The Me-and-My-Books Relationship

Molly at My Cozy Book Nook has a great post about why she writes in books. I myself don’t tend to mark-up books as I’m reading them, but it’s not because I feel any sort of taboo about writing in a book; I just never think about doing it.

One interesting result of participating in the recent BBAW reading meme is that I want very much to remember to occasionally write in a book now. I’m one of those people who actually likes to find books at used bookstores that have been marked up – it’s like getting two enjoyable things for the price of one.

Molly’s post is really wonderful, giving readers an insight into why she writes in books, what books she does write in, and how she does it. In her BBAW reading meme post, she also gives a link to Mortimer Adler’s essay, “How to Mark a Book” (link goes to a pdf file).

After reading Molly’s post, I got to thinking about my own relationship with books. From an outsider’s perspective, I suspect I look like I have quite the cavalier attitude when it comes to my own books.

I dogear like crazy, unless I happen to have the opportunity to read a book through from beginning to end in one sitting. I have no compunction about breaking the spine of a book that otherwise stubbornly refuses to shift into a more comfortable-feeling position in my hands. And I’m a snacking reader. I grew up munching on apples as I read (I can remember feeling quite fond of Ariadne Oliver, the apple-eating mystery writer who shows up occasionally in Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot novels).

Note: If you’ve lent me a book, though, not to worry – I only do this kind of thing to my own books. Honest.

The books in my house that are the most comfortably-used-looking also tend to be the most well-loved. A crease in the spine means I’ve read the book; several creases? I loved it. Fold lines in page corners are reminders of when I had to put the book down; they also mean I intended to pick it up again. I like comfortably used books the same way I love old wood furniture, whose lines and markings suggest so much more – a history of every day events, impressed into the wood as time marches by.

The tactile feel of a book, its pristine pages, that new book smell – all of that is lovely (there’s nothing much better than wandering around a bookstore, picking up books, feeling their newness, the smoothness of their covers). But when I look at a book I’m about to read, I’m never really seeing its cover, its bulk, its physical aspects. Instead, I see the story, one that might (or might not) grab hold of me and take me along on a gorgeous, glorious ride.

The anticipation! Each one just might very well be that next truly magical read.

I’m also very fond of giving away books when I’ve finished reading them. If I think you’d like a book I’ve read, you’re not going to be able to leave my place without that book in your hands. I never keep track of who I lend my books to, so when friends come over with a book I’ve lent them previously, it’s like an unexpected surprise.

Of course, if I really do want a book back, I say that, too. But usually it doesn’t matter one way or the other to me.

There’s no pressure to read it, either. Since I usually don’t remember who I’ve lent a book to, you’re not about to get a phone call or email from me saying, “Well? Was I right or was I right? Didn’t you just LOVE it?”

I kind of figure if the book’s meant for you, you’ll love it. If not, you won’t. Neither will I cross your name off my friendship list if we don’t share the same taste in books.

Mind you, none of what I’ve said above applies to my art books and other “coffee-table” type books, or to non-fiction. Non-fiction books are my reference library, so I need to keep them on hand. And big glossy colourful books get the museum treatment around here. I like to pour over them, and revel in the colour and feel of the pages, and yes, sniff appreciatively that new-book smell that never seems to fade. And I keep them, rather than lending them out.

What about you? What kind of relationship do you have with your books?

32 thoughts on “The Me-and-My-Books Relationship

  1. Jessica Deal

    There are only certain books that I’ll write in. I like to keep my books in perfect condition. I’ll buy a used book of a book I already have to write in sometimes. So yeah… slightly OCD

  2. Joanna K

    Great post! I love swapping “book relationship” stories.

    I generally only write in non-fiction books, although when I was doing my English Lit degree I would note imagery/metaphor with margin notes (e.g., “birds!”) so I could round them all up for an essay later. I love the look of handwriting next to print: only laziness stopped me from framing a page of an essay I’d written, marked up with edits. (It’s purely an aesthetic fascination; I’m more interested in how it looks than what it says!)

    I don’t like breaking spines because I’m afraid the pages will fall out (though some gentle bending is fine). I can’t stand dogearred pages (I don’t have a good reason, though). In fact, I would be hard-pressed to stop from leaping up and “rescuing” one of my books if I saw that fate about to befall it. (I would feel very silly afterward, though, especially as I can’t quite articulate why it bugs me.)

