In Defence of Writing in Books

So this is pretty pretty controversial, but I thought in the spirit of talking about deadly sins, I thought it was time I discussed one of my bookish habits… And that is writing in books!

shrek torch and pitchfork.png

Now I know that just mentioning it will be enough to get many people running for the torches and pitchforks, but I do have my reasons for this. I rarely do the whole *oh look I got a humanities degree* thing unless I’m looking for laughs, but in all seriousness, this is standard practice for students and academics in this field. For purely practical reasons, writing in books not only helps with selecting poignant quotes, but is the most effective way of dissecting language. To give an example, here is my copy of Dorian Gray:


I didn’t just highlight it for kicks or because *pretty colours*- I actually did that to expose the layers of meaning across the text, particularly in this incidence colour coding specific symbolism and techniques Wilde used. While I have actually poked fun at this before in my Goodnight Moon post, I can also tell you that this is an accurate look at how a poem that’s been properly analysed will end up looking. For me and many others, writing in books is device to encourage thinking.


Even though I keep a ton of notebooks to hand, it’s not sufficient for all the ways a book needs to be taken apart and there are downsides for doing a proper thorough analysis just using one technique– time wasting if nothing else is a huge issue with writing out all the quotes- a lot of books need both to do it justice.


And while I wouldn’t personally write in a library book, I’ve found other people underlining passages in non-fiction helpful and add to the debate/discussion the book is having. I don’t know about you, but I’m a “work as close to the deadline as is humanly possible” kind of gal, so if at uni I picked up an annotated non-fic book where some kindly soul had drawn arrows literal to the important bits, I’d be singing Hallelujahs all the way home. As for writing in books I borrow from friends- well, I’m not an *animal*! (Just a cheeky monkey- but I still wouldn’t dream of doing that!)

Other people also say writing in books is a way of making a book more personal too- which is fair- because, even though I only annotate classics, would-be classics or non-fiction, I do feel like people reading my books are getting a bit of a more personal experience (or just getting walloped over the head with *foreshadowing* signposts as my sister complained to me once). Whatever way you personalise your books, there is something to be said about picking up a used book and finding someone else’s impressions in it (it’s a weird quirk I have, but I even love stranger’s inscriptions in the front of used books).

One last complaint I have seen is “what would the author think!” Well the obvious answer is “I have no idea” but then nor does the defender of clean copies. Some writers might be offended, sure, but I can only live my life as a “do as you would be done by” sort of person. And I can safely say for myself, as a writer, that if someone annotated my work I would be over the moon. Because it would be saying “look how many thoughts I had because of what you wrote!” I cannot imagine anything more flattering.

So- dare I ask- do you agree or disagree? What is your opinion on writing in books? And should I expect an angry mob outside my home tonight for being a *tad* too controversial? Let me know in the comments (so I can barricade my front door!!)

130 thoughts on “In Defence of Writing in Books

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