Mark, DisMark, ReMark


“Why is marking a book indispensable to reading it?
First, it keeps you awake – not merely conscious, but wide awake.
Second, reading, if it is active, is thinking, and thinking
tends to express itself in words, spoken or written…
Third, writing your reactions down helps you
to remember the thoughts of the author.”

“There are all kinds of devices for marking a book intelligently
and fruitfully.  Here are some of the devices that can be used:

1. Underlining
2.  Vertical lines at the margin
3. Star, asterisk, or other doodad at the margin.
4. Numbers in the margin.
5. Numbers of other pages in the margin.
6. Circling of key words or phrases.
7. Writing in the margin, or at the top or bottom of page.”

~  Mortimer J. Adler & Charles Van Doren in How to Read a Book

~     ~     ~

Why has the decision to mark a book become an issue in my life?
Because I can’t post a book on PaperBackSwap.com - Book Club to Swap, Trade & Exchange Books for Free. if it has been marked.

When I pick up a book to read first I evaluate:
Is this a book I plan to keep,
or a book I plan to read and release?

Only when I’m certain sure this book is mine, do I go wild with the highlighter.
When I’m fairly sure, I use a soft pencil that can be erased.
If I think I’ll trade it, I flag phrases to be copied.

At times I’ve really, ahem, missed the mark.

Both directions.

I’ve marked up a book, that I’ve decided isn’t worthy of my shelf.
And I’ve kept a book spankin’ clean, decide I want it permanently,
and be terrifically annoyed with myself for not marking the good spots.

Remarking is something that happens the second time through a good book.

I like to acquire used books with markings in them.
Especially if someone wonderful (like my Latin teacher)
owned them before me.

I particularly like to write in the very front page.
When it always took so long to find my favorite quote
from Middlemarch, I began making front notes. 
Now I know it’s on p. 228

[Here’s the front page of one of my current reads:

Viet Nam means land of the south
Ho Chi Mingh “He who brings enlightenment”
Korea – High mountains and sparkling water
Pakistan – p. 62
xii First World – free market, Second World – Soviet bloc, Third World – economically underdeveloped
Raj = reign
caste system p. 49]

Dog-earring a book is a withering sin.

Wouldn’t it be fun to read through the libraries of certain people?
Books they’ve marked?

Do you mark your books?
Whose marked-up books would you like to read?

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14 thoughts on “Mark, DisMark, ReMark

  1. I don’t write in too many books, but when I come across a good line I have been known to take out a pencil, or a copy machine if it is a library book (the first page of Cry, the Beloved Country).PBS should have a flag where you can identify books that are just fine for non-picky people to read, ones that have been written in or may smell like they have spent time in my grandmother’s house, or perhaps a dog has lightly chewed on the cover.  Maybe they could be 2 for one point. It isn’t like it is supposed to be FirstEditionCollectorSwap. Now dog earring a magazine is fair and legal right? 

  2. Other than textbooks, I just can’t do that.  I “mark” a great passage by sharing it with friends.  Or I’ll use post-it flags or take notes on separate paper.  I always thought for ME to mark a book would devalue it, but you’re right – I do enjoy the markings of others and I love it when books, given as gifts, are inscribed. On the issue of ownership, once I have actively read a book, it is mine.   MINE anagrams to IN ME, and I feel no need to own a paper copy, except to accompany a recommendation, in which case I harbor no expectation of getting it back. The most recent This American Life (you can hear it online) is called “The Book That Changed Your Life”.  The first episode is about a young girl who loves to read her grandfather’s books and she especially loves to read his margin (re)marks because it gives her so much insight into her grandfather.

  3. yes, I do mark books – and sometimes use all 7 devices! when i was little (so little that the english tale and i were not yet good friends) i loved to read my grandfathers’ markings: i would open up one of his many books, search for his neat handwriting, and read his notes – it made the words come alive. today i would love to read my fathers’ notes – he is an avid noter, and so is my husband: he uses a red pen! (i’m eager to know about the gas/electric possible buy?)

