The Great Debate: Writing in Books

Omar: Writing in books is a crime! I know it may sound extreme but this is what I believe. I really can’t understand people who write in books. The author has spent months or even years to put that thing together. An image of the author’s mind has been carefully put together word-by-word to give you this book but hey, your half-sleepy self decides to add some lovely touches here and there because that is just not enough! My following reasons are for why writing in YOUR books is bad; writing in someone else’s books is so heinous it doesn’t even need to be discussed here!

Riley: Wow! You’ve got strong opinions on the topic! I’m completely the opposite to you – I love finding a book with writing in, but we’ll get to my reasons why in a moment. You’re right about one thing though – writing in someone else’s books is just plain wrong. That’s not even a book issue, that’s a basic human decency and respect issue!

A Selfish Act?

Omar: The books that you have are not yours forever. We hardly ever hear of a book collection that belonged for one person forever. At some point, whether you are dead or alive, those books will continue their journey to pass the knowledge and inspire other people. This is what they were made for. Now, this person gets his hand on this used book, eager to read this book, and just find your genius scribbles all over. Believe me, this is not the best feeling ever. Personally speaking, I hate when that happens.

Those writings are just annoying. It is like the author is “talking” to me and another person just keeps jumping into the conversation and stating their unasked-for opinion. Imagine watching a movie and someone records their brilliant voice notes over it. Totally ruins it.

Riley: I sooooo disagree with you on this one! Maybe it’s a personal preference thing, but I love, love, love finding a second hand book that has been annotated or highlighted by a previous loving owner. My very favourite thing is when there is a dedication in the front pages, but notes down the side, highlighted passages, or even scribbled shopping lists on the back page fill me with joy. It’s history, it’s character. It tells a story – another story – a story about that book rather than the story that is in that back.

It makes me wonder about all the people who have held that book and passed it along. And perhaps in an odd, abstract kind of way, it makes me feel part of some sort of secret club, a group of people who’ve loved not just this book as a piece of literature, but this book as a physical thing. I start asking myself about the other people in this secret group – their lives, their loves. I get a thrill out of seeing which bits of the book they enjoyed and which they didn’t, and sometimes their notes help me to pick up on something I may have otherwise missed.

Respecting the Vessels of Knowledge

Omar: I don’t know about you, but I just love books. For me, books are vessels of knowledge that took tremendous efforts by very smart people to put together. All of this was done so that knowledge and stories are passed on. I really find this worthy of respect. Writing or should I say “scribbling” in those books is something I find disrespectful. It is not just that you didn’t even bother to make the slightest effort to arrange those thoughts, it is also that carelessly throwing random notes on someone else’s hard work just seems disrespectful to me.

Riley: It’s the ideas and the knowledge in those books that need to be respected, not so much the pages they are printed on. Besides, I think by showing your love on those pages is in itself a form of respect – a form of bookish worship, perhaps. You’re lavishing your attention and your own thoughts on the authors’ works, and you’re engaging in a way that most authors, I’m sure, would be thrilled at. No author (or at least, I am imagine very few authors) want to tell their stories and share their knowledge with a stiff and unengaging audience – what would be the point?

Omar: I’m definitely with processing what you need and taking notes. By doing so, you interact with the content of those books and process what you read better. However, I just find that scribbling in those books is not the best way to do it. I think a separate journal where you write your notes on the books or even using some post-it notes is much better approach. You interact with the books content, the books are preserved for future users, and everyone is just happy!

Riley: Hmmm…I think we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one!

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