Writing in Books – Do You Do It?

File Jan 07, 7 24 16 AM

I recently had a twitter conversation with agent Jennifer Udden (@suddenlyJen). (She’s very sharp and a lovely person all around. If you’re looking for an agent, check out what she represents. She recently moved from the Donald Maass Agency to Barry Goldblatt Literary.) Anyway, she tweeted first (I think) about how she doesn’t write in paper books, and she put the question out there if we did.

First of all, I bet I read 90% electronic books – which I do annotate with comments. In the paper books, however… no, I don’t write in them. Or rather, I hadn’t been.

We went back and forth trying to parse why we held back. Both of us freely took notes in college texts. It has something to do, we decided, with a hesitation to “mess up” the book. After all, we both work in an industry where books are virtually sacred objects. Certainly highly revered. And yet, we’d both had the experience of finding notes in a used book and loving to read them. Even better if it was someone like an author!

So, we both resolved to start doing this again.

It took me a while.

First of all, there’s the thing where I don’t read that many paper books. Then I kind of forgot about it. My life’s been in major upheaval since the end of September and more than a few things fell by the wayside.

Then I was reading a paper book, of e.e. cummings Erotic Poems, that a friend gave me for my birthday. When I was a brand newbie writer, an established writer gave me the advice to read a poem out loud before settling into writing my own work. It gets the words flowing, he told me, regardless of type of poem or what genre I’d be writing.

This turned out to be excellent advice and I highly recommend it.

At any rate, this one phrase struck me, and I found I was still thinking about it days later, so I went back to look at it again. It took forever to sort through what I’d read to find the thing. I had an epiphany, people.

(Does it count if you have an epiphany twice on the same idea? I’m thinking no.)


Thus the photo above.

exact warm unholy

Love that. Of course, I experienced a bit of self-consciousness, wondering what to say about it. Particularly as I envisioned (with great hubris) someone picking it up someday and saying, “This was Jeffe Kennedy’s copy and it has her notes in it!” I kind of did what we all have to do in writing anything – let go of my imaginary future reader and simply write what I thought.

Maybe my future reader will have to add, “but she clearly didn’t understand most of the poems,” which is okay. At least I’ll be able to find the bits I liked again.

How about you all – do you make notes in your paper books?


Writing in Books – Do You Do It? — 12 Comments

  1. I don’t make notes in books, but I use sticky notes when I read something I think is beautiful or noteworthy and I want to be able to find it again.

  2. I don’t. I’m more of a sticky note fan, though like you, I read 90% digital these days.

    However, at church, someone had written “read me” on the page edges of the pew Bible where I sat. (ALways the same place–it’s probably a Methodist thing.) The lady next to me was mad about the descecration of the Bible, but when I picked it up and leafed through, I found the “desecration” hadn’t stopped on the outside. Passages were circled and highlighted and notes were in the margins. Someone really HAD read, and they’d shared what they gained from the reading. When I started sitting in another pew (wild and crazy time), I took that Bible with me, because looking at those highlights and notes is a lesson in itself. It also showed me that at least one person cared more about what was on the pages than they did being seen carrying a Bible around.

    I enjoyed the post!

  3. It took me a long time to be comfortable with writing in my college text books. So I’ve never considered writing in any other book that wasn’t specifically to be studied. Like Liz, I’ll use a sticky note. Sometimes I’ll even fold down a page. On the other hand, I highlight and create notes in my e-books like I’m going to have an exam on the material. Never really thought about why I’m hesitant to do so. Maybe that’s because most of the fiction I had as a child was borrowed from the library. On the other hand, we had a house full of religious texts that we did study and mark in. Now that I have my own huge library of fiction, I still hold physical books to that same standard of library book reverence. Interesting topic!

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