Today I want to tackle a somewhat controversial subject. Okay, to be honest, in some circles it’s VERY controversial. And this is a bold move for me because I tend to avoid conflict as often as I possibly can. But I think I can handle it for this one.

Are you ready?

Here it is: Is it okay to write in books?

Yes, I’m serious. Those of you who just rolled your eyes clearly do not have a strong opinion about this, but this may be a bigger deal than you realize. Please note that I’m talking about a book that you personally own, rather than a title borrowed from the library or a friend.

Is writing in a book defacing a sacred item? Or the ultimate sign of love and respect?

Not to Write: The Side of Defacement

If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all. ~Oscar Wilde

Is writing in a book defacing a sacred item?I find this debate a bit fascinating. Call it the learner in me. I can’t help it! I love to hear why people think or act the way they do. Here are some of the reasons people refuse to write in their own books and don’t like it when they pick up a book that’s been written in.

  • I’m a re-reader, and I can’t take the embarrassment. When I reread favorite books, the only thing guaranteed to ruin my pleasure is encountering my own stupid marginalia. The sentences I underlined for unknown reasons, and the question marks next to a sentence I didn’t understand. It’s all too revealing of my dumber self.
  • Highlighting and underlining doesn’t help you retain information. You must handwrite your favorite quotations into a journal. Highlighting and underlining are not engaging with a book. It’s graffiti.
  • I don’t mark in my books because I plan to sell them when I’m done reading.
  • I want to keep my books pristine and always have something pretty to admire.
  • Every time you re-read a book, you’re a different person than you were the last time you read it. Your writing will direct your thoughts instead of giving you a “new” experience. You also condemn future readers to not having their own unique experience.

What do you think? Do you agree with any of these points of view?

Now, let’s look at the other side of this issue.

To Write: The Side of Love

It is better to know one book intimately than a hundred superficially. ~Donna Tartt

I almost did this post with the opposing viewpoints side-by-side with each other. It seems that many of the reasons some people hate written notes in books, others love it for the exact same reason. I suppose you could say it’s all about perspective. Take a look:

  • Your book notes are your literary growth chart and therefore priceless, like the doorjamb of your childhood home.
  • I love annotating my books! Flipping through old ones is a snapshot of what I was thinking and feeling.Is writing in a book the ultimate sign of love and respect?
  • Writing in books makes reading a collaborative interactive effort between the author and the reader.
  • I love buying used books with the previous reader’s notes scribbled on the pages. They may highlight things I would have overlooked or write thoughts I didn’t have. It’s like having a friend to discuss the book with while you are reading it.
  • It can be quite charming to read an old book and see the me who used to be. Reading other’s comments can be like being part of a book club. 
  • Books are supposed to be lived in. They’re a time capsule and vehicle into the minds and souls that came before you (and sometimes that person is the old you). 
  • It doesn’t really bother me if my books get ripped or damaged because they’re a relic of my time reading.


Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers. ~Charles W. Eliot

The best part of this debate is that no matter where you fall on this issue, you aren’t wrong. Writing in books is an intensely personal choice, and whichever side you choose, some future owner of your books are looking for exactly the choice you made.

So, which side do you choose? Not to write, like this person: Leave your books untouched, unsullied, like a series of pristine pools you can dive into over and over again as you get older.

Or, to write, like this one: I see the value of pristine crisp pages, but I have copies of classic books handed down to me from my dad with the notes he made in them as a kid that my older brother added to. I got to live in those books after them. They are some of the dearest things to me in the world.

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This will be the post pinned to the top of my Author Page from July 9th through 15th.


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