Do You Underline/Desecrate or Flag/Preserve Your Books?

I’m asking this because Ann and Michael on the Books on the Nightstand podcast were just discussing how people will underline in their books for different reasons, and how some people cannot allow their books to be desecrated thusly.

To answer your question, no, I don’t underline.  You can breathe a sigh of relief.  But I did underline and highlight when I was in school.  And it wasn’t just so that I could go back and find that passage again.  Ann explained how she underlines to change her focus in that moment when she’s reading it, like it underlines it in her brain.  I think I did that, too.

Now I don’t mark up my books at all, partly because it always kind of hurt me to do so, because I revere the book as an object (yes, I know, idolatry and all that), and also because I read a lot of books from the library.  So I invest heavily in those Post-it flag thingees, and if I’m still reading a book, it will have oodles of flags sticking out the side.  When I’m done I can take them out, and the book will once again be pristine.  And all is right with the world.

But while I’m experiencing the book, I’m very involved.  And I flag passages for lots of reasons, not just because I might want to quote them in a review later.  That’s really only the simplest reason.  If I’m reading a mystery, I flag what I think might be clues, so that I can see later if I was right in identifying the clues, which will tell me a couple of things: 1)was I a good detective-reader, did I pay attention to the right bits? and 2)did the author give me enough to go on?  (One of these days I’m going to write a mystery, and I need to really pick apart how these things work and what the authors I like do to make a good one.)

I also might flag what I think is a turning point, the crux of the novel, that sort of thing.  Then I can check when I’m finished if it was really that important.  I’ll flag something if it’s really awful, so I can think later about whether it was really necessary.  So I guess I do a lot of reading with my writer hat on.  I don’t know if other people flag things like I do, but I do know my reading groups kind of titter at me when I come in with a book full of flags.  Every now and then I stop using flags and just read something for the passing enjoyment of it, but it’s rare.  I enjoy reading like a writer, it’s not a chore to me.  I’ve even branched out lately and bought some fancier flags, check it:


I ordered them from Japan, I think.  Aren’t they adorable? Each little cat is the top of a flag, and so on with the rainbows and stuff.  Then each package has a wider posty in the same theme.  I know some people will think I’m nuts.  But I’ve always had a love for office supplies.  And these will make my reading experience even more fun.  Sort of like new shoes made you run faster when you were a kid.  Or like it says on the front of the package: “Composure creates time to the full.”