10 Reasons to Write in Your Books

Do you write in your books? I have resisted marking up my books unless I really need to. I once heard that you can’t donate your books to a library if they are  marked up, so I stopped writing in my books. That was a terrible choice, since as John Piper says: “If its worth reading, its worth writing in.” Tony Reinke’s book, Lit: A Christian Guide To Reading Books provides ten more reasons why you should write in your books–with a pen:

1. I write in my books to claim them. Whenever I buy a book that will become a permanent addition to my library, I write my name on the inside cover. It’s a claim of ownership. It is my way of saying that this book belongs to me, it has been added to my library, and it is a tool for me to use as I see best.

2. I write in my books to acknowledge their temporary value … As much as I love books and literature, the books in my library are not eternal. Every physical book I own is in the process of returning to dust … My books are not fragile museum pieces to archive behind a glass display; my books are well-worn hand tools – hammers, tin snips, measuring tapes, and vice-grips – to help me remodel my brain.

3. I write in my books to highlight what I appreciate. I mark phrases, sentences, paragraphs, and pages that I think articulate a point very well. I call them gold. The gold nuggets could be paragraphs, sentences, or even just phrases that I don’t want to forget. I mark them so they stand out.

4. I write in my books to trace the skeleton of the book. The publisher often leaves the reader with spacious white margins. I fill those margins with my own notes as I trace the author’s arguments.

5. I write in my books to mark what is initially disagreeable. Remember what we learned earlier: it’s often best to read straight through a chapter without stopping. If it’s a book that I am trying to read quickly, I mark questions in the margin with a small question mark that I can return to later. But on the first pass I simply mark sections that I want to reconsider.

6. I write in my books to weave them into my library. In my books I often add counterarguments from other books or cross-references from other authors. I like to stitch together what I read in one book with the rest of my library.

7. I write in my books to express emotion. Healthy readers experience emotions as they read. They express joy, concern, or even anger at times…this is what makes borrowing books from read rs who write in their books so fun!

8. I write in my books to capture thoughts. … By focusing my attention in a book and by blocking out the distractions of life (which is a rare experience), I find that my thoughts become clearer. With a focused mind, thoughts and ideas will bubble up as I read. I use the blank pages to capture those thoughts—about life, my work projects, and my personal goals.

9. I write in my books to archive personal notes. As I interact with topics in the margins of books, my books become personal notebooks of recorded reflections. I could use a blank Moleskine notebook, but that’s not as convenient. In the margins of a book my thoughts are directly tied to the original source.

10. I write in my books in order to have a conversation.Odd, I know, but true. Marginal notes are transcripts of a sometimes-disturbing internal dialogue. This conversation goes in three different directions. First, the reader can address the author: “Yes! Well said, Mr. _____ !” Or, “What are you thinking?” Second, the reader can give himself a little pep talk: “This is important. Don’t forget this point especially in light of the previous chapter.” Third, these notes can be a conversation with future readers: “Don’t listen to what Chesterton says about Calvin. What a nut!’

In my next blog post, I will give some links and tips on systems for actually writing in your books.


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