Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Leaving a Legacy in Your Books

I Love Books

It's the epitome of book geekdom to talk about dog-eared pages and whether or not you should write in the margins. Just for fun, I'm going to dive into this topic today.

Writing in the Margins 
To write or not to write. That is the question. It's not a huge question, but it's one that every book lover decides eventually. Some of us like our volumes pristine and orderly, without a bend or a blot on their pages. Others don't mind a little personal touch, and marks from former readers who have known and loved it.
Writing in a book leaves a record of your thoughts as you go along. It helps you remember what you thought (which is terribly easy to forget otherwise), how the Lord touched you through it, or what you were thinking about at the time.
But writing also has its drawbacks. While your own writing may not distract you from the heart of the story, it intrudes your presence on another reader. There is something alien for me about someone else's underlines and highlights. I bought a book once with tons of pencil linings and yellow marks, not knowing they were inside. While the content is rich, that other presence unsettles me. The book ministers to a deep part of my soul, and whenever I read it, I like to think we are alone. But my copy has markings, sometimes in different places than I would put them, which is distracting. It is as if someone else is looking over my shoulder.
There are different ways to handle the dilemma. You could write down all your favorite notes and impressions in a companion notebook, one that you keep handy while you're reading. It can be a delightful keepsake while leaving the books unmarked and intact. I found this process extremely tedious and boring when I tried it once, but others may enjoy it more than I did.
Or you could use sticky notes. Oftentimes I write down thoughts in my sticky note program on my laptop. Instead of underlining in Joyfully At Home, I had a bunch of pink sticky tabs I marked certain sections with.
Sometimes I consider it important to underline. I mark occasionally in nonfiction books, underlining points I've found helpful or things I enjoy. So Much More has underlines. In Pilgrim's Progress I put a light star next to paragraphs I loved, or a question mark next to ones I didn't understand. I also make a point of marking up books I disagree with. When I am reading for a deadline, I don't always stop to think until afterwards, throwing thoughts together rather hastily. So in the case of Quiet, Emma of Aurora, and other volumes that start from a different worldview point, I forced myself to consider as I went along. I didn't want to drink everything in without combating some of the worldview flaws, so I wrote little notes in the margins about feminism, old earth, man-centered philosophies, and unbiblical attitudes. It held me accountable and provided a safety net for venturing into uncharted territories.
As far as favorite quotes, I almost never underline them in a fiction hard copy.  But here's where Kindle comes in, and I love it: I can select a piece of text, and presto! it is highlighted and ready to go. The lines are straight (I'm terribly crooked with a real pencil) and the program keeps a handy list of highlights that I can refer back to later. I don't own a Kindle, but my Kindle app on PC serves me well, and I've used the highlight feature fairly often.
Every so often I hear stories about a grandmother marking up a copy of the Bible for each of her grandchildren. I think that's a beautiful legacy, and though I've never written in any of my Bibles to date, I bought a pocket Bible a few months ago to underline and mark in. It's not necessarily for a generational legacy; just for my own use. But I draw hearts next to certain Psalms, or write dates next to verses that particularly impact me. I underline and scribble notes on Greek words in the margins, and when I memorize, I carry this copy with me. I am marking it to remember the journey God leads me on through the year.

Marking a book has two sides. On the one hand, it spoils the aesthetic and financial value of a book. (Unless you turn out to be a very famous person like Tolkien or Richard III.) On the other hand, if you keep books within the family and pass them down from one generation to the next, it leaves a legacy to your children and grandchildren of the things that have touched your heart. And that can be beautiful.
I have a few nice books that I never intend to touch--nice old hardbacks, and my Tolkien collector's set. They are beautiful and expensive, and I want to keep them that way. But most of my books are the quarter and dollar variety found at thrift stores and book sales, and have no value in themselves except the fact that I love them dearly. Those books I am willing to write in. And the more I develop a conversation with the author, the more I want to leave a record of that conversation in some form.

I like signs of love in my books. Not abuse, like complete covers ripped off. But I love pages handled so often they've turned limp, and bookmarks so torn and tattered that it's obvious they've marked your spot for many days of happy adventure. I even don't mind an occasional highlight or two, as long as it's not every line. Love means people have enjoyed and cried and re-read this story countless times, and as a bibliophile, I like to see that.

Figure out how you want to leave record of yourself in your books. Write on sticky notes or index cards or the back cover or the margins if you like. Keep them clean and perfect if it is your wish. Whichever is most important to you is a fine choice; but it's worth giving it some thought.



  1. Lovely post, Schuyler!
    I think a well-worn book is a fine, fine thing. I had to laugh though, because I found that your "to mark or not to mark" and " on the one hand, it spoils the aesthetic and financial value of a book" comments deeply resonated with me. I cannot tell you how many times I nearly pulled my hair out back in the book-selling days over someone who toook a fifty dollar book and by marking it up or dog-earing it dropped its worth irrevocably by half or thirds. (And it has happened with books worth vastly more!) I fear it rather scarred me and barring my personal Bible, I do not mark in any books. :) That said, I understand if you know you are keeping it forever, (or it's a total penny-book) then there's really no reason not to if it serves you well. Just a little two-cents/rant from a former book dealer.... ;)
    Thanks for the thought-provoking post!
    -E.H. ;)

    1. Dear E.H,
      I can imagine you found a great many heart-rending scribbles in your work. What's worse is when it's a silly, thoughtless scribble. I've found random curlicues in mine, and I think I remember one awful copy where a girl had written her name and a boy's with a multiplicity of hearts. At least the majority of them are thinking folk who try to underline/write something worthwhile. But it is still rather sad nonetheless...

      Thank-you for commenting!! It made my day. :)


  2. I agree--books where every other paragraph is marked can be distracting, especially if you don't know who marked it up. But it is rather nice when there's a underlined section or little insight once in awhile. I think marked-up books mean the most when you know who marked them up. ;)
    I enjoyed your post very much! :)

    1. Yes. Someone you know makes all the difference. That's why I don't like buying used books with markings in them, but I don't mind so much if it's a family member or friend.


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