  4. LOVE to read others’ notes, especially if I know them.  My dad would reiterate what he thought was important in the margins…he was teaching himself.  My husband argues with the author in the margins – enlightening.  I do mark my books up…I’m trying to RETAIN what I’m reading!  (I don’t think it works very well!)And you are right – “Dog-earring books is a withering sin!” Indeed!

  5. I *do* mark non-fiction books, but then, I normally keep non-fiction books.  I love acquiring books with marginalia – makes me feel a kinship with other readers.  I have quite a few books that once belonged to my grandmother and she made lots of notes and underlinings.  If I have a library book I keep post-it notes handy, or use a folded sheet of paper as my bookmark and as a note sheet.If you haven’t yet read it, you might enjoy checking out Marginalia: Readers Writing in Books by H.J. Jackson.I have to confess that I sometimes commit the withering sin, too….

  6. @Wildflowersp – What a wonderful suggestion for PBS.  Do you want to make it or shall I?  I love the FIrstEditionCollector Swap.  *You* are a funny woman!!@jandybee – My sister-in-law (the Maine one) sent me the link to This American Life and I just haven’t made time to listen yet.   “On the issue of ownership, once I haveactively read a book, it is mine.   MINE anagrams to IN ME, and I feelno need to own a paper copy, except to accompany a recommendation, inwhich case I harbor no expectation of getting it back. ”  I love this paragraph, Janet.  I wholeheartedly agree.  I think there is a category of books I don’t read *actively*.  And many books I keep are on my shelf for the sole purpose of passing on to others.  @sonskyn –  Sonya, (or is it Sonja – I’m having a moment of doubt) we haven’t had time to do the shopping.  We will have to have some work done at home to bring the gas over to the place the stove sits, too.  I love the idea of Dual Fuel but they seem quite a bit more expensive.  @MargaretinVa –  I’m not so much an argue with the author note writer type, but I must admit that those marginalia are the most fun to read!@LauraLLD – So you don’t keep much fiction?  You are absolutely right about kinship with other readers.  I love giving a book to one of my beloveds and welcoming her to write in it.   One time Curt was reading a Wodehouse book I had read and marked.  He said he wouldn’t have gotten half the puns if I hadn’t marked them.  (That’s not true, but I like the thought!=)I’m ignoring the last sentence, Laura.  It. is. not. there.

  7. Your posts are always my favorite when I’m under stress, because they are never stressful!  Thanks!BTW, I’ve never made a habit of marking books, but I wish I did.  I often wish I could remember or find a favorite line.  I just never got in the habit.

  8. I am inconsistent.  For example, with the current book club book, Leisure, I highlighted and marked for the first two chapters, then began using post-it notes in chapter three.I’m torn 

  9. I’m a book “marker” and am partial to those waxy yellow highlighters that don’t bleed through the page. The trouble comes in when I share a book with my husband.  He takes notes but does NOT mark in a book (except his Bible). I sometimes out of habit will mark in our shared book and that is a definite “no-no”.  Yes, and I have been known to dog-ear pages, too, but only when it is a 44cent thrift shop bargain that was not purchased for posterity.

  10. i am a book marker.i am a dog-earer – proud of it.i love a re-read. LOVE IT. my markings tend to be STRONG in the beginning, fading away by the mid point of the book. either I ‘get it’, or i get lazy. 🙂

  11. I would love to get ahold of George Grant’s marked up books, assuming he marks them up, better yet, maybe the pages would be stained with his coffee loving selection of the day.  Or I would love to let my eyes feast on his moleskin journal or to do list. 

  12. For me it’s yes to book marking, no to dog earring!  🙂  I highlight at will in books which are my own – usually study books get the most highlighting & margin notes – so I can go back and easily find the things which I found most intriguing.  Love to read my hubby’s marked up books also, as it gives me insight into what he was thinking as he read the same thing.What a wonderful topic for a post~  Love it! 

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