My relationship with books is a complicated one, I'll admit, but I have never been squeamish about writing in books. As a student, I'll admit, I often doodled to harness my attention at least to the page, not the clock. As a notetaker, though, I realized that writing in the margins cut out a step in studying; instead of flipping back and forth from textbook to notes, I could look at one place.
Highlighting, by the way, does not satisfy my notetaking needs. Yellow highlighter marks seem to say, "I'll read this later." I prefer instead notes and underlining with a very sharp no. 2 pencil. Very straight lines.
No longer a student myself, I nonetheless read (and reread and reread) the texts I assign my students. My marginal notes and the odd assortment of symbols I have developed help me to zero in on the passages I find most significant.
Honestly, though, I write in almost all of my books, even--especially--the ones I read for pleasure. Now if I'm reading one from my collection of signed first editions (and--gasp--yes! I do read them), I abstain. I use psot-it notes instead. Most of my books, though, are replete with wispy little marks--questions, quotes, symbols, foreshadowing, shifts. Often, when reading a book again after a few years, I'll flip to the inside back cover and find the same passage referenced from before.
I construct family trees and character lists as I read. I make notes of topics I want to discuss with my book club or with other reading friends. I love my well-worn books not inspite of the marks but, at least in part, because of them.
This week, I recived a link to a blogger at "Slow Reads" that echoed my feelings about "How to Write in a Book," (despite cultural prejudices against such) and offered some good suggestions for how and why to do so. I hope you enjoy.