Writing in Books: Faux Pas or Actually Fabulous?

The rise of BookTok has led to more and more people writing in their books. Let’s take some time and consider if that’s a massive red flag or not!

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We’ve all been told growing up that we should think while we read, and in some cases, even take notes on what we read––in what we read. At the same time, though, how many of us have been told that we should never desecrate the holy ground that is our books? How many of us have been told that dog-earring pages is a cardinal sin, and that we’ll burn in the fires of Hades forever-and-ever-and-ever if we even get a drop of spaghetti sauce on them? Wait, just me? …Well, still!

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with writing in books. On paper (ironically), it sounds good, but in execution, it’s not always the best idea. So today, I’m getting down to the bottom of it and answering the question once and for all: is writing in books really that bad?

Why Annotating is Important

The thing is, the act of annotating, is actually quite useful and important! As a recent college graduate myself, I can attest that jotting things down as you are reading can be both a life and time-saver. Especially if, like me, you are a Creative Writing (or English) major and thus have to take an insane amount of literature classes!

But if you’re reading for pleasure, that changes things, doesn’t it? The purpose of annotating, to be specific, changes. Instead of annotating to learn, most people who annotate their books for pleasure do so in order to preserve their thoughts or feelings. The notes often only make sense to them and can be both messy and haphazard but, in an odd way, also kind of endearing and pretty. However, once you write in a book, that becomes permanent (unless you’re using a pencil!), and that can be pretty terrifying to some people (read: me).

The Aesthetics of Writing in Books

Books doodling

That being said, a lot of what I’ve been seeing on Bookstagram, Booktwt, and Booktok recently has shown that people don’t really tend to annotate books that seriously anymore. The commodification of aesthetics has led, in my opinion, to a need to make everything look pretty. Which is fine! But the issue with that is that focusing more on how something looks can sometimes take away from the actual sustenance behind it. At the end of the day, it’s a free country, and it’s everyone’s own choice what they do with/in their books. Even I can’t help but find the doodling and color-coded highlighting (as pictured above) very appealing!

My main issue with this method of annotating is that it feels, to a certain degree, performative. While I’m certain influencers who do aesthetic doodling do it for themselves, the fact that it’s put on display and commodified leads to it feeling more like something other people have to do too.

Another thing to comment on is that there’s definitely a romantic appeal to being the kind of person who writes in their novels. Film and TV have made it almost an archetypical thing for bookish people (especially young women) to do, and honestly, who doesn’t want to romanticize their life?

Why Is Writing in Books So Offensive?

In my case, it’s been ingrained in me by years of grim-faced school librarians that writing in books is a big no-no. For a while, I thought that was because books were precious, special things. And they are! But I’ve recently realized that there is a more obvious answer: those books are ones that other people have to share! And I don’t know if I’d be all that happy to take out a library book only to find Little Jimmy’s grubby fingerprints and highlighting on it!

This leads me to think that, on the other hand, when it comes to our own privately owned books… it’s really no one’s business what you do with it! As long as you’re not disrespecting the book and treating it like garbage, it shouldn’t really matter what you write or don’t write in it!

In fact, while some choose to annotate their books via their Kindle, or with post-its, or using book tracking journals like this one, others can stick with plain ol’ writing in the margins.

Where Do I Stand Now?

I don’t know that I fully have an answer if I am being completely honest. All I know is, the aesthetic route is gorgeous, but, ultimately still feels contrived to me. I feel like annotations are made for our own enjoyment, and we shouldn’t be bending over backward to the expectations of strangers on the internet. On the other hand, people should be allowed to do what they want. At the end of the day, what people do with their books usually doesn’t impact our well-being, so live and let live!

But when it comes to me? I think I’ll stick with my post-its, but if I’m really feeling crazy, maybe… just maybe, I’ll think about jotting down a note or two.

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