On Annotated Books

Admittedly, I used to be somewhat of an anti-annotator. I liked my books pristine (even now, it pains me a little to see dog-eared pages), and nothing (bar a few urgent notes at school) would convince me that writing notes in margins was ever, ever okay.

The first book that I annotated (apart from Macbeth and Frankenstein at school) was Peter Brook’s The Empty Space. It’s a fairly confusing book to get one’s head around at first, with lots of questions raised and abstract notions about theatre; yet there were several passages that resonated with me, so I was forced to whip out the pencil and get underlining. I don’t like to use highlighters, as I find that the ink bleeds through, and pencil keeps my annotations subtle. Pencils also don’t tend to leak in my bag…

Now, I’m annotating left, right and centre. Once my brain latches onto an idea, it runs with it, so I also like to carry Post-It notes with me, because in books I still prefer to keep my additions to a minimum. I find that there’s something really satisfying about underlining a passage that resonates with oneself; it’s like I’m reassuring the author that someone, somewhere did find something to treasure within those pages. Or maybe I’m being overly poetic and sentimental – it’s unlikely that Sophocles or Nabokov or Keats would really give a damn about a 16 year old girl’s pencil markings.

What I also love is buying a second-hand book and seeing what someone else has written, especially with plays. For example, the featured image is from Oedipus the King, and the handwriting is scarily similar to my own. I love thinking that someone out there has held this book, has loved it (or not, as in this particular case, where the annotator has changed the translator’s name from Fagles to Faggot), and staged it. It’s like I’m holding a piece of history. I am holding a piece of history. *mind f-ck*

(I’m going to stop now before I get too deep about words and life and confuse myself even further)

What’s your opinion on annotating books? Do you love or loathe it? Drop me a line below!

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18 thoughts on “On Annotated Books

  1. Lovely post! I have a collection of books that I read before starting university. Our Uni was one of those that provided a massive and pretentious reading list for undergrads to consume before they had even set foot in the college quad. I annotated heavily and even wrote notes, as I was a super nerd. Now I look back at those books and love to see how my 18 year old brain worked. Turns out I was quite smart until I was introduced to college bars where wine was 90p a glass (cheap even in 2000!) and let this and men get to my head! Well not entirely. But you know what I mean. I love to look back upon my over-earnest self and smile. Bronte

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    1. Ah thank you! I got my reading list for A Level English Literature last week, and that too is rather lengthy… but already I’m distracted by other books that I’d prefer to read! Thank you for your lovely comment ๐Ÿ™‚

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  2. I’ve only really annotated books for school not ones I read for leisure. However when it comes to annotating it must be in pencil – when I see people using pens and highlighters and folding over corners of the page and whatnot I’m just like how could you ?!?

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    1. Not a fan of highlighters either – I remember when we were studying Frankenstein, and I thought that I’d come up with a ‘brilliant’ way of colour coding quotations… My water then decided to leak over my bag, and I was left with long streaks of colour all over the text… Not fun to decipher!

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      1. yeah I instantly judged it too when school announced we were studying it because I thought it wasn’t ‘my type of book’ but turns out I was wrong ๐Ÿ™‚ I actually can’t wait to write about it for my cw now

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  3. I annotate all of my poetry books based on how I would perform the poems (I really love performance poetry) and I write sarcastic remarks to characters in school books. I’m far worse on my Kindle: I’ve got links from one book to another, and for some I have timelines trying to work out what happens when

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    1. I’ve only dabbled in performance poetry through a few videos on YouTube – I’d love it if you could do a post about it! Having a timeline is such a great idea; there are so many books in which I needed one…

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  4. I didn’t like annotating books until my AP Language teacher strictly instructed us to. After that I started to write, like, entire internal monologues into books. Now I’m usually too lazy and just underline great lines. I also get the pleasure of reading old books that people annotated. My favorite was when a certain book said something like “I was so happy I felt like I was walking on air” and someone wrote in small, resentful letters: “as if.”

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    1. With my GCSE poetry anthology, I used to write masses of messy notes, until I ran out of space… Likewise I love seeing others’ annotations – it’s like getting a little glimpse into their minds. Thanks for your comment! ๐Ÿ™‚

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  5. Loathe, loathe, loathe it. The only book I’ve ever annotated is the GCSE poetry anthology. Whenever I try to put even a pencil to the pages of a novel it feels like blasphemy. Guess I’m too much of a perfectionist. Although I’ll happily fold pages so, I’m a hypocritical perfectionist I guess.

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