    I love lending books out but am a little sad when they don’t come home, because I generally want to lend out the same few over and over. I’ve toyed with the idea of making a spreadsheet of my personal library and then letting friends sign out my books… maybe I should have become a librarian? (But on the other hand, I’ve never alphabetized my shelves… and I was once tempted to copy a friend who’d organized hers by cover color!)

    .-= Joanna K´s last blog ..Telling Tales Festival and Word on the Street =-.

    1. Belle

      I love your idea of making a spreadsheet – I’m a disorganized type myself but I really enjoy seeing other people’s organization skills at work, if that makes sense. I have an entire mini-library of “how to get organized” books, but the only ones that have worked for me have been the ones targeting the right-brained personality!

      Organizing by cover color, on the other hand – now THAT is something I could see myself being tempted to do!

      1. Joanna K

        I’m super organized in some areas and not at all in others. For example, I track every dollar I spend and organize it by category, but I have not mastered the art of meal planning (so I end up making multiple trips to the store instead of doing one big shop… and I don’t cook as often as I’d like!).

        I love Excel, though, so a book spreadsheet has definitely crossed my mind more than once…

        Post a pic if you ever end up organizing your bookshelves by color!
        .-= Joanna K´s last blog ..Telling Tales Festival and Word on the Street =-.

  3. Diane

    Belle, I love this post. It is one of my faves. I don’t mark in my books but enjpyed reading books as a child that were written in ~ I wondered about the people who did.

    I also cringe @ breaking the spine because it looks like crap & the pages fall out too easily.

    I have reading copies & my pleasedonottouch copies :).
    .-= Diane´s last blog ..Win A Copy of Hush, Hush ~ Becca Fitzpatrick =-.

    1. Belle

      I have my pleasedonottouch copies, too, Diane! I have multiple copies of the books that I like to re-read – makes it easier to pass on a copy of a book I’ve loved to someone else without feeling like I’m leaving myself bereft of something much loved.

      1. Diane

        Oh, I am thrilled I am not alone. I do have a few of my favorites around because I want to share my love of the book/author.

        Oh, one more thing, Belle, I will be trying Louise’s series because of your high praise. It’s been sitting in my tbr pile forever.
        .-= Diane´s last blog ..Wednesday Funnies =-.

  4. Memory

    I love this post!

    I’m also pretty cavalier towards my books. The stories and ideas are precious, but the trappings are fair game. I sometimes underline passages that mean a lot to me (though it’s worth noting that I can’t recall ever having done this in a hardcover). I write my name and the year(s) I read the book inside the front cover (and this applies to hardcovers and paperbacks alike). I love creasing the spine, since it marks the book as something that’s been read and loved. If I’m without a pen (yes, pen) and I find something I want to underline, I dog-ear the page so I can come back to it later. I haul my book around everywhere with me, so scuffs and small bends are pretty well inevitable.

    I’m rather less blase about lending books out, though. I have no problem with getting rid of a book that I won’t read again, but the ones I admit to my personal library tend to be important to me. They’ve got my stamp on them: my notes, my markings, my name. In some cases, I had a terrible time finding a personal copy of the book and would prefer not to go through the hassel of replacing it. I only lend these titles out to people I really trust: namely, my mother, my grandparents and one close friend. I’ll happily give my sellers to other friends and family members, since I don’t expect to get them back, but those that form my personal library actually mean something to me. They’re mine, and I don’t want them to stray too far.
    .-= Memory´s last blog ..129. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte =-.

    1. Belle

      I think that if I cultivated the habit of writing in books, I’d probably feel a little bit more reticent about lending them out too, Memory. They’d have so much of me in them.

      In a way, writing in a book is almost like leaving a little bit of my reading history around, a kind of legacy.

      And I think I’d be like you, if I ever got around to writing in books. I would always use pen, not pencil!

  5. Dorte H

    When it comes to my beloved crime fiction, I am a collector. I treat my books with respect, but don´t mind natural wear and tear the least. I think I own 6-700 crime novels, but I do realize that if I go on buying (and winning) books at my present rate, I will have to begin selling or giving some of them away before or later. I keep telling my family that it will be easy enough for me to part with several of them (1- and 2-star reads) – but what about the rest? Well, let´s see what happens when I grow out of our house.
    .-= Dorte H´s last blog ..Enid Blyton, Crime for Beginners =-.

