A Better Way to Write in Your Books



“When writers die they become books, which is, after all, not too bad an incarnation.” — Jorge Luis Borges

Are you a Preservationist or a Footprint Leaver?

Do you leave your books riddled with notes and turned down pages or do you leave them in pristine condition?

In The Little Guide To Your Well-Read Life: How To Get More Books In Your Life And More Life From Your Books, Steve Leveen writes about writing in your books as a helpful way to learn, along with arguments for Footprint Leavers and Preservationists.

Writing in Books is Helpful

Writing in books is a great way to learn and reflect, and to act as a quick reminder for future reference.
Leveen writes:

“When in the trance of good fiction — when one is carried away by a story — writing in a book is unnecessary and can even be distracting. It is in expository writing, when one is reading to learn, that writing in books is so very helpful.”

If You Already Do It, Do It More

If you already write in books, great.  Do it more.

Leveen writes:

“If you already write in your books, I encourage you to do even more of it and to take this art to a higher level.

If you do not write in your books, I urge you to start, even though I know it goes against the grain.”

Footprint Leavers and Preservationists

When it comes to writing in books, there are two ends of the spectrum.  Those that write in books freely, the Footprint Leavers.

And those that don’t, the Preservationists.

Leveen writes:

“I wrote a column for the Levenger Web site on this subject, describing those who write in books as Footprint Leavers and those who do not as Preservationists.

Within a week, more than two thousand readers responded with arguments, many of them quite eloquent, either for or against leaving footprints.

Ironically, both camps based their reasoning on a fervent love of books.”

Arguments for Footprint Leavers

Footprint Leavers don’t mind leaving a trail of notes throughout their books.
Leveen writes:

“‘A book unmarked is a book unloved,” pronounced one Footprint Leaver. ‘An unmarked book is like a canister of undeveloped film, an unopened bottle of wine, a violin with sagging strings,’ said another.”

Arguments for Preservationists

Preservationists want to keep their books in pristine condition.
Leveen writes:

“Preservationists felt otherwise. ‘I never would write in a book, my thoughts are just that, my thoughts.

Books should be left in a pristine condition.

Notes are for notebooks,’ said one Preservationist. ‘It just makes me cringe to think about writing in a book of mine or event turning down the page to mark your place.

That’s what bookmarks are for!’ insisted another.”

Sticky Notes: A Solution for Those in the Middle

If you don’t want to write directly in your books, you can write on yellow sticky notes and stick them in your book.
Leveen writes:

“Other people were in the middle and sometimes conflicted, as this reluctant Preservationist was: ‘Alas, I am a Preservationist. I have tried numerous times to be a Footprint Leaver, but have failed miserably!

I would love to be able to write in books; I just can’t bring myself to do it.’

For such wistful readers, today’s stick-on notes allow them to write in books without actually doing so.”

Key Takeaways

Here are my key takeaways:

  • Writing in books can be helpful.  When you’re reading to learn, writing in books can help you follow along.
  • Footprint leavers.  Some readers are Footrprint leavers.  They write in books.
  • Preservationists.   Some readers are preservationists.  They don’t write in books.
  • Write on post it notes.  You can write on sticky notes and stick them in the book rather than write in the book itself.

I fall into the middle camp. I’ve tried to write in books, but it just never felt right. While I like the idea, I think I’ve found a way that works for me.

What I do is I stick post-its in my book on pages I find noteworthy and I write a quick note to remind me of the point.

This way I can quickly flip to what matters. This also works well for books I take out of the library.

Another thing I do is I carry a batch of sticky notes with me so I can jot down notes as I go along.

That way I can bring the notes wherever I need them and it helps turn them into action.

Lastly, I share the nuggets that I find most useful, here on this blog, as I get the chance.

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