) Music, of course, is meant to be marked up within an inch of its life (but always in pencil).

  28. Titus says:

    I agree that it depends on the book: I voted “judiciously,” even though with most of my books, the answer is unequivocally “NEVER.” Mainly, I’ll write in text books and professional works, but not literature or books I keep for purely personal study. The only exception would be that I’ve written deprecating notes in some of the more unfortunate such works I’ve owned.

  29. Sliwka says:

    Not as much now as when I was getting my B.A. (Religion and Theology).
    A few books I enmjoyed marking up for different reasons. Aviad Kleinberg’s “The Flesh MAde Word” is very pithily written about hagiographies from Perpetua to Assisi (well, he begins with Christ, but just read the book, it is worth it). this was my favourite book so far in 6 years of post-secondary education.

    I also enjoyed pointing out ridiculousness in The Shack and clues to the meaning of A Prayer for Owen Meany.

  30. RichardT says:

    As for having too many books, Gladstone (the former Prime Minister) wrote a pamphlet on how to lay out your home library.

    This had two schemes:
    – one for the “ordinary gentleman’s” private library of 20,000 books;
    – the alternative, with sliding bookstacks, that could hold 100,000 books in a normal sized room, suitable for the more serious reader.

    If there is such a thing as ‘too many books’, then it only comes after the bookstack system cannot cope.

  31. Clinton says:

    Billy Collins wrote a wonderful poem called “Marginalia” about writing in books. It’s
    in his book of poems Sailing Alone Around the Room. It reads, in part:

    …”I remember once looking up from my reading,
    my thumb as a bookmark,
    trying to imagine what the person must look like
    who wrote “Don’t be a ninny”
    alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.

    And if you have managed to graduate from college
    without ever having written “Man vs. Nature”
    in a margin, perhaps now
    is the time to take one step forward.

    We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
    and reached for a pen if only to show
    we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
    we pressed a thought into the wayside,
    planted an impression along the verge.

    Even Irish monks in their cold scriptoria
    jotted along the borders of the Gospels
    brief asides about the pains of copying,
    a bird singing near their window,
    or the sunlight that illuminated their page–
    anonymous men catching a ride into the future
    on a vessel more lasting then themselves. …”

    The entire poem is worth searching out– Billy Collins was our poet laureate two
    years running about ten years ago. I recommend him.

    Oh, and no, it’s not possible to have too many books.

  32. RichardT says:

    I once saw a very clever way to make more bookshelf space – a house with shelves on the walls over the stairs, above head height, accessed by a wooden platform that lowered down so that you could walk, from the top of the stairs, out over the stairwell.

    Only to be attempted by a competent builder!

  33. Father S. says:

    As a priest who works in Spanish, I have had the occasion to use a number of missals where a priest whose Spanish was not so good had written phonetic transcriptions over words. While having grown up in a Jewish neighborhood makes me squeamish at the thought of writing in a sacred text, I can at least understand why a priest would see the need to do this. That being said, I hope that more priests would erase their marks after they move to a new parish.

    For my own books, I write in those to which I will return. For most fiction works, I almost never write in them. I do turn up page corners, though. Corners on top mark the last page read. Corners on the bottom mark things I’d like to return to. For texts that function more as tools, however, a good bit of writing is always in order. By the way, I find that brown ink is very helpful in this. Red and blue are very distracting and black is easy to notice.

    When I spent a year translating Virgil’s “Georgics,” the page was so filled with pencil notes that the print could barely be seen. That is among the richest Latin texts in terms of multiple significance. It was and is a delight to read.

  34. Patikins says:

    I rarely mark in books but if I do it is always in pencil. The few times I have marked in pen I later regretted it.

    I only remember one instance of marking in a book that was not my own. As a high school student I wrote the words to “Know Your Rights” along side the Bill of Rights in my American Government textbook. Such a rebel! (I suppose now that that has resurfaced in my memory I should confess it. Sigh.)

    I never, ever, EVER (!) dog ear books.