    1. Belle

      The one thing I love about my crime fiction novels is that I own them mostly in paperback, and they take up far less space! A funny thing that’s happened as a result of starting up MsBookish, though: I’ve been finding myself giving away books that I’d been keeping to reread. Not all of them, of course – I keep copies of my very favourite authors. But I have this feeling now that there are a lot of good books out there, and with all of the marvelous book bloggers I’ve come to know, I’m never going to be at a loss for another good book. There’s a sense of safety and security in that that’s been making it easier for me to weed out my collection!

      I do have a few older copies of books that I would never think about giving away, though – copies I’ve found in used bookstores that are quite aged. There’s so much history in the actual book itself, and I love that.

  6. Stephanie

    I have to break the spine of a book. I just can’t help myself. I never dogear though. I used to all the time but now it bothers me. I will write in a book on occasion but I usually don’t feel like I need to.
    .-= Stephanie´s last blog ..Giveaway!! =-.

  7. rhapsodyinbooks

    I don’t know why, but I only write in nonfiction books. And in them I will put names of concepts at the top of the page or some other key word that I know I will want to reference some day again. But I won’t buy a used book that has *other* people’s notes, because they will be thinking differently and it will ruin my OBSESSIVE-COMPULSIVE SYSTEM THAT MUST BE OBEYED!!! No, just kidding. (sort of) But I had to give up my love of pristine books because my husband has a relationship with books more like yours!
    .-= rhapsodyinbooks´s last blog ..Review of “Mortal Friends” by Jane Stanton Hitchcock =-.

    1. Belle

      “And in them I will put names of concepts at the top of the page or some other key word that I know I will want to reference some day again.” Jill, you are a natural-born indexer! When I create an index, that’s really all I’m doing, except it goes into an index format.

      My non-fiction books are pretty pristine, and I never lend them out. I’m not sure why, but to my mind, a reference library is very different from a reading library. Reference books are useful but I don’t exactly love them.

      Opposites definitely attract. My husband is like you when it comes to books! Funny, too – he’s had to compromise due to my personal relationships with books.

  8. Margot

    My book habits mesh with yours and Molly’s. I figure those books are mine and I can do what I want. Sometimes with a fiction book it’s like talking back to the author. If it’s a book I’m not going to keep (giving away to library or a friend), then I erase whatever I had written.

    I really like giving away books. There are only a few special ones (actually several 100) that I’ve kept. All the rest have new homes and, hopefully, gave pleasure to someone else. My memory is so poor that I really don’t remember who has one of my books. Occasionally I’ll be visiting someone and see an old favorite on their bookshelf and want to talk about it only to have the person tell me I gave them that book and they loved it. That doubles the fun.
    .-= Margot´s last blog ..It’s Tuesday: Cooking School Murders =-.

    1. Belle

      I’ve had that happen, too, Margot! I’ll spot a book on a friend’s shelf and say, “Oh, I see you have that book! I just loved it! What did you think about it?” and they’ll laugh and tell me (usually) that they enjoyed it, but didn’t I remember? I was the one who gave it to them. And you’re right. It does double the fun.

      I like your idea of “talking back to the author” through writing in books.

  9. Cathryn

    I also tend to write more in non-fiction books, I think because I’m trying to remember specific points. I dog-ear pages in fiction and non-fiction when I come across a passage I want to find again easily. I write and highlight non-fiction and have occasionally put check marks in the margin of fiction, but for the most part like to keep my fiction books fairly pristine.

    I love my books, love looking at them, can’t imagine getting rid of them, although I’m sure that day will come. I love the tactile enjoyment and the other worlds I fall into when I read fiction.

    Sometimes I joke that I’ll build a retirement home out of my books.

    (I wish I ate healthy snacks, like you Belle. Unfortunately, I tend to snack on sunflower seeds when I read. Sometimes you’ll find a stray piece of shell.)
    .-= Cathryn´s last blog ..Book Club Supersized =-.

    1. Belle

      I wish I ate healthy snacks while reading, too, Cathyrn! The apples were what I always ate as a child, but once I left the discipline of an apple-filled household, it’s been more like “whatever happens to be around”.

