Defacing Books

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.

Some Disclaimers.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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Let it demand to be read

There’s a great line in The Fault in Our Stars – “Pain demands to be felt.”

What if our writing was like that?  What if the novels we wrote demanded to be read?  If readers were unable to sleep at night until they read the last page?

I’m in the middle of reading four books right now.  FOUR.

The first three did not demand to be read.

I was simply bored with the first.  Twenty pages in, it was still the setup for the main plot.  The plot that I KNEW was going to take place because I’d READ THE BACK OF THE BOOK!  So it was 100% un-suspenseful.  You know what I did with that book?

I returned it to the library.

(It was due.)

But wouldn’t that BREAK YOUR HEART as an author if you went through all the trouble of getting a book written, polished, PUBLISHED… and then have someone RETURN IT TO THE LIBRARY after 20 pages?

It would break my heart!

The second book, I’m reading for book club – so I (probably) won’t return it until I’ve read the entire thing.  But let me tell you: the first 5 pages are about a boy going to a swamp.  LEGIT, that is ALL THAT HAPPENS!  The dog chases a squirrel, the boy yells at the dog, and then gets hit by a passer-by for using language.  But he’s basically just CHILLING AT A SWAMP.  Oh, and there’s some cleverly disguised info-dumps about the world.

The third is okay.  I’ll finish it, definitely, but there’s nothing PULLING ME TOWARDS IT.

When I write, I don’t want it to be “okay.”  I want it to DEMAND TO BE READ.  At this point, I have a solid beginning – no boring setup or disguised info-dumps.  And no swamps.  But now I’m at a part where one major suspense point has been resolved, and the MC has no major obstacles in front of her.  No suspense.  No conflict.

It’s so bad that I don’t even want to write it, because there’s no mystery for ME.  No raging emotions, nothing EXCITING.  If I’m bored writing, that equals the reader ready to return the book to the library.

WHAT DO I DO???

Ashley and Kathleen, two of my favorite authors on the blog CrackinTheWIP, frequently talk about blowing things up when they’re out of ideas.  Or just want some more excitement. ie, “Hm, and have you tried making something explode yet? Perhaps a person, or a place, or some sort of fruit cart?”

Maybe I should try that.

Either way, something’s gotta change.  Some suspense must be added, some character must turn evil, some fruit cart must explode… something to make the chapter I’m on DEMAND TO BE READ.

WIP, here I come.

The Captain