Things I Learned In College #12

Write in you books. Underline passages. Write in the margins. Take notes… and save them! And do not sell back your books. Ever!

Nearly four years ago I was assigned a reading by Flaubert for a class I took, featuring a lot of different fiction from different eras and countries. Now I’ve been assigned the same story again. In an attempt to reduce the amount of work I have to do, I decided to try and dig up my notes from that class, along with the text, to see if I could avoid unnecessary work.

Having spent a full 20 minutes digging through all the notes I’ve saved since I started taking classes at PSU, I have concluded that any random system of filing is probably more efficient than anything I’ve come up with in the last four years. I did manage to locate the book, however, only to discover that during all 23 pages of it, I failed to make any impression on text in any way. It looks virtually unread, and I would even be hard pressed to prove that I owned the book, save for the fact that it is in my house.

I am of the opinion that you should respect your books, as they are not only extremely important, but can offer you solace and comfort in ways that few other pieces of media can. However, I finally came around to the idea of writing in my books over the last couple of years. This behavior, in my experience, is an entirely polarizing one; either you already write in your books and think it’s acceptable, or you are horrified by the thought that someone does this, and begin to rethink your opinions with regards to whom you will now lend your books to. I have never met anyone who didn’t respond enthusiastically in one direction or the other, and it generally tips off an intense discussion of right and wrong.

I used to think that you should never write in a book, even if you owned it. But as I’ve had to do more and more research, and read more and more books, I’ve found that it isn’t exactly easy to synthesize the text you’ve just read into a useful form entirely from memory. In fact, I would say it is now impossible for me to do that. This was hard for me to come to grips with, and the solution was right in front of me: underline, highlight, and write in the margins as you read. It hardly takes any time, has actually improved my retention and comprehension, saves a lot of work down the road when it comes to writing papers, and creates an intellectual dialog between you and the author that will baffle anyone else who reads your copy of that book. (Try it! It’s fun!)

Of course, in some cases, this lesson is too little, too late. Much of what I have read in my lifetime has remained unmarked, and as I continue my education (wherever it may lead), I will probably have to re-read texts that I failed to interact with in the past. Well, at least I finally figured it out.

However, if the thought of writing in a book is still too weird and upsetting, there is an alternative: post-it notes. I started using them for my comics when I couldn’t actually bring myself to mark them up, and have actually been surprised at how many comments I have to make about them as I’m reading, and how much better I remember the stories.

Yes, I just admitted to writing in my own books, and taking notes on the comics I read. Let the comment-battle royale commence.