On Writing in Books and Why I Do It

blog-writing in the margins

I sit in my favorite gray and white chevron chair and, under the soft light of my reading lamp, flip through a book I had particularly enjoyed upon the first reading. That book, Purple Hibiscus, spoke to my soul, and I found myself furiously penning notes and ideas in the margins. Now, I sit rereading my notes, and nostalgia takes over. I find myself catapulted back to that first reading of Purple Hibiscus, the exhilaration when an idea was illuminated for me, the excited anticipation of finding a recurring symbol.

I write in my books in an effort to really take in what I’m reading. I write in my books so that I may be reminded of the beauty of literature. History books only teach us what’s been deemed appropriate, but literature reveals so much about society and ideas. Literature also seeks to continue the conversation of humanity, and I find myself underlining and highlighting ideas that I can relate to, revelations that the protagonist has that I have also had.

I write in the margins to remember the important aspects of history that literature illuminates for me, and then I highlight and write notes on what I can relate to as a human being. I write in the margins to remind me that literature is very much a piece of me. Though only on paper, these characters are real in my mind’s eye while I turn the pages and engage in their lives.

Now, writing in books isn’t something I always enjoyed or appreciated. It’s very much a learned habit that stemmed from a college literature class in which the professor required it. I balked, snickered a little, and with a dramatic sigh I began the process of note writing in my books. Gradually, I noticed some interesting changes in the way I read. Writing in the margins directly affected my ability to retain information, because it slowed me down. Note taking gave me the ability to synthesize what I was reading as I was reading it.  The material became richer, the context more clear.

In Purple Hibiscus, my notes in the margins regularly reflected on Kambili’s journey from the innocence of a little girl to the wisdom of a young woman. I found myself relating to her emotional understanding of these experiences. I found similarities in our thinking. And yet, within the same pages, I learned about a world I had never experienced. I was, through literature, obtaining an informal education on a country I’d never stepped foot in, which led me to ask questions (scribbled in the margins, of course), and those questions led me to do more digging, to find more information about that country.

By all other means, I love to keep my pristine books just so, and my well read books in their best condition possible. I might abhor a dog-eared page and find myself mourning the death of a tattered dust cover, but writing in the margins holds a special place in my heart. It’s writing in the margins—and then being able to revisit my notes— that truly brings a book to life for me.

Do you write in your books? What has that done for your reading habits?


Photo Credit: Flickr user julochka

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