To People Who Write in Books

04 Aug


Note: I found this slipped under my door one morning. But since there is a bookcase near the door, I’m afraid that it didn’t slip under the door, and was slipped off the shelf instead by a badly treated copy of The Lord of the Rings. In which case I have at least one literate and very grumpy book in my bedroom. I’m borrowing my sister’s dagger. It’s not sharp, but a book wouldn’t know.

Dear poltroons, fiends, and knaves,

(and also some very nice people with poor study habits):

I write in defense of books—pure, clean, involiate. We realize that accidents happen. Little children want to read about Frodo, and they aren’t of an age to understand reprimands like Don’t read with dirty fingers and Don’t leave the book lying open for six weeks. We feel the pain of those mistakes, but we understand them. It is the adults who are the true problem.

My cousin lives in a library. It’s a hard life, but he tries to be understanding. His cover gets sticky, and the librarians are too busy to clean it off. His pages are torn, and there is nothing he can do. But he says the day that sticks out in his memory is the day a mature adult scrawled Frodo lives! across his title page.

Don’t get us wrong. We love to see people writing Frodo lives! on appropriate targets, like pigs, and bedspreads, and other people’s privacy fences. But writing in a book—a book!—is unconscionable.

We have feelings. We also have pages that are white where they aren’t black (or purple, red, orange, etc.). We would like to keep them that way.

Please, we beg of you. By all that you hold dear on this good earth—alarm clocks, styrofoam, and the little plastic microbeads that are currently poisoning fish in the Great Lakes—we charge to control yourselves. Restrain your pencil.

Better yet, burn it. There ought to be a pencil-burning occasion in revenge both for book-burnings and for all the damage we suffer when pencils are applied to our pages by people who ought to know better.

Many illustrious people have written in books. Some of them were monks. Those monks wrote notes in copies of the Bible. And since that time Bible scholars have been fighting tooth and nail about which words count as original text. People who write in books enjoy stirring up conflicts that can last for generations to come.

You may be thinking, “But I write in cursive. Nobody would confuse my pencil marks with actual text.” Try to remember that not everyone who wrote in books was a Gothic-scribbling monk. Vikings probably wrote in the books they stole, after they stripped all the gems off. And they probably wrote in the Viking equivalent of cursive. So by writing in books, you are joining with people of ill repute. (Or boring people–Alexander Pope wrote in books.) Also remember that there might be a dark age in the future. All elements of our culture will be forgotten. The archeologists of future generations might not know that you markings are not part of the original text. You could start a war.

You say, “Well, I want to stop writing in books, but it’s hard not to. I’ve developed a habit. What should I do?

First, try taking notes about the book somewhere other than in the book. That is the proper way to record ideas from a text, or your feelings about those ideas. Second, remember that there are nerve endings located within our pages. We feel pain when a pencil touches us. That pain leads to stress, which can lead to severe spinal injuries, which can lead to our untimely deaths. By writing in books, you may become guilty of bookslaughter. Third, bear in mind that we have feelings, including pride in our appearance. And many of you have bad handwriting.

If you ignore this warning, beware. You may have books in your house. And they never sleep.


A Very Resentful Volume


Posted by on August 4, 2014 in Humor


Tags: , , , , , , , ,

10 responses to “To People Who Write in Books

  1. Laura A. Smit

    August 4, 2014 at 9:09 pm

    Sorry, but I’ve spent many hours this summer reading the things that C. S. Lewis wrote in his own books. Not only did he write in his books, he was often quite systematic about it.

    • A. Carroll Crowe

      August 6, 2014 at 8:08 pm

      Are they available anywhere online? (Maybe I drew the wrong conclusions from that passage in “Surprised by Joy”….)

      Anyhow, consider the article amended. 😉

  2. bryanajoy

    August 5, 2014 at 2:41 pm

    I don’t agree, but this was worth reading anyway 🙂

    • A. Carroll Crowe

      August 6, 2014 at 8:05 pm

      Ha, I partly wrote it in rebuttal to a friend with whom I recently had a friendly debate over whether writing in books was acceptable or not. She is now issuing threats of a fierce rebuttal. 😉

      Actually, writing this article taught me that there is an official name for “stuff people write in books”–marginalia. Wikipedia even has an article on it here.

      • bryanajoy

        August 7, 2014 at 1:23 am

        Good grief, academia is awfully trigger-happy when it comes to categorizing, classifying and tacking on descriptors. Marginalia. Who’d have thunk?

        Actually, my friend and I have had this same debate, although she’s on the anti-marginalia side, and I’m pro-with exceptions. As in, I think you should only write in books if you can do so neatly and control your temper, and also you shouldn’t write in really expensive books — unless they’re rubbish, of course, in which case you shouldn’t read them at all, unless you have absolutely no choice. Also, I’m all about doing beautiful colored pens in the Bible but I absolutely insist that you keep one unadulterated copy to just read from.


      • A. Carroll Crowe

        August 7, 2014 at 2:23 am

        I don’t usually like to write in books–although I’ve done it in “The Ballad of the White Horse,” come to think of it, to correct a confusing misspelling–but I find it hard to deny that better people than I am did it and loved it. So I suppose I’d better stay safe and be a libertarian on this one. 😉

        Part of my problem is that I’m afraid of writing something stupid, coming back to it years later, and realizing how stupid it was. I’ve done that in my Bible more than once. :p

      • bryanajoy

        August 7, 2014 at 2:39 am

        Yep, totally relate to that. You get all self-righteous and write, “Idiot” in the margin of the book, and then five years later you find out you agree with the author after all. Then you want to throw the book away. That’s why you have to control your temper. 🙂

        But also, especially when you’re a young teenager, you’re liable to write something especially sappy and shallow and labor under the impression that it’s a profound addition to the text. And then you’ll have that to regret forever too.

      • A. Carroll Crowe

        August 7, 2014 at 3:21 am

        Quite true. Though my teenage journal was much worse than anything I wrote in my Bible. Very cringe-inducing. :p

  3. Christian Thomas Golden

    August 6, 2014 at 1:27 am

    Fun read, but I have to agree with most writers I’ve read about: writing in a book promotes greater intimacy between the reader and the book.

    HOWEVER, this should never be done with a library book. That’s just rude.


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