A recent article in the Chicago Tribune discussed the ways people handle and mishandle books. Today, I read many reader responses to that article. These interested me because I found it heartening that so many people care about books and presumably read them at least occasionally.
Various aspects of the question were discussed by readers with many points of view. However, two responses especially interested me. One woman felt ashamed that she disliked and threw away a book that later became a Pulitzer Prize winner. Did she feel obligated to like it? Another had so little confidence in her own opinions and reactions that she was afraid to put them into writing lest she be wrong or another reader be misled. Too bad!
To me, reading (except for texts presenting strictly factual information) involves reacting, reflecting, and forming opinions. Different people will enjoy, or not enjoy, different books for different reasons. Also, a book that is widely promoted and appeals to a majority of critics is likely to be a prize-winner and best-seller, but are those the only books worth reading? I have discovered, and reviewed, some fascinating unknown books by unknown authors.
As for the books themselves, I believe that library books, borrowed books, and valuable leather-bound antiques should not be defaced. On the other hand, key passages and points of special interest should be marked in personally-owned textbooks and books to be reviewed. My best students were usually the ones who used their well-marked literature books to find key passages to refer to or quote for open-book exams and papers very easily. That's why I favor cheaper paper-bound books in general. We should not deface monuments, but we should react to a writer's ideas.
There were responses defending writing in books, as long as you own the books, and others stating that writing in any book, ever, is a no-no. I guess my answer would be, "It depends."
Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne