Marking it up

I was, as usual, doing reading for class over the weekend, and, as is not unusual, I was out in public doing so. I often go to places like Panera or Starbucks to read, but every time I do so, I feel a little self-conscious about my reading methods.

See, until graduate school, I never wrote in a book. Never dog-eared a corner. Never split a spine. Books were sacred to me, and I would never, never mark one up or damage it in any way. Now, however, it’s absolutely essential that I make notes in the margins and underline passages if I’m going to contribute to class discussion. My notes usually take the form of indexing; for example, when I was reading Clarissa last year, I had three or four major issues I was keeping an eye on, so if I found something on a particular page that was pertinent to that issue, I’d circle the page number and put a note like “sororophobia” or “patriarchy” at the top of the page, while underlining the relevant part. This was crucial to being able to write a final paper on the 1500-page behemoth that is Clarissa.

But when I’m out in public, I worry that people are looking at me and thinking, “What is she doing?!” I mean, in my former, non-book-marking life, I would have had some heart palpitations watching someone mark up a book. One of the things I dislike about buying books from Half-Price Books, or really used books in general, is that they frequently come with notes and highlighting in them. My copy of Habermas’ Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, which came from Half-Price, had so much underlining in it that I had to put “ES” in the margin next to the things I found relevant.

This is probably just my own neurosis, and maybe no one is watching me deface books while I work, but I do worry. And while I’ve had to concede the usefulness of making notes in books, I absolutely draw the line at marking up library books, which apparently many of my colleagues have no qualms about, since I not infrequently check out library books that are as marked up as my Habermas. That’s what tape flags are for, people, hence my ability to almost single-handedly keep Office Depot afloat.

2 Responses to “Marking it up”

  1. ctate
    October 23rd, 2007 11:54

    See also Book Darts, or their evil Levenger knockoff Page Points. I love these things, and have been buying them since the days when Levenger sold the actual Book Darts, before they made their own knockoff [i assume to avoid the overhead of being a reseller].

    You can’t write a note in the margin, like you can with tape flags, but I also find them a nice clean permanent way to mark a passage in a book.

  2. Prentiss Riddle
    December 30th, 2007 22:03

    Cf. Catherine C. Marshall, “Toward an ecology of hypertext annotation,” ACM HyperText ’98,

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