If you ask most book readers, they will say that this list is a terrible way to treat your book. For most book lovers, they cherish their books using stickies and notebooks to keep track of what they’re reading. However, I like to see this list as signs of a well-loved book.
Many people in the bookish community would find it terrible that I treated my books this way. I’ve heard people audibly gasp at me when I tell them I dogeared pages. God forbid I also mention using pen.
When it comes to books, especially great books, the game is to preserve the books you love and treat them like they’re your children. I wish I could be the type that keeps my books orderly and shelved as beautifully as they can be, but I’m not. In fact, I’m the type to mess up a book.
Naturally, books I borrow from friends are kept in pristine condition, but I believe in really breaking in a book. My love for this came from a friend many years ago who loaned me a copy of Banana Yoshimoto’s book Kitchen. Back then I was a pretty naive girl who believed that books were meant to be cherished. The only time I would write in a book was a textbook I would sell back after I finished my classes. However, she handed me this book and said, “read it, and then leave it somewhere to be found by someone else. It’s an important book and it should be shared.”
I couldn’t believe that someone would let me borrow their book without the possibility of returning it. I knew exactly who I lent my books to and am still patiently waiting for my copy of Love in the Time of Cholera and A Moveable Feast to make its way back to me. However, my friend was an advocate for the written word. She believed that work should be shared and not kept pristine on a shelf.
So after I finished Kitchen, I just casually left the book on the subway hoping someone else would snatch up the book. I felt a hesitancy to leave the book laying right there on the seat. What if no one took it? What if someone did something gross to it? What if it didn’t change a life? These questions ran quickly through my head as I walked off the train and watched the doors close, leaving the book I left behind.
But then a certain feeling came over me. It almost felt like I was educating the masses, as if I was doing something good in the world. I was sharing my love of reading with people. Someone would find that book and they’d read it and maybe they’d be thinking of the same things I was thinking. Perhaps I should have left a note saying how much this book made me think about things, but I couldn’t bear to leave a mark on its empty opening pages.
Then another incident happened that really solidified this feeling. It happened while working at a used bookstore. We would go through crates of donated books to see if they were worth selling. I was going through a particular crate when I found that all the books donated had a newspaper clipping. Each clipping was a New York Times book review of that particular book. This person spent their lives collecting books and their corresponding book review.
I felt like I hit a goldmine. Here was someone’s personal collection and it was sitting in the basement of a used bookstore hoping to be sold to another person. I knew that these reviews would be removed from the copies before they were sold, so it made me sad to see this unearthed collection be disassembled. But I loved the idea of leaving a mark. Be it by leaving a copy of your favorite book somewhere or just leaving notes in the story, you’re pressing your thoughts and emotions into the book like supplemental reading.
Books can feel like time markers. You can recall the very first time you fell in love with a book or the first edition you purchased before you started your collection. Each book itself has its own memory, but within those pages lies something else. Sure you could use Post-it notes, but I always find putting pen to the already inked pages to be more permanent. It’s like putting a tattoo on your book’s body: it’s scary at first, but the rewards are the best.
Whenever I look back at a book I’ve read, I check the dogeared sections to see if I can still resonate with that passage. I skim through one of my beloved novels and all those underlines and notes in the margin bring me back to what I was feeling at that time. I could remember what I was thinking and I can feel the love I had for this book. I think I felt it too when I was rummaging through that old box of books or even when my friend loaned me that first book.
Maybe not everyone who reads your notes will appreciate them. Maybe they won’t even notice as they’re going through the book. But we’ve all struggled with the thought of what we would leave behind after we leave this world. It makes me a little happy to know that some of me, the form of notes and highlighted passages, is out there. That book I left on the subway will resonate with someone else. These novels collecting dust in my apartment will find a good home and maybe there, that person will fall in love with that book too.