To Highlight or Not to Highlight?

This December I was planning on giving myself the best present ever:

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Not the actual book – Mr.B&R already took care of that last Christmas – but reading The Second Sex and allowing myself to spend a beautiful, full of wisdom month with one my role models, Simone de Beauvoir. The problem? It is such a beautiful book I don’t know whether to highlight it or not. I am not one for writing or doing anything to books, I actually conserve them as pristine as when I first lay hands on them except when I’m actually studying them, then everything gets pink, green and yellow crazy. But, at the same time I wonder, why not highlight books I just read? Why not just leave my ideas there? Why not highlight the bits that, in a few years, I will say: ‘this has stayed with me’! So, I was wondering what you people do. There is a poll for you to answer, but I would love love love to hear your thoughts on highlighting books. Also, this post inaugurates a new section on the blog called “Studying Questions” in which I will be writing about the PhD life and anything school related.

Also, this post inaugurates a new section on the blog called “Studying Questions” in which I will be writing about the PhD life and anything school related. I’m eager to share and exchange opinions with you 🙂

24 thoughts on “To Highlight or Not to Highlight?

  1. I’m of the book ‘this proves the book was much loved’ school of thought. After all, it’s my copy, not my friends’ or the library’s (heaven forbid!).

  2. I voted yes, although highlighters aren’t really my weapon of choice. But since I do underline, write in the margins, dog-ear pages, and get weirdly proud when the spine of a book finally breaks, I think I fall more into that category–I guess that’s what four years as an English major plus two in grad school have done to me? It’s just such a convenient way to keep track of my thoughts, and I always have a hard time when I review library books and have to resort to using sticky notes to mark passages; it feels like I’m holding the book at arm’s length. So my biggest concern isn’t really that I’m being disrespectful to the book–it’s more that I’ll return to my notes years later and go “What was I thinking, saying THAT?!”

    1. That is one of my fears, Tamsin. I’m afraid that I’ll highlight something today that will make no sense or go totally against me in 10 years. And I do think books are life-long companions, so…

      1. Definitely. I’ve occasionally been pleasantly surprised by notes I’ve made and have even had them spark new trains of thought, but I’ve often felt like they were either obvious, confusing, or just illegible. My usual strategy now is just to underline if I find I’m not totally able to organize my thoughts but want to make sure I come back to a particular passage.

  3. I never used to write in books, but recently I’ve liked the idea of being able to look back on the books I’ve read and see my thoughts, favourite lines etc. I don’t use a highlighter though, I normally underline in pencil. Looking forward to reading your posts on your PhD 🙂

    1. If the previous comment was a con, yours is a pro. I think that when I read a book, I bring something into the reading: my ideas, my way of reading etc. And since the books are mine – would never even dare of doing anything but read a library book – it would amazing to make them truly mine.

  4. I highlight the hell out of any book that was related to my academic study (and that I owned), but personal, just for fun reading books, I don’t highlight … and really it’s because I get so caught up in the story that I don’t stop reading even if I want to take note of something.

    1. RIght now I’m just like you. If I’m studying the book, then yes, I will highlight it, even though I’ll cringe every once in a while.

  5. No! No, no no! No!!

    Can you guess how I voted? 😉 Actually I did use to highlight textbooks, but never, ever novels. There’s no real logic to my reasoning, it just seems so wrong. Soooo wrong! Nearly as wrong as dog-earing pages…

    1. That is exactly what happens to me, FictionFan! I feel I’m doing something wrong to the book, as if it were suffering or something. How silly!

  6. I love to underline in my books, but I understand your reticence. When a book is rather beautiful it can be a tough decision. I underline so I can revisit quotes, it’s especially fun when it’s a book that comes to be my favourite. I’ve a few books now that I read on Kindle and all the highlighter were lost when I upgraded my device – I wish I’d read the paperback first so I could have saved them all.

    1. Oh, I’m sorry you lost your notes, Alice. That is one of the reasons why I don’t like electronic reading devices and I love physical books.

  7. I don’t, and partly because I think that if I did highlight then if/when I came to re-read the book then I’d be too distracted. Also because I like my books to look as new as possible, like you, even if it’s inevitable some will end with broken spines (hello tomes…)
    What I do instead is make a dedicated note file on my computer or use a notebook and write out the extracts I like. It takes time but it’s a good alternative.

    1. That is one good reason, Charlie. I have tried taking notes on a notepad or on my computer, but I feel like it fractures the reading and I don’t enjoy the process at all.

    1. Thanks, Leah. I already use those flags, and they are good, but I doesn’t ‘select’ the text like highlighting does. I am trying to learn and get used to use them, though 😀

  8. I’m pretty much the opposite to you Elena. I love my books to look worn – I crease the spines, fold back pages, add post-its, highlight, write my thoughts etc. The more battered, the better!

  9. Now I think (and this is my excuse for being a highlighter and an annotator) that the inhibition against this comes from when books were hugely expensive beautiful objects bound in leather etc.

    I love finding annotated books, I love the fact that some of my books are battered and broken from several reads over many years, with underlinings and annotations which happened at different times. Its like a dialogue i had with the book, and one of the things I find most frustrating about Kindle reading, that there’s no sense of my relationship with that book over time. I am completely uninterested in the fact that 92 people underlined the passage I might want to underline – but if I had bought the book second hand, and found several ‘real’ underliners before me, I would be in seventh heaven, picking up in some weird way on the energies of previous readers, and their relationship and dialogue with the book. I do have some beautifully produced books which are clearly aesthetic objects, and would be inhibited to sully that aesthetic, but they are a bit like glamour models, as opposed to the fascination of a face which life has written upon, and tells its story!

    PS I’m safe to borrow books as that is someone else’s, and not to be sullied by physical evidence of my presence!

    1. Great to know it’s safe to lend you books 😀 Just joking. I love everything you say about making the books yours, I think my doubts come from a crash between wanting to make the books mine and being afraid of doing something wrong to them.

  10. I don’t highlight, underline or really mark any of my books. I’m oddly weird when it comes to this stuff. I love breaking the spine, but remembering my thoughts seems useless to me as I may re-read something a year later & think something completely different. I find when provoked to think deeply the best is to write it in a journal & mention what started the idea, such as reading a phrase.

  11. I haven’t highlighted in a book since my first semester of college (university) when I realized that I was highlighting WAY too much for it to be useful. But I DO sometimes write in my books. Often I use a short ruler to make sure my lines are straight. 🙂 (And I underline too much sometimes, but at least it’s not so glaringly obvious as a highlighter.) Many of the books I read are borrowed though, so I mostly don’t write in books anymore. Instead I’ll use Book Darts (LOVE) to mark passages that I want to remember and then I’ll go back and write them down or type them up later. I’ll also often use a scrap of paper or old envelope as a bookmark and write down notes on that as I go if I want to remember a thought or something, and those thoughts will get added to my list of quotes when I’m done.

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