Is it right to write in books?

Is it right to write in books?

It’s a divisive question among book lovers. Some prefer to keep their precious tomes scribble-free. Others savor making notes in the margins and coming back to the memories later on.

Here, we take a look at both sides of the argument and add a few opinions of our own:

Indiana: I used to have a strong opinion against writing in books. Or cracking the spines. Or doing anything to make them look used. But I’ve taken a 180 and now, depending on the book, I write in my books often.

Pete: I feel like I’m kind of in the middle—I have nothing against writing in books, but for some reason, I just don’t. I really enjoy seeing other people’s notes in used books (as long as there are no spoilers, of course), and I wish I had notes in my own books from when I was younger.

Indiana: I actually started writing in my books because I began to notice and enjoy finding notes in used books. Obviously, in college it can be annoying when you get a pre-owned book and it’s got obnoxious writing on every page. But I love finding a beautiful dedication or note in an old book and it’s interesting to see what other people leave in the margins of books. It gives you a chance to see what someone else thought of the same passage and it’s a way to communicate with someone you may not even know.


Pete: Maybe that’s why I never got into the habit of writing in books myself—it’s other people’s writing that I appreciate, because it feels like a conversation with a person from a long time ago. I wouldn’t really get that effect with my own notes, at least not until it’s been a while since I took the notes. What makes you feel like you need to take notes in a book?

Indiana: That’s true. If I’m reading a classic and there’s a term I need to look up, I’ll usually note what the definition is. Or if there’s an especially quotable passage, I’ll make a note of it. Sometimes it’s because I’ve found a part of the book that connects with present day events or simply because I thought a description was clever. What sort of things would you note?

Pete: Well, I do take some notes on my phone sometimes. For Inda by Sherwood Smith, I took extensive character and worldbuilding notes on my phone. For Brandon Sanderson’s Oathbringer, I probably had a sticky note every five pages—which almost counts as taking notes in the book, right?

Indiana: Absolutely! I also use sticky notes, especially if it’s something I don’t think I can fit in the margins. It helps when I need to write a review for the book to know what passages I should revisit and what my thoughts were at the time.

Pete: Do you ever think about how the notes would be seen by someone else, or are you able to totally write them for yourself? And have you ever lent a book to someone knowing that there were notes in it that they would see?

Indiana: I think about how I’ll go back to them, but not so much about other people going through and finding them. It’s a slightly creepy thought because most of the time, if I care enough about a book to write in it, I really like the book and will probably try to keep it until I die. Thus, by the time most people will have glanced at my notes in the margins, I’ll be long gone. On a brighter note, I’ve lent a book out to someone that I had left a few notes in and she said she enjoyed the notes and look forward to seeing them as she read through it.

Pete: I probably wouldn’t write in a book unless it meant a lot to me too—unless I care about it too much, in which case I’d be afraid of ruining its pristineness. But journaling about a book while I read has always made me feel more attentive, and I think taking notes in the margins would have the same effect. Is it too late for a New Year’s resolution?

Indiana: Not at all! That’s a good halfway mark between the two options too.

6 thoughts on “Is it right to write in books?

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  1. I used to be of the mind that writing in books was sacrilegious, but I ended up agreeing strongly with Indiana — finding old notes in books I read for school was so interesting, now I wish I would have marked up all my books. I love seeing what things stood out to me at that time; it makes revisiting books I previously read so much more fun.

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