  35. APX says:

    I have a very difficult time writing in books, especially the textbooks in the 3-digit price range. It’s like taking a key to a car for me. I have a couple of highlighted textbooks from classes where the prof just reads out of the textbook, but anything else, I make notes on bookmarks, or cross-reference in my notes.

    Some books, like my Criminal Code and provincial statutes, I wanted to make notes in, but I couldn’t because they’re used for exams. Profs didn’t want students making cheat notes.

    On the otherhand, when buying used textbooks, I go out of my way to find the one with the best notes in the margins- less work for me to do.

  36. Patikins says:

    I should add that I write my name and the date I acquired the book (and the giver, if a gift) in the front in pen. Other than that, I only use pencil.

  37. Tim Ferguson says:

    Not only do I write marginal notes in books, I prefer to buy used books that have notations in them. I find the most interesting things that way (besides the fact that the books are cheaper, and my Scottish blood thrills at the sound of a bargain). I have some books with interesting notes in them from relatively famous people (at least in the ecclesiastical and canonical sphere of things). I like to think that someday, when my library is passed on, someone might find the insights I write in to be of some value.

  38. Mark of the Vine says:

    I write in books, generally just highlighting, occassionally adding some notes. Don’t ask me why I do it, because I rarely go back to re-read it. Maybe it helps me to memorize better? Novels, however, I do not do this to.

  39. Random Friar says:

    Too many books? Anathema sit!

    I picked “it’s just a book,” but I argue that writing in the book is really an act of love, a form of communicating with the ideas of the author. There is nothing sadder than an old book that’s never been opened or read, or dare I say, loved!

  40. threej says:

    At seminary, we had a diocesan book bin, where after our classes we would pass our books down to the next class of seminarians for our diocese to save everyone money.

    A few of us got in the habit of commenting our textbooks for this very reason– whenever the textbook said something heretical, we would underline it, and in the margin site the catechism or magisterial document it was contradicting. Some of the notes were quite extensive on the matter. But since these books were passed down for years, it couldn’t be traced to the original authors.

    That’s just about the only time I found writing in books didn’t make my stomach churn.

  41. Bede says:

    I chose the “always” option, as it is closest to my practice.

    The sentence “I might actually have too many books” simply does not scan. What could that possibly mean – “too many books”?

    I find that when I am reading meaty non-fiction, I will make notes, underline, furiously write rhetorical questions to the author. I never did this when I was younger, not wishing to defile the printed book.

    Oddly, the book that prompted me to begin making notes was Joseph Ratzinger’s The Spirit of the Liturgy. It was just so dense that I had to unpack it in the margins.

  42. nanetteclaret says:

    I would find it impossible to read and study my Bible without my colored pencil (and eraser) in hand. Having important Scripture verses underlined and starred helps me to remember them and find them later for reference. Being a convert, it’s especially important to star and/or draw an arrow toward a particular Scripture verse which helps describe, define, or explain a certain dogma such as Purgatory.

    I think I read or heard somewhere that G.K. Chesterton wrote in the margins of his books….

  43. I highlight some of my books but, I dogear pages with impunity! I actually enjoy purchasing previously owned Catholic books and reading the margin comments of the previous owner. I have enjoyed the ramblings of many a heretic and “progressive”. Btw, I have a heavily marked up previously owned copy of the Hardon Catechism at home. I double-checked and it does not say “J. Zuhlsdorf” on the cover page. lol [Very droll! My copy has the name Richard J. Schuler. He gave it to me the first time I walked into the rectory with questions about the Catholic Church.]

    There is not enough discussion of good gin in the world. I triple dog dare you, Father, to bring that discussion back! hee-hee [I believe I must. Perhaps I should wait for, ... dunno... 1 May?]

  44. Acolythus says:

    Like Martial Artist, I have a semi-perfect memory which allows me to remember the pages relatively well, eliminating the need to write it down.

    GirlCanChant: My music theory professor always tells us “the eraser is the composer’s best friend”.

  45. joeysmom says:

    Heaven forbid, Father! I couldn’t write in a book. I keep a journal where I jot down the quote or note, page number and the book (since I am usually reading a few books at a time). I have to find a better way to organize though.

