I used to treat my books like sacred beings. And it was normal, most other booklovers I know were this way. They are these precious, beautiful vessels that hold a story that we must protect with our lives. They give us so much, so the least we can do is to keep them clean and perfect.
But.. it’s exhausting. The whole keeping your books pristine thing is exhausting. It got to the point where I would feel nervous putting books in my backpack and would have to carry them in my hands so I could keep my eyes on them at all times. I would make sure tables were totally clean before I set them down, and it was just so impractical.
So, I just kind of stopped caring. I started breaking the spines of my paperbacks (it’s much more comfortable to read that way), dog-earing the pages and.. writing in them. And I love the way it looks. Every single page that I read has been ingrained in the book itself. For me, a read book doesn’t only tell the story that’s printed in the book, but also the story of how the reader read the book.
Why I annotate my books
I already mentioned this above, but I love making the book my own. By annotating a book in one way or another, I’m having an active conversation with the author and I’m transferring some of the thoughts I had in a specific moment onto the pages. That way, I can look back and see what I had thought the first time I read something. It’s a way to see how I first experienced the story.
I love seeing how my thoughts have evolved upon rereading the book later. I might think about a passage in a certain way now, but future me could totally disagree with past me! In a way, my book notes are my literary flow chart. It shows how I’ve grown and matured as a person.
Annotating books also helps me remember books after reading them. I have read hundreds of books in my life, and it’s impossible to remember everything about them. When I write in my books, I’m much more inclined to think critically of them. The reading experience is much more active, which later helps me remember things that stood out to me. When I flip through a book that I have read a while ago and read my own notes, much of the content comes back to me.
How I annotate my books
I get in a comfortable position as you normally would. Grab my book, and then grab my pencil case. Everything I need is in my pencil case. A pen, a pencil, post-it notes, small sticky notes and a (yellow) highlighter. I tend to use my pen and highlighter the most, I usually get those out and leave them somewhere next to me, so I can grab them right away.
There is a wide range of markings I make on the page and they all mean something different. I’ll underline whole sentences if I like the message or because I think it will be significant in the story. I’ll write ‘hahaha’ or ‘LOL’ next to something that made me laugh. I draw brackets around whole paragraphs if I like them. And I write a wide variety of things based on the type of book. If it’s fiction, I might comment on the dialogue, writing style, plot devices or character development. If it’s non-fiction, I often share my own thoughts in a few works or draw a mark so I’ll remember to research more about a specific subject later after reading about it in the book.
I tend to use my highlighter when I think a passage or line is particularly beautiful. You know, the type of quotable line you’d want to reread later.
I also use small sticky notes (like pictured above) to mark pages that I particularly liked or thought were thought-provoking. If I read a very thick book, I sometimes also put small sticky notes on pages that are significant in the plot, just in case I want to come back to them later. Regular post-its are used when I want to write a longer comment and there is not enough space on the margins of the book, or when I’m reading a book that I borrowed from someone else.
I noticed that I’m still kind of ‘perfecting’ this new habit of mine. I now use the highlighter way less than I did in the beginning, when I first started annotating my books, and I use my pen and sticky notes more. My reading habits are constantly evolving, and I love that!