Writing in Books: Scholarly or Sacrilegious?

an unusually commented page in a college book of mine…

When our coffee table broke 6 years ago, I never rushed to replace it because if there are books on it (which I find to be half the reason to have a coffee table), my husband would not allow feet  resting on the table without first moving the books.

Growing up he in India, the belief that education was next to God made books sacred, and touching something with your foot is disrespectful.  This belief carries over into his aversion to my marginalia.  He feels it’s deeply disrespectful – even sacrilegious – to “deface” a book by writing in it.  meanwhile, on the exact opposite of the spectrum, I LOVE writing in books.  If I write in a book it’s because I’m deeply engaging with that book; not passively skimming.

We both feel we are respecting books, but our corresponding actions are polar opposites.

Without getting on a soapbox, this is of course what happens with ideologies around the world.  At their heart is a common value, and yet that value is expressed so differently that major cultural or religious rifts can occur.  If only we could recognize that at the center is a common belief and understanding and use that to build bridges, and not walls.

… or is it just your eyes on the book?

What are your feelings about marginalia?  You can comment below and briefly explain why.

Via text message, I quickly polled some friends around from the globe and found, as expected, varying degrees of agreement between the two poles of my husband and my beliefs on this topic.

Interestingly, some friends who group up with a lot of Indian and Hindu influences agreed that they would never put their foot near a book, but were OK writing in it in college, for study purposes.   Others hadn’t thought too much about it.  Below are some of the thoughts that came in*:

“Don’t like writing in books. Never did in college either. Maybe because I see them as transferable goods- and I feel writing in them makes them undeniably yours.”

“I did a lot in college and less so now.  Liked to jot down my thoughts and revisit them later.  I respect not tossing a book, though I’m guilty of tossing many a book).  But annotating a book seems way different to me, and I agree, is a sign of engagement and respect for the author’s work.”

“Nope. Never did.  I never wanted to deface them, even if I own them.  Plus I was never a note-taker in school for better or for worse.”

“I do if books are mine but at college I’d sell them to help pay for the following year and so unmarked books got more money.  So I’d write light and rub it out.  Now, it depends on the book.  I have to say lately I cut post it strips and mark/write on those! This way I can find notes.  I should also note that I think to dog-ear a page is a crime.”

“I didn’t because I always sold my textbooks at the end of the semester.  I did doodle in the margins of my notebook.”

“I don’t like to write in books.  My handwriting isn’t that great and I don’t like books to look messy.”

“I like highlighting words I don’t know and sometimes taking notes.  But we never  touch books with our feet.  it makes my blood boil if I see my husband or son do it!!”

“Yes… I’m a big proponent of writing in margins as well as highlighting!  I feel it is a form of tangible memory and gets me engaged in the reading.  Plus, I’m a very visual person so it helps me remember material when I write it down.  I think this is why I’ve loved reading on my Kindle: because I take notes and highlight and the book remains looking nice.  So maybe that’s a middle ground. “

What about you?  Add your thoughts in the comments below…

* Note!!  This post was updated on January 18, 2018, removing the mini-bios of each respondent, per this explanation.