  46. asophist says:

    Usually, I write my notations, with page number references, on 3X5 cards which I leave in the book.
    Occasionally, when I want to argue with the author, I will leave a gloss, but rarely. Bearing in mind that I will probably not be the last owner of the book, I like the thought of leaving a fairly clean book for the next owner.

  47. Young Canadian RC Male says:

    For me, I chose judiciously.
    1) Personally I have done this in past, most recently with a number of Josef Pieper’s theology essays “On Faith/Hope/Love” and “The Four Cardinal Virtues” because I wanted the good bits to put into a word document,
    2) However, some books should never be written in, such as old and rare books (Exception is they were written in with the first or 2nd owner before you got it). E.g. I have currently 3 of the 4 Xavier Rynne “Letters from the Vatican” compendium and these books were made in the 60′s. (FYI I’m just waiting on the last of the Vat-II sessions: the 4th). Becuase is is somewhat challening/you need some $ to get all the compendiums for personal ownership, such books shouldn’t be penciled in as the money, effort, time, and rarity of the books (between both the sender and the receiver) is much that those books are of high value.

  48. marthawrites says:

    Of course I write in my books, but I take exception to the reason being “after all, it’s just a book…”Books reflect who I am and what I enjoy at any time in my life and I want that record. I underline every nonfiction book I read and put exclamation marks in the margin. Occasionally, I circle a particularly well-chosen word or write at the bottom of the page a brief definition of one I’ve had to look up. When I reread such volumes as Conversations with God, it surprises and delights me that I add underlinings, i.e. I’m finding more in the text than on previous readings. I also take pleasure in what I’ve “exclaimed” over if that same impression happens again. Nothing else I own is more personal or more valuable to me than my books: I keep more than I have time to read resting on shelves and tables in almost every room in our home–I find this very reassuring: I’m going to wake another day and make space for reading.

  49. pfreddys says:

    Something I find handy is to have a small to moderate size Post-Em pad while I’m reading. It has the advantage of letting it stick abit out of the book so you can see where your notes are later on.

  50. Mary Catherine says:

    I never wrote in books until I was studying medieval manuscripts (that were used for academic purposes) and there were notes — and drawings — in the margins! The notes ended up as the focus of my research. I will never feel guilty about writing, underlining, and highlighting in books again!

  51. Jason Keener says:

    I have many, many books, mostly in the areas of philosophy, theology, and art. I just can’t bring myself to write in my books, and I keep them in the best condition that I can. It even bothers me when a page is bent a little. Someone will be lucky to get my book collection someday, and I hope my books will bring them as much joy as they have brought me.

    Yes, books are like good friends—You can never have too many!

  52. NDPhys says:

    I do not ever write in books, with three exceptions. I put my name and date in a book (in pen) when I get it for myself, as well as a notation as to whether it has been blessed, and thus needs to be treated specially. I will correct necessary typographical errors in pencil (as is the case in my Breviary, which has some minor differences from the versions the people I used to pray with). Finally, if I am giving a book as a gift, I will put an inscription in the front noting the date and occasion, and maybe a personal message.

    I own a Kindle, and I like the note/highlight/bookmark features, and have started using them significantly. This may inspire me to start doing the same with my own dead-tree books, but I don’t know.

  53. I usually have little problem with marking up a cheap paperback, but I find that marking up a book too much is not useful for me. A few markings, pointing to interesting sections, is much more important.

    I will not mark up a book (except for my name) if the book itself is a work of art in itself, but I attempt to keep in mind what important parts might be found in it, or maybe put a holy card in it as a place marker. That being said, I only own few books that might be considered investments, something of value that I may sell in the future. I *use* my assets and have no problem with using the fancy silverware for daily use; the same is with books.

    Much more useful is copying out important sections of texts as I come across them. I do this quite often while writing, even if the copied section will be edited out of the final text. For me these days, writing is more important than reading (although I’m doing more reading than ever).

    My copy of Hardon’s catechism has LAGOS written in large letters across the edge. The signature is hard to read, perhaps someone can help decipher the name? I have an image uploaded here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/msabeln/5614558224

  54. sejoga says:

    NEVER. Never, never, never. Never, never, never, never, never, never, never. Never. Never! NEVER. Never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never. Never, never.

