If you were required to annotate books as a high school student, you may have experienced pulling all-nighters to finish your assignments. Combing through each passage of a hefty classic, you would proffer up the most insightfully nonsensical comments your teenage brain could conceive. The next morning, sleep-deprived and frustrated, you would resolve to never put off annotating again—only to repeat the process the next time around.
Annotation became the bane of your existence, so you were more than willing to dispose of the habit after passing your class. But seeing your friends and peers continue to line the margins of their books with comments makes you wonder: is annotating really worth it?
Until recently, my answer was a solid “No.” But I’m fresh out of high school, so I haven’t yet overcome the shame of not annotating my books. Blank pages are almost like a taunt: “you have nothing meaningful to say, do you?”
To alleviate this pain, I started taking the time to inject my thoughts into the books I read. Be it an insightful comment or a scrawled “LOL,” rediscovering my habit of annotating is helping to alleviate the pain of reading without reflecting.
But what if your bibliophile heart can’t imagine soiling the pages of your children with ink?
I read Jude the Obscure in one of my high school English classes and despised it—mainly because I couldn’t tolerate the antics of the characters. I was more than happy to denounce their every decision on each page by scribbling “IDIOT!” and “STOP, YOU BUFFOON!” in large letters. Writing all over that book, thus, came easy to me. But when I was reading 1Q84 that same month, I felt as if even the faintest of pencil marks would shatter the fantasy that Haruki Murakami had so carefully wrought. In my eyes, my annotations would have no significance on the pages of such a masterpiece, so I chose to abstain and instead cherished each page like it were a living being.
But consider this: when you annotate a book you love, it becomes a makeshift diary. You react to its story in different ways depending on what you’re going through at the moment—which is why rereading books can offer you profoundly new experiences. I’m currently rereading 1Q84 and am wishing that I had annotated it two years ago, as my impression of it seems to have faded over time.
What about dog-earing and cracking spines? Painful, yes, but consider changing your perspective: wear and tear signify a well-loved book! Stumbling upon quotations and passages you highlighted on your previous read can be incredibly gratifying.
With this in mind, I encourage you to start—or restart—marking up your books. Your English teacher will definitely never read your annotations, so knock yourself out and express yourself. You won’t regret it on your next reread.