When I was just a wee lass, my paternal grandmother gave me her copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I read it happily, until I got to the last few chapters. My grandmother had underlined, in pen, several passages of the novel. I was shocked that somebody would desecrate a book like that! It had been made very clear to me by my mother that writing in books was bad, ever since I scribbled in and tore up in my brother’s Asterix comic books. (There are many words to describe myself as a child–let’s just go with completely bonkers for now.)
I simply cannot bring myself to write in a novel. While other students wrote all over their copy of My Antonia for AP English, I very neatly used small Post-Its. My Antonia swelled to nearly twice its size. My mother encouraged me to circle words in books I didn’t know, a suggestion that chilled me to the bone. Now that I’m in college, I will write in a nonfiction book, delicately underlining and bracketing in pencil, but the use of pen on a book makes me frown. While I was reading my used copy of Life: The Movie, a mention of Cary Grant was decorated in pen with a heart. I scowled and moved on.
I’m not sure why I feel this way. I think it has something to do with my love of physical books and the sanctity of the story. I don’t mind reading used books–in fact, I adore it. As I’ve mentioned, I used to volunteer in a thrift store sorting books, a great deal of which came home with me. (I once came across a book with an inscription to an Aunt Eleanor: “You’re love of reading has inspired my own!”, it read. There’s a reason it was given to us.) But writing and underlining in the text itself of novels can be distracting to me. It pulls me out of the experience of reading. This is fine in a nonfiction work, but it’s hard to keep up suspension of disbelief and lose myself in a novel when I’m wondering why a previous reader underlined certain passages and phrases. It’s a little too much audience involvement for me.
That said, I do need to take notes about books–for class and for my reviews. I use eight by five notecards, which are roughly the same size as a regular hardback. Using a pencil, for fear of pen getting on a library book (as I am a college student and can only afford to buy so many books at a time), I write rough notes on the lined side. Words I don’t know are written on the back, along with page numbers. I do this with books I own, as well. I’m starting to think about putting little nameplates on books from my personal library, but I think that will be as far as I go for writing in my own books.
In other news, I am woefully behind on my NaNo–I need to write 25,000 words by this evening, which means 7,000 today. I need to finish The Nine, as the assignment on it is due tomorrow. After that, I think I’ll start on The Good Thief, followed by The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, and then Graceling, which I’m greatly looking forward to.
How do you take notes, or what do you think of writing in books?