    Horrors. And, for what it’s worth, I’m an English & Linguistics double major, and I’m currently working on getting certified to teach high school English, so I’m here to tell you that all the people who justify writing in their books by saying “Well I’m an English major…” are just perpetuating the EVILNESS of expecting avid readers to do the same. I assure everyone that you can still remember important passages, catalogue your thoughts, and recall discussion points without having to deface the beautiful pages of the books you read.

    This is why I memorize passages and buy annotated (by editors, whose notes are printed) editions of books.

    Also, I have to say I bear no ill will to those who mark in their books. Rather, I pray incessantly that God have mercy on your souls.

  55. TheRani says:

    I rarely write anything more than my name and phone number in a book, so that if I happen to lose it, or someone forgets who they borrowed it from, there’s a chance it will come home again.

  56. JohnMa says:

    I have only purchased one hard copy book that I can think of in the past 10 years and that was my Daily Missal. If it’s not available electronically count me out.

  57. Peggy R says:

    Never, never, never, ….as Olive Oyle would say, “A thousand times, no!”

  58. inIpso says:

    I mark up the pages with my favorite #2 Ticonderoga pencil (which has a sweet eraser- — trust the art major), use copious amounts of multi-colored sticky notes, and often write outlines at the beginning/end of each chapter.

    My poor copy of Story of a Soul has probably gained 10 pounds in stickys and graphite. <3 <3 <3

  59. great scot says:

    If I own a book and it has something I think will be useful later on, then that book may end up with more pencil markings than actual print on certain pages. I tried using flags and book darts. I ran out of them in a couple of weeks and it became difficult to find anything in any book. With pencil the important parts are covered and cross referenced. Personally, I think this business of writing in books might be a sign of a vocation to the priesthood… just like having a couple shelves full of books which you have been meaning to read but you have simply been too busy or a fondness for cardigans, pocket watches, brylcream, and fedoras at an early age. Not to fear Fr. Z I think you are perfectly normal and justified in this practice.

  60. stilicho says:

    To me, writing in a book (especially in ink) is a bit like getting a tattoo. Significant, perhaps, at the time, anecdotal at best later on.

  61. cuaguy says:

    It depends on what book! As a current History major, I have no problem underlining certain sections of books, especially those dealing with the authors arguments, if it is not a primary source. Oh, and I like underlining primary sources as well. Especially the relevant stuff. When I am “reading” 300 pages in a couple of day, I need to mark it all up, as I would never get through it all.

    Oh, and the books that I used for philosophy are all highlighted, as are some of my theology books. One of the theology books is so marked up that one could pass the class just by looking at some of my notes, and not the actual reading, thats how indepth it is.

    Anything else besides those? NEVER… if anything, it goes on index cards and thus gets noted that way.

  62. oblomov says:

    As a student I would occasionally make a note in the margins. But aside from that, no I never mark up what I’m reading. Writing or annotating the book only mars for it for future readings, and does little to help me think.

  63. jflare says:

    My college English literature teacher thrilled to the idea that we should mark our books. She had plenty of enthusiasm for her subject, but she tended to be a secularist–though I wouldn’t see a determined secular agenda for another year–and I honestly didn’t see much value in seeking out several different “levels” of meaning in a text. ..And, by then, I’d already met enough Protestants who took the wrong meanings from Biblical passages that I’d already been pretty firmly soured on the idea anyway.

    Then again, from a more practical perspective, if I felt a need to write down a thought concerning something I read in a book, I typically needed to take notes on a separate sheet. My thoughts relating to book materials have never been short enough to fit easily within the page margins. ..And my handwriting stinks, so I might not be able to read any of it later anyway….

    I also have never cared much for reading others’ notations. I typically feel that I’m quite capable of deriving my own impressions.

    As to having too many books though, I’m the wrong person to ask. Through several years in the military and two or three moves since, I’m always having to discern how to move all my books. They aren’t light, but I’m not eager to let go of them. There’re times when I’m simply forced to purge some of the books I haven’t reviewed in some time or didn’t enjoy as much.

