A few months ago one of my favorite bookish websites Bookriot.com ran a feature in their “Our Reading Lives” segment on writing in books. In it, guest contributor Paul Montgomery of iFanboy.com wrote about his inability to mark his own books. His fear was based on the idea that upon his death people would cull information about him from these highlighted pages and interpret him horribly, horribly wrong. When we mark our books we are leaving a bit of ourselves in the pages which can be intimidating. As Montgomery fears, “Because what if I write the wrong thing?” However, I think that there is no such thing. Often I have found notes in books that make me laugh out loud with their obvious observations or ridiculous interpretations. But it’s all worth reading for me. I like touching the past in some way. Who cares if the last person to read it was a dunce? In the end you just make the connection of reading the same book, whether it was last owned by Harold Bloom or Joe Schmoe.
The whole point of writing in my books is that it reminds me of the human element of reading. We read books alone but in this way we can share the experience. As an avid collector of used books one of my favorite things is to read any old notes that the previous owner left. I especially adore a good inscription on the front flyleaf. I make it a point to write a note in any book that I give as a gift and I cherish any book given to me with a note in it. I want to make those connections from across time. I usually give books as gifts to all my friends and family so I have written a lot of inscriptions over the years, from the sentimental to “Red Sox suck”. Hopefully, many years from now some stranger will pick it up and it will make them laugh or maybe even cry. If they are anything like me they will try to conjure an image of giver or recipient. Or a happy accident will make sure that they have the same name as me or they are giving the same book to their own family member. We will have shared a special moment without ever meeting face to face.
What about you? Do you share the same fears as Paul Montgomery? Or are you as fearless as I am? Do you underline in ink or use a highlighter?