Columns > Published on December 15th, 2011

A Reader’s Confession: I Dog-Ear My Books.

I dog-ear my books. I do. I underline and highlight passages, scribble in the margins. The first thing I do when I buy a paperback is to crease the spine for easier pocket-stuffing. I read my books in the bath, on the beach, in the rain, while camping. My library therefore looks a little worse for wear, but trust me that it’s better for love.

Please don’t let this confession deter you from loaning me your favorite book. I will never do this to your book. I also won’t do it to any of my fancy books. I do love a good first edition, a leather-bound compilation, a newly illustrated anniversary reprint. Those books remain pristine on the shelf while the rest of my library is beautifully and thoughtfully beat to shit.

I know: books are sacred. And I truly do believe that. If I have a new book in hand, I’m likely to spend several minutes caressing it, gazing lovingly upon it, and eventually hugging it to my chest in unabashed glee. But after I read a book, I want that book to look like it has been read. My books look used. They look loved. I have never believed that the hallowed nature of a book is in its immaculate condition. Paper, ink and cardboard are worth very little to me.

The intrinsic worth of a book belongs to its content. Most books aren’t sacred in and of themselves. A book is only sacred for what you get out of it. The language, the metaphors and imagery, the characters that remind you of someone else or yourself or no one you’ve ever met before. Insight and revelations and knowledge and inspiration—they make a book sacred. And I happen to garner that knowledge and inspiration most effectively by throwing myself messily into the process of reading.

I must flip back to dog-eared pages and underlined passages to remind myself of a particularly stirring observation. I must jot notes that are often later incomprehensible to me—what did I mean, “AK’s box = my cave!”? For books that I find particularly significant, I have a highlighter color coding system that means nothing to anyone but me.

That system may not work for you, but don’t be afraid to have your own method. Love your books. Allow them to look loved. Always cherish them not for what they are, but for what they say. And don’t be afraid to do a little dog-earing.

About the author

Meredith is a writer, editor and brewpub owner living in Houston, Texas. Her four most commonly used words are, "The book was better."

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