Go to any used bookstore and peruse the most ragged looking of the books that they have. Books that have been read and reread, full of side notes and pages that are bent in every way conceivable. I often wonder if there really is a “better” way to read a book. As far as I can tell, there are basically two schools of thought: The school of thought that subscribes to carefully reading a book and making sure that the pages remain unbent and clean, and the school of thought that advocates writing notes on the pages and bending over pages to indicate the place of the reader.

I feel as though I am tossed between the two schools of thought. Some books I feel the need to keep in pristine condition and others I am not so bothered if they get scuffed up a little bit. Yet, even with the latter books, I will not bend over a page, also known as dog-earing, for the purpose of keeping my place. I will always find some kind of bookmark whether it is a receipt or one of many bookmarks I have received from various organizations – I am aware of my own biologically driven eighteen minute attention span, keeping bookmarks around is a must for me when reading.

Arguments can be made on both sides. People who write notes in their books and bend their pages could be said to be more involved in the reading process. Are they? When they are writing notes, is that a sort of like how it is best to teach by asking questions? Does it show a person cares more about the book because they really get right into the book and give it their all?

Some people who write notes and bend pages will tell you that it is the careful readers that have it all wrong. The careful readers are gingerly turning the pages, they say, and you can barely tell that someone has ever read a book that has been read by a careful reader. When a book has really been read, the argument goes, the passion and spirit of that person is evident in the book and you can tell this when you look at it.

The careful readers will tell you that the people that dog ear and take notes in their books have it wrong. They will say that by bending pages and taking notes, they are in effect ruining the book. They are making the book just a little less readable for the next person and as well are physically damaging the book; they are bringing the book just a little bit closer to its demise by doing what they do.

How do you handle books? Do you carefully handle them or bend pages and / or take notes? Is it more of a mix of the two? Would you treat a first edition of a hardcover any differently than a fifty cent paperback you got at a garage sale?


  1. I love this article, Gordon! I am passionately against annotations and dog-earing for bought books and library books. I’m not interested in reading the numb musings of others.
    However, when I buy pristine, it doesn’t stay that way very long. I tear apart my books and I use sticky notes and I write in them and dog-ear them all. I do that because it helps me, and only me, remember. I’d never give up a book I treated as a tool for knowing.

  2. Q: At what point do you “give up the goat” on a book – ie at what stage of condition would you relegate a book to the recycling bin? Would you just take a book to a rebinding service to save it? I recently paid $60 to have 12 volumes of Gemora repaired as they were falling apart in the synagogue due to being used so much.

  3. I never throw away a book, Gordon. They stay with me forever. If I happen to have copies, I give them away in pristine condition.
    I would certainly try to preserve any book I had.

  4. I made the mistake of not handling one book I borrowed with the greatest of care and it was very, very slightly damaged. The loaner wasn’t interested in having it back.

  5. What a lovely topic, Gordon!
    I swear by bookmarks. And almost anything can become one, from ticket stubs (when i’m travelling) to chocolate wrappers to random scraps of paper or cloth and even coins and matchsticks!
    There was a time when I took notes or marked passages, but it’s not something I do now. If I have to I do it on the laptop or on a notepad.
    I handle all books carefully. The ones I’m reading sit on the bedside table, the ones I like dipping into every now and then find their place on the shelves nearby and the rest are carefully locked in the storeroom that became a library.

  6. Hi Gordon,
    Awesome article!
    I, still have the first English and Bengali alphabet learning book – to be precise my mother has it – and it still bears some signs of my Einstein-ism…some alphabets written in opposite direction…
    To cut a long story short, I can throw my entire world out to create more room for my books and I simply manhadle them!

  7. Katha,
    and everyone else who has answered:
    Is there any chance you can share with us photos of your book collection?

  8. If I am lent a book it goes back in the condition I received it.
    However MY books get sticky notes, bookmarks and sometimes penciled remarks or paragraphs underlined in pencil. Exceptions to this rule are signed first editions of which I have a few.
    As to Gordon’s last comment – you want photos of every room in the house – I can guarantee there is a book in every room!

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