Once upon a time I was paranoid about the look of my books. They shouldn’t be stained, bent, nor – God forbid – written on. I love my books. But then I grew up, smarter and a little bit wiser. I wanted to learn more and more about the world and the people in it. My love for books evolved into a love for reading. And my days of having pristine volumes were over.
Now, the more a book makes me think, the more it will be written on. I will highlight the best sentences. I will draw smiley faces on things that made me happy and sad faces next to stuff that almost made me cry. Exclamation points will fill the margins of mind blowing passages. Light bulbs will show up next to eye opening sentences. I will literally scribble “haha!” next to a paragraph that made me laugh out loud. Arrows will make connections, questions will fill blank spaces and, if there is not enough room, there’s always a post-it that saves the day.
When I read, I am having a conversation with the author. It would be weird to have coffee with a friend and listen to him or her speak for two hours straight with you not responding with any more than a nod here and there. Right? Well, the same thing (for me, at least) happens when I crack open a book and sit next to John Piper, Tim Keller, C. S. Lewis, Cole Brown or whomever I’m learning from at the time.
I’ll admit something, though. I don’t write on every book I read. I recently finished “A Praying Life” by Paul Miller and I think I only raised my pen once or twice. The flow of the book was so smooth and I went by it so fast I didn’t even think about writing on it. And that is just fine.
Writing on books shouldn’t feel forced. Of course, if you are studying and trying to retain the most you can, there are plenty of techniques out there for you to try. But for the rest of us, who are fortunate enough to read for pleasure, writing on our books should feel as natural as a conversation.
- What would you do if the author was right there, next to you, while you were reading their work?
- What would you ask?
- How would you express what they are making you feel or think?
They might not be there in person, but a piece of their mind is between your hands. And when you leave in a book what it made you think or feel, you are leaving a piece of your mind there too. And suddenly it’s not just X author’s book. It is yours too. There will never be another copy just like it.
I don’t have kids yet, but if I ever have the blessing of being a mother, I would love for my children to open one of my favorite books and see a dialogue that will enrich them not just with the thoughts of a random famous person, but also with the things their mom had to say about those ideas.
Maybe writing on books is your thing, maybe not. But I definitely think you should try it at least once. Have a conversation with an author. Grab your pen and be free to respond to whatever he or she has to say, in any way you want!