Grab a Pen, Let’s Get Reading: Annotating My Books

Hello. How has almost a month already passed since my last post?! Let’s not let that happen again, shall we? Back to posting once a week it is.

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Rereading the Sorcerer’s Stone for the 300th time

It’s 9AM on a Wednesday morning. I’m still trying to rub last night’s sleep out of my eyes as I settle into a quiet, private booth in a corner of the student union at my university. Time to get homework done that’s due in an hour and a half. I lean back, take out the book I have to read for class, and grab a pen. Wait, what? Grab a pen..? That’s not normal. And that was the first time I realized that it’s not normal for me. It’s something I do now, it’s new, but in terms of my entire life long reading experience, picking up a pen before I start reading is not normal.

I annotate my books now.

Okay, hang on, before you get all “OMG monster!! Satan!!!! I bet you dog ear your pages, too!!!”, let’s take a deep breath and calm down before I proceed (but, yes, I do dog ear the pages, too).

Let me explain.

My copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone that I first read when I was little is battered and torn and ripped and taped and loved and I don’t let anyone touch it. It’s this symbol for the start of something huge in my life and it’s mine and it’s special. If someone ever took it and lost it or just straight up stole it I would die. But it is not perfect and flawless. My copy of I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, one of my favorite books from 2015, on the other hand, is perfect and clean. There are no blemishes and if there are, I promise you I complained about them and demanded to know how they got there. At some point in my life, I went from treating a book like a book to treating it like something too precious to be carried around willy-nilly.

When did that shift happen? And am I shifting again?

To answer the first question: in this wonderful online bookish community, especially on the YA side, books are sacred. They are these precious, beautiful story vessels that we must protect with our lives. They give us so much, so we must protect them and keep them clean and perfect. Before I joined this online community, I was not so paranoid about my books. I respected them because I respect stories, but I treated them like the bound stacks of paper they are. But after I became involved in this community, a lot of my reading habits changed. I started buying way more books than I could read, both because I was exposed to this whole new world of books I hadn’t seen before and it was what everyone else was doing. Now I have a TBR so big that it could avalanche and kill me, but that’s a problem for another day. I also stopped dog earing the pages of my books and started using bookmarks. I never wanted a pen or pencil to touch the pages, I didn’t want my paperbacks to bend, I didn’t want anything to get on the flawless hardcovers. It got to the point where I would feel nervous putting books in my backpack and would have to carry them so I knew what was happening to them, I would make sure tables were totally clean before I set them down, and if something did happen to my books I would actually get mad.

Now that I think about it, it’s all a little extreme.

I love books, and I have fun when I read, but it’s not fun being so paranoid about my books not being perfect that I get nervous bringing them places. I keep thinking back to my first copy of the Sorcerer’s Stone (yes, first copy, I can’t tell you how many I have now…) and how much I love it. And it’s completely destroyed. A chunk of the bottom right corner of the cover is literally missing. It’s covered in tape. The pages are yellowed and the book has been opened so many times it has permanently expanded. Every time I read that book, everywhere I brought it, has been engrained in the book itself. And I love that. And I want that for all the books I read.

Okay, no, I don’t want all my books to look like the Sorcerer’s Stone. But I don’t want to be so cautious with them that it gets…well…weird. And I do want my experience of reading the book be apparent, to be engrained in the book. So that’s why I annotate my books now.

I get in a comfortable position, pick up my favorite black pen, and starting reading. There are a wide range of markings I make on the pages and they’re all for different reasons. I’ll underline whole sentences and paragraphs that I particularly like, maybe for the significance to the story or because it was an especially beautiful sentence. I literally write “LOL” if something made me laugh. Anything I love, I draw boxes around. Sometimes I underline one word in a sentence just to keep track of where I am. I draw brackets around whole paragraphs that I love or think will be relevant later. And I write comments in the margines of my thoughts and reactions to what I’m reading, which is my favorite part. That way, I can look back and see what I had thought the first time I read something. I can go back and see how I first experienced the story and I just think that is so cool and I really wish I have been doing this for years. If only I could go back and see my thoughts and reactions to the first time I read The Hunger Games or I’ll Give You the Sun right there on their pages.

Annotating and dog earing and not caring about the state of my books too much (like, I even crack the spines on paperbacks now) adds to this whole new experience of engaging with the text. It kind of makes me feel like I’m actually a part of this story, like I’m experiencing it. When it pushes at me, I push back.

