My connection to books has changed greatly over the years. When I first started reading seriously (by that I mean reading literature) I refused to mark a book. I would have rather cut my own arm with a plastic picnic knife than dog ear a page, or underline a passage in a book. The edition didn’t matter. A small pocket paperback was just as sacred as a first-edition hard cover. No matter the format, they all had to look good on the shelf.
Gradually things began to change. It started with a dot. I would take a pencil and put a small, barely visible, point at the start of a poignant passage, then another at the end. To mark the page, I would tear up small pieces of paper, newsprint, post-it notes, whatever was nearby, and use that to save the place. My rational was that I could always erase the pencil mark, and the paper could always be removed.
Then, as time went on and I read more, I had a kind of epiphany. It may seem obvious to many, but to me it shook me harder than my older brother when I was seven. A book’s value isn’t in it’s form. Its value is in the ideas, stories and characters it contains. So long I harboured the illusion that my books were like trading cards, the more “mint” they were the higher their value.
Then I realized that a book’s value can only be reaped by harvesting its fruit (not to sound trite), and to do that you have to till the field. And that means, marking the pages, writing in the margins, underlining passages, and even taking the corner of a page and folding it inward.
Despite my inner struggle, I started “defacing” my books, even brand new ones. It was hard, but liberating. And the value was: it allowed me to engage with the book more. I reread passages. I noted my thoughts, even reflected on life. In a way, I was able to understand myself better by putting myself – my thoughts, ideas, and marks – in my books.
Now, my books have more marked pages than a New York phone-booth’s Yellow Pages in the 70’s.
The best part is, now I quite often revisit books and look through my reading trail. This not only helps remind me of why I liked the book, but it also helps me to understand why I connected with the ideas, characters and story.
Basically, in order for me to evolve as a reader I had to get past the idea that a book, as an object, is sacred and should be left untouched. To really understand a book you have to interact with it. Just like the author, you have to take your pencil and put it to paper – then you’ll have a real conversation with the writer, the book, and yourself – and then you’ll find the true value of a book.