Today we’re taking a break from talking about writing to talk about my NEXT favorite topic: reading. I’m about to open a can of worms with this subject, so let me go ahead say it: I deface books.
Yep. I underline, circle, write in, draw in, and occasionally dog-ear my books.
First off, let me say this: I only write in books that I own. Second, I always leave them readable. My defacing efforts never hide the words on the page; I want to be able to re-read the books I mark up.
My Story About Defacing Books.
I grew up as a book purist; books were to be treated with respect – partially because I got most of my books from the library. Occasionally I would underline something in a novel I owned, but JUST IN PENCIL, and I’d be super careful. You didn’t break spines, you didn’t let books get dog-eared.
Then last year, two things happened:
- I was high school student without a ton of money to spare, so I started buying used books. This meant that now my selves were filled with pre-loved editions, so “shiny covers all in a row” stopped being a reality. I made my peace with used books, and never looked back.
- I watched this video of a BookTuber, and was blown away:
I watched that video, and my jaw fell open. She hadn’t RUINED her book – she had made it into a work of art. Around this time, I was starting to read the Hamilton Biography by Ron Chernov (you know, the gigantic book that inspired Hamilton, the Broadway musical). And I decided… that I wanted to write in this book.
I’m not done with it yet, but I’m about half way through and I’ve been having the time of my life getting to doodle all over those wide margins. Also, Chernov has a way with words that makes it really fun to write out some of his phrases.
I started with just boxing and underlining.
Then I added some fancy quotes.
More fancy lettering.
You’ll see I started tabbing it.
I got brave and pencil-sketched Hamilton’s eyes.
I’m really happy with how this turned out.
Here’s the key for the tabbing.
For the last pages, I wrote out a bunch of quotes from the musical.
Soon I started on other books. Now I’ve written in a handful, but so far I’m only writing in certain books – ones that mean a lot to me. Ones that I want to turn into works of art, ones with humor I want to underline for future reference, ones that have touched my soul. For example, I’ve tabbed my favorite parts of The Fault in Our Stars, because it’s a book I quote a lot and I want to be able to find my favorite quotes more easily.
The other book I started to deface is my edition of the Narnia Books. (It’s a 7-in-1 hardback edition that is really nice.) Here’s some of what I’ve done:
Dispelling Some Haters.
I can hear the Book Purists. NOOOOO, you can’t abuse your books like that!
But what is the purpose of books? Is it for them to look pretty on our shelves, or is it for them to fill our soul with hope and happiness? Now, there’s nothing wrong per say about having shiny bookshelves, but in the age of BookTube and Bookstagram – where we follow people with hundreds of books in pristine rows on their dark shelves, almost like a mini Barnes and Nobel – I think we as an online Bookreading Community have put too much value on the appearance of books.
What I’ve Learned.
The first thing that I’ve learned is that it’s okay to “abuse” my books. I now crack spines for easier reading. I drink coffee and eat snacks around my books. I take them places, and don’t care if the cover gets a little bent. Every bent page, or tear stain, or crack in the spine, is a reminder of where that book has been. It picks up a history of its own, and I think that’s beautiful.
I’ve also learned that I absolutely love this. I love getting to combine reading with creating. I love getting to make these books my own, and getting to turn them into works of art. Sometimes I make mistakes, but that’s okay and I keep telling myself that it’s okay because it is. It’s a learning process. Also, I often date the pages that I mark up, so Future Beth can see how long it took to read a book, or when I drew that picture. I really like getting to do that to capture my experience.
I’ve really enjoyed getting to play around with different pens and pencils and figure out what I like best. I’ve tried black pens, blue pens, pencils, colored pencils, etc, and I love getting to discover what I like best or what works best for that book. Right now I’m using a silver pen to mark up the Mortal Instruments series, and I adore the shiny, non-intrusive nature of the silver ink.
If you’re still reading all the way down here, then congrats! Extremely long blog post is over. I have one picture left to leave you, and it’s the cover of my Narnia hardback, which I drew with a silver marker and pen. I’m really pleased with how it turned out.
So let me know your thoughts on defacing books. Are you a Purist, who can’t even stand to crack the spines of their books? Are you someone who takes their books on airplanes and to dinner and gets coffee stains on the pages?
Let me close with one last thought. Say that someday, I’m a published author, and I’m doing Book Signings somewhere. And amid the crowd, the noise, the people, someone brings me their well-loved and maybe even marked up edition of the book that I wrote? WOW. That would mean the world to me.