    Trouble I have with the e-book concept is..I read books for fun almost as much as any other reason, but I can’t imagine not having a hard copy of it. In general, if it’s something that I’m not willing to have around the house (er, apartment) for a good long while, there’s a good chance I won’t buy it in the first place.

  64. luisfernandez says:

    I myself put writing in books on par with dog-earring pages… I would NEVER do it. I typically keep a supply of note cards handy and keep notes that way. Admittedly, it makes returning to books a bit more cumbersome, but I think it is worth the trade-off.

    My training is in mathematics and I can’t help but think that if Fermat had used note cards, he would have saved a whole lot of folks a whole lot of elbow grease.

  65. Anne M. says:

    I write all over my books, I underline passages, use little asterisks to highlight an important point, write in the margins. I often go back and re-read just those passages I have highlighted. However, I also collect antique books and I would never write in them.

    I have tried the highlighting and bookmarking features on the Kindle and that works fairly well, but if I am have a book I want to make notes in I want a hardcopy of the book.

  66. AAJD says:

    “I might actually have too many books.” A-HA! I’ve been waiting for years to catch you in a heresy, and I think I’ve finally found it–though you’ve given yourself some Jesuitical wiggle-room with that “might”! Too many books? I’ve had this debate with priest-friends for years, and we all unanimously agree that the strictures on gluttony or lust do not apply to books: one can have, and desire, as many as possible. To paraphrase Bl. Mother Teresa, the idea of too many books is like saying there’s too many flowers. I have, and almost daily receive, so many books I had to start a blog just to stay on top of them: http://easternchristianbooks.blogspot.com/

  67. Toronto_Sacristan says:

    I worked in a library when I was in high school and I guess since then, had it imprinted into my mind to NEVER write in books. I have rather large personal library of antiquarian books and writing in them would greatly reduce the value for resale…though I will more than likely donate my entire collection to a seminary in need or a rare book library when I depart from this life.

    I generally write my notes down on a piece of paper and keep them with the book for future reference, etc…

    One never has too many books! I have soooo many books and still continue to buy more that at present I no longer have any shelve space for them…they are either in boxes or piled high around my study/library and living room!

  68. AndyKl says:

    I’m an electrical engineer by major. I hate writing in books.

    This is why I love the Kindle, because I can highlight/make notes in them and still read them. :)

  69. irishgirl says:

    I don’t write in books-I was never much of a notetaker in school.
    However, when I was in the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites (1994-2000), I used a highlighter to underline passages in the works of St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross which we studied.
    I might have some underlining in one or two other books which I have, but never any writing.
    I love books-and you can’t have too many of them!

  70. Father: Your Hardon is, undoubtedly, a cherished item. Yes, May 1, after the Octave!

  71. GoZagsGo says:

    I always write in my books, but only in pencil :) Being a struggling writer/teacher and an avid reader, I find it paramount to write and take notes as I am reading. I’m a big fan of brackets, being a minimalist at heart, but sometimes an exclamation or underline will do :) Fr. M. Maher, S.J. (of Gonzaga U.) always insisted that writing in books and marking passages causes one to overlook other passages later on. We change, so upon reading it later we might mark another passage. I try to keep this in mind when I go back over a book, not just looking at parts I have marked, but it has never stopped me from writing nonetheless. I abhor highlighters. Abhor.
    My favorite thing to do is go back and read comments that I wrote from school — they are often cryptic and incredibly less enlightening than however brilliant I thought them to be at the time :) (Don’t tell anyone, but I also write in library books… I mean really, who is going to check out Wordsworth’s Prelude in the next twenty or so years anyhow? If they do, they can thank me, I put hours of research into that dang thing! :P )

  72. Melody says:

    I remember being utterly horrified when I attended a non-denomination Bible study (forgive me, I was young) and the protestants there has all highlighted their Bibles.

    I make cautious pencil marks. For longer notes I use post-its.

  73. James F says:

    I love books and they are near sacred to me. But I think you’re right (no pun intended). It’s just a book, and if it helps you to emphasize key points and remember certain key points, then go for it. I guess I should lighten up.