Before I worked in publishing, and learned about things like first editions and galleys, I treated books like they were notepads, scribbling lists and phone numbers into them, stuffing articles between pages to read later. It’s these lists I flip back to now to remind me of who I was years before—a journal of sorts. … What will eventually become of these books with their treasure trove of notes and inscriptions? Electronic books are just pixels on a screen. These personal connections to the past make physical books so much more than that.
I like finding ephemera that others have left behind in books. I love the idea of using a printed book like a notepad, a journal. I think that’s why I liked The English Patient so much.
And yet, I don’t underline or scribble in the margins of my own books. I don’t tuck things inside them to be found years later. I think this is mostly habit.
I didn’t actually own a lot of books as a child, so the ones that I did have I read over and over. Keeping those books note-free made each reading its own, uninfluenced by past readings. Most books came from the library, and of course, writing in library books was not allowed (never mind that lots of people do it anyway!). Later, when I’d run out of library books to read, I’d buy books from the used bookstore, read them, trade them back for store credit, buy a new set of books, and so on. Obviously, the better condition the books were in, the more credit you got. And things that were tucked inside would be lost (or become someone else’s).
By the time I started buying books and keeping them I was stuck in my not-writing-in-books ways (I also don’t turn down corners or anything like that).