Writing in the Margins of Books 11

I find myself writing in the margins of books again, something I’d stopped doing for many years.  I’m not sure why I stopped writing in the books I own; probably something about decreasing the resell value.  I got over that notion when I donated a lot of books I owned five years ago.

Two books I read recently by Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food and The Omnivore’s Dilemma, have compelled me to write comments in the margins.  These comments range from “wow” to “we’ve been hoodwinked” to “makes sense to me” and other such grumblings.  Exclamation points and other punctuation marks and doodles abound. 

Several pages are folded over at the corners with an arrow drawn on them.  On other pages virtually all the sentences are underlined because the words struck me as so profound and I want to find the passages again easily.  I plan to send several friends the section on the 36 ingredients that go into making McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets.  It may not move them to stop ordering them for their kids, but at least they won’t be able to plead ignorance about what’s in this food product now.

Writing in the margins of books, underlining sentences, and highlighting passages enables me to have a dialogue with the book.  I imagine my children, my husband, or a friend reading the same book and learning about what sections moved me and what I was thinking when I was reading it.  It’s a way of saying hello to all future readers.  Perhaps my granddaughter will read some of these books after I’m gone.

What about you?  Do you keep your books pristine?  Do you sign your name in your books? (I used to write the name, date and city purchased in the front of my books.)  My sister gave me a wonderful embosser when I was in college that had my favorite saying from the time, “Read and be Freed.”  That saying still has a potent message – reading is freeing; it produces an unshackled mind.

Do you loan books to friends?  If you do, how many have you loss over the years?

Two other books I read recently and found enlightening are  The Laws of Thinking: 20 Secrets to Using the Divine Power of Your Mind to Manifest Prosperity by Bishop E. Bernard Jordan and A New Earth by Eakhart Tolle.  In the fiction department, I was deeply moved by What is the What by Dave Eggers and feel proud to have finished the 900+ page tome, Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett.  I’m going to find some light reading after all this heavy lifting.

A friend I ran into recently said, “I don’t read,” loudly while we were on the train speeding through Back Bay Station.  I chastised her for saying it and saying it so vehemently, for two reasons.  The first is that it isn’t a true statement.  She may not read books from cover-to-cover, but she does read articles in magazines and on-line.  I asked her to please not say those words aloud again because flaunting ignorance and being anti-knowledge isn’t something we need more of.  We already have a President who seems to revel in not-knowing.

I’m heading to the library, tomorrow, to grab some books for the summer.  My writing in margins will be suspended for a while until I get back to reading books that I own.  The librarian will recommend some titles I haven’t heard of.  There’ll be a treasure trove of new stories, essays, and biographies to devour. Ah…the joys of reading.

About Candelaria Silva

Candelaria Silva-Collins is a marketing, community outreach and programming consultant; writer; and trainer/facilitator who lives in Boston, Massachusetts. She has designed and facilitated workshops on a wide variety of topics including communication, facilitation, job search skills, team building, and parenting issues. She currently coordinates the Community Membership Program of the Huntington Theatre Company. Her work as Director of ACT Roxbury was profiled in several publications, including The Creative Communities Builders Handbook. Candelaria’s children’s stories, short stories, essays and reviews have been published in local and national publications and she is an active blogger. Her publications include the booklets, Handling Rejection; Pushing through Shyness: Networking Tips when You’re Shy, Slow to Warm Up or Just don’t Feel you Belong; and Real Questions about Sex & Relationships for Teens: A Discussion Guide for Parents. She has served on the boards of Goddard College, Wheelock Family Theatre, Boston Foundation for Architecture, and Discover Roxbury. She is currently Chair, Designators of the Henderson Foundation.

11 thoughts on “Writing in the Margins of Books

  • Ekua

    Dear Candelaria,

    I remember many moons ago, borrowing one of your books (i hope i returned it!) and finding your exclamations in blue ink. After years of being told to never write in a book or bend the corners, I was appalled. I asked you why you did it and you said simply, “It’s my book. I can write in it if I want to.” A lightbulb went on.

    Now I am a book writer too. Like you I hope that another reader will come along and benefit from my lines, arrows and circles.

    Thank you for giving me permission to write in the margins. A simple gift that will last a lifetime.

  • Jim

    You know, I don’t really mind the writing in the margins, and in fact it has a kind of historical significance, either personal or public depending on the stature of the reader/writer, but my Catholic School and large family upbringing that required us kids to preserve a book in it’s most pristine possible condition to pass down to those who would come after makes me shudder a little inside whenever I see a marked up book, especially one marked in pen. I cannot do it, myself.

  • Kim

    I have loaned out many that have never made their way home. I tend to dog ear pages but never write in my books. Hmmm. nclm

  • Heather J

    In general I don’t write in books, but that’s likely b/c I don’t keep them. If I’m reading something for academic purposes – and I plan to keep the book – I do make notes in the margins.

    Oh, and if this counts, I have TONS of notes in the margins of my Bible … I actually bought a new Bible with extra-wide margins for just that reason.

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