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Write in Books or Keep Them Clean?

Since the dawn of time, life forms across the universe have fought endlessly regarding this debate: should you write in books, or not? Wars have been waged, lives have been lost… ok well maybe it hasn’t been THAT big of a deal, but the debate still goes on.

Readers have all kinds of habits and pet peeves. Some like to read at night or in the morning, while sitting or lying down, with music on or off. The list of such habits goes on and on. Some people write in their books, and some detest those who do.

What do you do? When you are reading a book do you highlight, underline, or write notes in the margins? Some readers would call this act blasphemous. How dare you besmirch the artistic work of an author!? The book itself is a work of art that many people have painstakingly put together. To write inside of it is like dragging your finger across a painting.

This may seem a bit dramatic, but people genuinely hold this belief. Readers who write in their books tend not to care so much about the ‘sanctity’ of the book. Instead, they focus on marking the book for future reference. Writing notes and marking pages helps the reader go back and remember key aspects of the book, which helps keep the book vivid in the readers mind. 

A recent article from Barnes and Nobel, “Is it Okay to Write in Books? Two Readers Debate”, featured this same debate with a twist. Author of the article, Emma Chastain, argues against writing in books: “the only thing guaranteed to ruin my pleasure is encountering my own stupid marginalia.” She doesn’t want to be reminded of her “dumber self”. Instead she wants a fresh experience of the book with her wiser, smarter brain.

Chastain suggests that readers who like to write in their books should write in a notebook instead. She deplores, “highlighting, scribbling, underlining,” claiming that “it’s too easy. It’s not engagement; it’s graffiti.” This is a critical argument against those who like to write in their books. The whole idea of writing in your books is to get more out of it, to remember thoughts you had, and to highlight your favorite moments.

Chastain may be right. If you truly want to get the most out of your book, writing everything down in a separate notebook could be the best way to do it. You have more space to fully flesh out your ideas and actually rewrite some of your favorite lines.

However, there seems to be something special about writing in your book the moment something strikes you as interesting. You are logging experiences that you may never feel again, even if it’s in a sloppy and non-academic manner. As always, the choice is yours as the reader to do whatever you want, but the question remains, how seriously do you take your reading?

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