This whole new way of reading was completely inspired by one of wonderful Booktuber Ariel Bissett’s videos. She made a video called ‘Annotating Your Books‘ almost a year ago (for some reason I only saw it in the last couple months) and she talks about how she wants to engage with the story more and not care so much about keeping them in pristine condition. Give it a watch if you’re really interesting in this whole ~annotating books~ thing.

I think this shift in how I engage with my books has to do with my reading existential crisis that I talked about a few blog posts ago. I’m getting older, I’m maturing, I’m looking at the world in different and new ways. This has all been reflected in the way that I choose books to read now. And I guess it has also been reflected in the way that I treat my books and engage with the stories I read, which is something I did not realize until just now while writing this.

I find all these changes in my reading habits recently very interesting (I hope you do, too) and I will continue to report back on the changes I’ve noticed and how they’re affecting my reading life.

Now, I am going to pick my newest copy of Harry Potter back up (I’m rereading the Sorcerer’s Stone for a class…I am so lucky), grab my pen, and get writing.

xx, Emily


  1. says

    I’m not brave enough to annotate my books but I love seeing someone else do it. It adds their personality to the book through the comments they add. Imagine reading someone else’s book, that they annotated. I’d be delighted honestly. Yet… doing it myself seems daunting. I can do it in textbooks for school but not my actual favorite books. I don’t care if the spine’s cracked or whatever but I just can’t bring myself to write in them. I watched Ariel’s video last year and it inspired me to think about it but I haven’t actually tried it out yet.

    BTW I’m glad I found out you have a blog, followed immediately!

  2. says

    I used to be so against anything happening to my books, every time I took them out of my room I would carry them or do whatever I needed to in order to make sure nothing happened to them. BUT, I define a well-loved book as showing where it’s been with me and I will sometimes mark pages or passages that I love. I’ve never sat down with a book and a pen, but I have a lot of comments when reading, so maybe I should try that sometime! (It’s really interesting to read about your changing reading styles and habits, everyone reads differently!)

  3. Ashley says

    Annotating my books have been a recent thing I have also started doing. For the longest time I also treated my books like gods and would not let other people even touch them. I’m a very uptight person when it comes to school work, writing, and reading. I always felt that everything had to look nice. Sometimes I would rewrite notes just so that they looked as pristine as I wanted them to be. When I started annotating books it felt almost freeing. At first I was nervous and would be very cautious as I wrote, but now I never go anywhere with a book without a pen. Now I have this little part of me that I have left in the story. It’s nice because, unlike my notes, I can’t rewrite. What I write in my books have become so genuine and true to me. I’m sure all of this sounds cliche but it has become a part of me that I can let loose.

    I’m so glad I got to hear your story on annotating. Happy writing! 🙂

  4. says

    Oh, I love annotating books! I wrote a post on it. . . a while ago. I don’t even remember. BUT yes! annotating books is so much fun. I love underlining my favorite parts or quotes for later. Taking notes for when I reread. It’s also very useful when reviewing and I want to remind myself of a particular part. Like you said, it’s being more active in the story.

    I vote that publishers ought to make the margins larger for us to annotate. 😀

  5. says

    I’ve always been scared to annotate my books but I really want to start now. Like you said, I wish I could go back to when I read Harry Potter for the first time (very, very long ago) and see my first reaction to that MAGICAL world! I think annotating a book will feel like having a conversation with it, and this really excites me!

    Thanks for this post 🙂

  6. Jameia says

    I’m happy to hear I’m not the only one who has been over protective of their books. It’s just hard to see something that I love get bent, ripped, or dirty. After reading this it makes me want to annotate in my book, cause it seems in the future I’ll appreciate it. However, I feel as if I have to get the courage to do that like you did.

  7. says

    I’ve never been super in the “nothing can happen to my book!” camp, but a lot of my normal habits just contribute to the books not getting very damaged ever. I like the idea of annotating but don’t do it because it pulls me out of reading, I don’t read with dust covers on because I don’t like how they slide around, etc. I totally love the idea of leaving a sort of mark on the books you read though.

  8. says

    Hey Emily, I’m so glad that you wrote a blog post about this! For some reason ever since I started engaging with the booktube/bookstagram communities (which I love, don’t get me wrong) I’ve become so precious about my books to the point where it’s slightly ridiculous. Slowly, I’m trying to change that to a point where I look after my books but don’t worry obsessively about that.

    I might actually try annotating. I don’t have time to review all of the books that I read but I’d like to be able to remember more of my thoughts of them in detail. 🙂 xx

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