An Analysis of Book Rules: Should We Write in our Books?

While we at the Riot take some time off to rest and catch up on our reading, we’re re-running some of our favorite posts from the last several months. Enjoy our highlight reel, and we’ll be back with new stuff on Monday, January 11th.

This post originally ran November 21, 2015.
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Some of us have Very Serious Rules for Reading, Touching, or even Breathing On Our Books. Most of mine, I learned from my highly organized, very neat older sister:

  • There will be no folding of the page corners.
  • No eating of food while turning said pages.
  • No laying a book down with the spine cracked open.
  • And Woe Betide Anyone if there are any marks in, on, or around a single word on the pages

 

Since discovering this place we call the Internet, however, I’ve met other brave, more cavalier bookish people, fellow Rioters included, who actually laugh in the face of such rules. Books are meant to be loved any way we please! Who cares about rules? they declare, in the same way that suffragettes must have yelled who needs corsets anyway? and, I confess, recently I have found myself on occasion nodding my head as they say this.

In fact, I’ve been writing in books. Like actually, physically underlining favorite lines. With a pen, so I can’t even erase it. Sometimes marking an entire paragraph at a time. Writing down my reactions in the margins. Drawing little hearts next to words/phrases that make me melt…you get the idea.

For some of us, this is blasphemy, I know. A part of me still quivers when I pick up that pen at first — because what if I want to take it back and I can’t? But still, I wonder: Why do some of us have this rule in the first place? And is this maybe a rule worth breaking?

There are pros, certainly. Namely, that writing in books starts a conversation. First with yourself, as that little voice inside your head that’s reacting to everything your brain takes in actually makes an appearance. And then you get to have a conversation with yourself again when you come back to that book weeks, months, or years down the line. Actually, if you think about it, it’s like having a rather specific time capsule on your hands. It’s a chance for you to see what your younger self was thinking, and it’s a chance for you to see how your thinking has changed.

But then…you get to see what your younger self was thinking. And, well, I’m not sure I always want to remember what my 16-year-old self giggled over or sighed about as she read. Harry Potter, maybe. It might be pretty cool to see what ten years has done to my understanding of the series as a whole as opposed to what I thought as the story was still being put together piece by piece. But if I ever had to relive what went through my sixteen year old head as I discovered Twilight…I would probably have to strangle myself. Metaphorically, at least.

Another pro is that you get to have a conversation with someone else. My mother recently decided to read To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time. As I handed her my fairly new, completely-covered-in-notes-and-reactions copy I cringed a little.

“Sorry,” I said, “you can see everything I wrote.”

My mom took the book from me and replied enthusiastically, “That’s okay! It’ll be interesting to see what you wrote next to what she wrote.”

And I guess that is true. If you think about, it, reading someone’s annotated copy of a book, especially of a book as renowned and debated as To Kill a Mockingbird, could very well be another way to have an intense, intellectual discourse on some of the most enduring matters of our time. It’s adding another layer of ideas and viewpoints that you can sift through apart from your own.

That is, of course, assuming you want to. Most of the time, I can’t help but imagine myself sitting down with a book, possibly for the first time, opening it up…and seeing somebody else’s thoughts littering the pages. It sort of makes me want to yell, Hey! Let me give it a go, will ya?

Lately, I have been considering the un-considerable: marking up one of my copies of the Harry Potter series. It would be amazing to get a chance to physically bring my inner thoughts into being. But…is it worth the risk?

What do you think? Should we write in our books? And are there other Book Rules worth (or maybe not worth) flouting?

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