      I was fairly lucky as a child – we went out for lunch most weekends, and in order to keep my quiet, my parents let me bring a book. It was never taboo to read at the table, and to this day (while I don’t read at the table when sitting down with others), there’s nothing quite so pleasurable as having a meal by myself, book at hand and a nice glass of wine to go with everything beside me.

        1. Belle

          Cathryn, that reminds me. I discovered last week that there are these flexible things called book weights! Doesn’t that sound just so useful? The tricky thing with wonton soup is that you need two hands, one for the chopsticks and one for the soup spoon. I need to get my hands on a book weight, that’s for sure.

  10. Shauna- Reading and Ruminations

    I really love this post. I usually only mark in my non-fiction books, though I have been known to mark in a classic or two from time to time. I generally don’t write in newer releases, though. I haven’t actively marked in any books since I graduated from college, though. It’s less of a priority now. I will say that I do enjoy going back and looking at the books I wrote in while in college and attempting to decipher some of my notes.

    I don’t dog ear or break spines, but I can appreciate your reasons for doing so. I love the idea of a condition of a book telling just as much of a story as the book itself.
    .-= Shauna- Reading and Ruminations´s last blog ..Fall Into Reading 2009 =-.

  11. Jenners

    I realize I have a very impersonal relationship with most of my books — I tend to want to swap them so I don’t mark them and keep them in good shape. My husband forced me to get rid of most of my books when we ran out of room so I only have two small shelves of ones I was able to keep. I’m not a big rereader but some of them I revisit from time to time and at least 2 shelves isn’t too bad. I do love the idea of a well-loved book but I’m just not that type! : )
    .-= Jenners´s last blog ..My Winning Ways =-.

  12. Laura/BookingIt

    Wow, I could have written most of what you said!

    I also just don’t think about writing in books, and am not terribly careful with my own books. That may be another reason I don’t like library books, I have to be too careful with them :-).

    I’ve just ramped up my book lending/giveaways, but I think I’ve saturated both book clubs. I have no idea where most of the books that have gone out in the last few months went.

    Thanks for sharing with us.
    .-= Laura/BookingIt´s last blog ..Review: A Note From An Old Acquaintance by Bill Walker =-.

  13. Audrey

    What a great post!
    You make me feel like I should overuse my books to show them how much I love them.
    That said, I don’t write in my books, but like you, not because I’m against it but because I just don’t think about it. Sometimes I think I would like to.
    I don’t mind wearing the spine down a little, but I do hate it when pages start falling out, so I try to be gentle.
    As for dog-earing. . .I don’t know why, but I really can’t stand it. I don’t mind throwing a book haphazardly into a suitcase and letting the whole thing get worn down, but dog earing pages just kind of – sends shivers down my spine.
    For books I LOVE, I also tend to have loaner copies and pristine never-been-read copies (that way if the loaner copy never comes back, it’s not that big a deal).
    Anyhow, again, I really loved this post, and I also am going to have to try to start writing in my books when i feel like it.

    1. Belle

      I also have loaner copies of books that I love. I’ll even stock up if I see a favourite book in a used bookstore or in the bargain books section. Most of my friends aren’t avid readers, and I know them well enough to know that, while they’ll be enthusiastic as I wax poetic about this or that book, and tell me they’ll definitely have to check it out … they never do get around to it. But if I lend them a copy, they usually do read it, and often they’ll like it as much as I thought they would.

  14. Barbara

    I don’t write in books or dogear them because I just can’t bear to do so. I even have a beloved collection of special bookmarks I use. Hopefully, too, I’m too caught up in the story to stop and break the spell. I’ve had to limit myself to only keeping nonfiction books that I use in my research for writing history. Except for classics, all the fiction ends up at our local booksale, which is where a lot of it came from to begin with. Now magazines are a different story – they get pretty beat up as I read them anywhere and everywhere or tear out articles to read later.
    .-= Barbara´s last blog ..No Books in House! =-.

    1. Belle

      You’re disciplined! I don’t think I could ever give away all the fiction I read. There are some that I simply have to keep.

      I am the same with magazines. They are for ripping into – articles, pictures, everything is fair game. I’m also a real magazine nut. I have so many subscriptions because it eventually dawned on me that I was spending way too much money on individual copies. And they pile up around the house, creating as much hazard as my TBR piles.


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