Break the rules, break the spines

Day 10 of the Advent Blogging adventure is about defacing books.

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This post was inspired by a retweet I saw from the New York Review of Books which said: “Margins are for scribbling, pages for folding, spines for breaking. We have a responsibility to read with pen in hand

The link goes through to an article by Tim Parks called ‘A Weapon for Readers’ which is all about how we, as readers, should break spines so books fall open more easily, how we should write in the margins, turn down corners to bookmark pages, and to generally, physically interact with books. Parks points out the reality that many of us have been brought up to treat books with reverence – to never deface them in any way and leave them spotless, flawless and pristine.

My books fall into two camps – those that I write in because I am using them as study materials, and those that I just read and try to be as careful as possible with. Scribbling all over the page is great in one way – to show that you are taking in what an author says and how they say it, even if it is to disagree with them. But on the other hand, I am always aware that I may lend the book to someone else or give it away and I don’t want my thought processes to disturb those of future readers. Perhaps Parks is writing with keeping books in mind. I normally do this, but as someone who possesses way too many books I will have to cull some at some point and I don’t want to pass on my scribblings to others.

I wonder though if children might become more actively involved with books if they could play with the text and pictures? Of course ‘lift the flap’ books are an example of how play and books work together, but I mean more in terms of writing or drawing in the margins. They would obviously need their own copies, rather than those handed down by schools, but perhaps if they felt a more active participant in the reading process they would become more involved with it.

Do you write in your books or do you keep them as pristine as possible?



  1. I am guilty of spine-breaking, page-corner-bending and highlighting or underlining. Usually in non-fiction books that I’m using for research. The information seems to stick better just for making the mark (whatever it is). I don’t think we have a responsibility to deface books to prove we care about reading. But certainly it is your book to deface or cosset, whichever suits your needs. I’ve asked my brother for a good quality hardback of ‘Under Milkwood’ for Christmas. I shall be taking good care of that one. If I find a need to underline anything I shall buy a cheap paperback!

    Oh – BTW – it really doesn’t do the same memory-jogging job to highlight material on Kindle! Or not for me, anyway

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Judi, for the reply. I agree – we all certainly have our own ways to love our books or care about reading. And I am with you on buying a cheaper copy to ‘deface’ and keeping a special copy for best! I have a few of those knocking around my book shelves. 🙂

      Good point about Kindle too – I have highlighted things on my books but I don’t find it as easy to flick through to find them.


  2. I’m a comment writer/underliner – I want my books to show that they have been read and loved, not to look like they’ve just been unwrapped from shrinkwrap. And when I buy a 2nd hand book which has been annotated I’m always curious about what’s been written/doodled – makes me feel a connection with another reader, and I like that feeling.
    My kids love to colour in the black and white line drawings you find in some novels – this is one way they interact with their books, and make them feel more like truly THEIR books.

    Liked by 1 person

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