Musings From A Bookmammal

M is for MARGINALIA–The April A-Z Challenge/Day 13


MWelcome to Day #13 of the April A to Z Challenge, where participants are challenged to create a post every day (except Sundays) corresponding to the appropriate letter of the alphabet. If you’d like to learn more, hit the badge on my sidebar.

Today marks the halfway point of the challenge–13 days down and 13 to go!

I’ll be posting about bookish topics each day of the challenge. Here’s today’s post:


marginaliaNothing seems to separate booklovers into two camps more than the topic of writing in books. Some folks express pure horror at the thought of defacing the pages of a book with writing of any kind. Some feel that they can’t truly call a book their own until they’ve underlined, notated, and highlighted the pages to their heart’s content.

I’ve got to admit that I do write in my books on occasion. Sometimes I’ll underline a quote that hits home, or I’ll bracket a passage that speaks to me. I’ll often write particular page numbers on the inside covers to remind myself to return to those sections. And once in awhile I’ll write a heartfelt “YES!” or an incredulous “Are you KIDDING ME?” in the margin of a passage that has struck a nerve with me in one way or another. This is one of the reasons that I love owning physical books. I feel that books are to be read, used, and loved—and making notes in my books is one way that I demonstrate all three of those things.

I buy a lot of used books, and while I do try to purchase used books that are in the best condition possible, it’s always a bit like finding a treasure or a mystery when I find marginalia within a book that some unknown reader has owned and then given up. What prompted that reader to underline that particular passage? Why did they write that comment? What were they thinking when they did so? I can write a whole short story in my head just from examining the notes written in the margins of an old book.

How about you? Do you notate your books, or do you prefer to keep the pages of your books as clean as the day you bought them? Please share!

Author: bookmammal

I love books, reading, writing, cooking, eating, reading while eating, and sharing thoughts about all of the above–plus a bit more! I usually post about topics relating to books and literacy during the week, and then participate in a variety of non-bookish memes on the weekend. Please feel free to join in! Some random things about me– –I have multiple bookshelves in every room of my home except the bathroom. They’re all filled to bursting. They help to make my house my home. –I have two cats who I love dearly, but who I definitely do NOT dress in human clothing. Ever. –I’ve never had a cavity. –I make a mean spaghetti sauce. –I’m a newcomer to yoga and I love it. –My day is not complete without a little chocolate.

25 thoughts on “M is for MARGINALIA–The April A-Z Challenge/Day 13

  1. As a medievalist I love marginalia … as a reader, I do sometimes. 🙂 I’ve only written in a couple of books, apart from some for academic reasons, but I think I will in future. It depends on the work. I like having the ‘clean’ texts for sure; I feel that it would be a good exercise to go through a novel and underline, comment, write away in the book itself. I was taught very strongly NOT to write in books, however, as a child, so it’s definitely something I find difficult to do. Even as a teacher, with books specifically acquired for this purpose, I find it hard to write in them.

    I’ve always found it fascinating getting books that have other people’s notes and underlining in — sometimes it points me to things I wouldn’t have seen otherwise, other times I sit there wondering what on earth they were thinking. Books from university libraries are a treasure trove of puzzlement, I find.

    • It’s true–most of us are taught as kids to never write in our books, and that can be a hard rule to break!
      (I simply LOVE your phrase “treasure trove of puzzlement” !!!)

  2. I make it a rule to keep the pages of my book as clean as possible. I usually put post-it notes (sticky notes) on pages important to me, instead of writing in the margin.

    • I have used post-its sometimes–that’s a great alternative! I’ve definitely used them when I’m reading a book that I’ve borrowed–obviously I would never write in a book that I don’t own–that would be an unforgiveable sin!

  3. All of my books come from the library, so no page marking over here 🙂

  4. I fall into the no writing in books camp but I have a friend who makes little notes on post-it size paper and I love reading her notes when we share books…

  5. I like my books pristine so I never write in them. I often give them away or sell them when I’m done, so it’s good I haven’t marked them up. But if I get a used book and someone has written in it, I find it fascinating!

    • I sell books I no longer want quite often, too–but I find that I usually only make notes in books that are important to me, or that I’ll be referring to again, so the ones I end up selling/trading are in pretty good condition.

  6. I would love to see a resounding YES! in the margin rather seeing someone’s name written in pen on the inside cover. I just hate when I go to a used book store and I find a gem of a book, open it up and see “Sally Smith” wrote her name in the book. I just put the book back, even if is a first addition. Oh and I don’t mean an autograph from the author.
    I’d rather see writing instead of someone dog ear the pages or break the spin all the back. Books are precious!!

    • I don’t mind it so much if there’s a name in a used book, but I won’t buy a used book if the spine is badly broken, if it’s soiled, or if many pages are dog-eared.

  7. I picked up some used texts during my college days that were well-marked (especially Shakespeare and lit books) and enjoyed comparing my notes to those already written. I don’t normally write in my own books, but I flood with post-its and flags.

  8. The only books I write or make notes in are my school text books. Haha. I just can’t do it to my novels, I just can’t.

  9. I write in my books all the time — and I love opening an old book and finding notes I wrote long ago. I do a lot of underlining too. And I dogear the pages!

  10. I’m a librarian and I mostly read library books. I never write in books. Even when they’re mine — I’m just not in the habit. A post-it note works well for marking a passage that I may want to revisit when I’m writing about the book.

  11. I don’t notate books (unless they are text books), but I am a hard-core dog-earer. By the time a book (especially if I love it) is done, it really looks rough. I do love reading second hand books and I generally love to read what another reader has annotated though.

  12. (Library books aside) I don’t take a hard line on notating/not notating. It’s not a habit that I’m in – but I will every now and then if something strikes me as particularly amazing. Of course the entire conversation is really rendered moot to me because I read mostly eBooks (or library books) – so I highlight EVERYTHING in my ebooks. 🙂

    Thanks for linking up with Spread the Love!

    • I’ve never gotten into the eBook highlighting thing–but I guess I don’t really read that format enough to get into the habit. I do kind of like seeing what other people have highlighted, though . . .

  13. I try not to write in a book, and if I do, it’s in pencil so that the writing can be erased. The exception is in paperback copies of books that I’m preparing to teach–and even then I use pencil. It can be infuriating to buy a book heavily marked-up in black ink from a second-hand bookstore–especially the comments are inane. I suppose the exception they would be the discovery that the defacer was none other than my favorite author, or a long-lost friend. Then it would be the stuff of fiction.

    • I agree that I don’t like to see nonsense writing in books–but I do enjoy seeing notes that obviously had meaning for the reader, and then letting my imagination go and trying to imagine what they were thinking as they notated. . .

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