Thursday, February 18, 2010

Writing in Books

I have a habit of not writing in books. Even though sometimes I may get the urge to underline a passage or make a note in the margin of a book I own, I don't normally act on it. It's as though defacing the book will harm it or make it less valuable, like I'm going to resell it or something. I'm talking about non-fiction here, which is pretty much what I read mainly.

I never like reading books that others have underlined or highlighted - I won't even bother reading a book if someone else has scribbled in it - especially if it's in pen. It's like reading someone else's interpretation of the book layered on top and when I read a book, I want to read the author's words or my own interpretation.

During the yoga teacher training Robert encourages people to write in their books and I think it's fine but I just don't do it to my own books. It's like a respect thing for Saraswati, the goddess of paper and books.

Pick up any book in my house and there are no bent pages, no scribbles in the margins and god forbid, there are no highlighted passages. I use bookmarks and post its, which don't leave traces or signs that the book has been used. If I were to take my books in for resale (which I never do!) I'm sure I'd get top dollar. My books would be in "excellent condition."

But then something happened. When I was in Florida over New Years, I picked up a copy of a book that I had at home but that was Michael's. He had written in the book. In pen. Underlined parts. Comments to himself in the margin. Totally marked that book. I went to share a passage with him, the location of which I had basically memorized, because that's how I do it, sort of geographically. I noticed my judgement but didn't say anything. It was his book after all.

Before going to Florida the second time, I bought a couple of books to take along and read before going to meet Swami J. And I did something I hadn't done in years. I read those books with a pencil in my hand and I underlined things that struck me. I noted things in the margins. And it felt good. It felt like I was actively reading the book, getting my hands into it, as opposed to reading it behind a glass window. I got even more connected to it.

So when I got down there, I mentioned it to my friend about how I'd been influenced by what I'd seen and we had a big conversation about it. He feels that it's respecting the book to devour it with comments and highlighting. That writing in the book is a way of really using the book to its full potential. I explained that I feel influenced by other people's comments when I'm reading a pre-marked book. He said he loves reading books that have already been commented in because it shows the book is worth reading and is being used up.

After giving myself permission to write in my books, I've read another two that I would probably not have completed if it weren't for the fact that I had a pencil in my hand, allowing me to participate completely in the book's unfolding. I call it "active reading." I don't pretend I'm going to save these books and resell them. I'm just going to use them. Get the story, the info, and keep them around for reference, which they'll be great for because they'll have the places that were important to me marked and I won't have to hunt very far for that quote I want to share with my class or talk about in a discussion.

1 comment:

Caroline Chapman said...

Very interesting Jamine. The first time I felt "pressured" into writing in my book(s) was during teacher training and it went against my natural instinct but I confess that although it felt very uncomfortable to do so, writing in the book did help me learn. Having said that, as a rule, I still never write in my books.