A little more background. . . Jim West recently spoke out against bibliobloggers who do not open up more about themselves (among other things) and simply write serious academic posts. He states,
Must every post be an academic publication in kernel form and must every thought be weighed in the balance of potential ‘tenure’ issues?
[edited: this paragraph was uncalled for. . . as Jim explains in the com-box, he really is not opposed to academic posts in and of themselves.]
Nonetheless, I do think Jim is right when he goes on to criticize scholars for being too self-important and stuffy. Let's not take ourselves so seriously. And, looking over my posts of late, I have been a bit serious.
So here's a peak into my demented approach to reading.
Once I was waiting for a friend, who was going to meet me at a bookstore. We were going to go see a movie but I wanted to do a little book shopping first.
I waited for him outside and while I was waiting I was reading a great book. When he showed up he horrified by what I had done to the book I was working on; it was dog eared, highlighted, written up with a pen--I'll admit, it wasn't a pretty sight. His exact words were, "It looks like you've put teeth marks in it!" (That however I did not do--it was just his way of saying that I had really, severely, disfigured the book).
He then asked: "Is it an old book?" I said, "No. I bought it last week." This traumatized him even more!
However, he dropped the matter and brought up something else. I gathered my things together and we headed into the bookstore.
Yet every time I picked up a book he would try to put me on a guilt trip: "Look at how nice that book looks. It's so new. It smells nice and fresh. It's pages are nice and crisp, not to mention clean. What are you going to do to that poor book, Michael Barber?"
I have to admit, though I didn't reveal it to my friend, I had never really thought of things in that way. I go to books to use them and marking things up helps me find things that I need in them. I never thought it wrong to mark them up--or, as my friend insinuated, to "defile" them. And, for the most part, I still don't!
I write in almost all of them, even the ridiculously expensive ones, e.g., titles from Brill, Mohr-Siebeck, etc.
But I'm not entirely indiscriminating. First, I do try to keep the outside of books looking nice. I try to preserve dust jackets. I take them off when I'm reading a book, putting it back on when I'm done. And I do hate cracking the spine of a book--they look terrible on a shelf after that.
Second, I won't just write with anything in my books. I've learned from experience. I've marked up books with ugly highlighters that, once dried, turned a hideous color which made it difficult to re-read the text. ENOUGH! Now I use only one kind: the bright yellow Sharpie Accent highlighters with the thick tip (see picture). I buy them by the box--no kidding!
Here's the really sad part: I'm almost so dependent upon them that if I can't find one, I'll put off reading altogether! In fact, I have not a few pairs of pants which are unwearable because some unfortunate oversight caused a highlighter explosion in a pocket. Bright highlighter stains can be found on almost all of my jeans, in my car, in my luggage, etc.
I also have drawers filled with highlighters that I've already used that I want to save for books with especially thin pages. It's less likely their ink will bleed through such fine pages. In addition, I have hoards of highlighters that well-meaning people have given me over the years. Unfortunately, they are either not my brand or the wrong "yellow". I'm always finding these in odd places and have to throw them away.
Yes, I know, I'm beginning to sound like Adrian Monk.
But just so you know I'm not a complete nut, there are also a few exceptions to the "must-highlight" rule. I can't bring myself to write in the follwing:
1. my Hebrew-English edition of the Babylonian Talmud that my wife gave me for my 30th birthday
2. my autographed copy of Pope Benedict's book Many Religions, One Covenant (signed by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger before his elevation to the papacy)
3. my perfectly clean and crisp copy of Matthias Scheeben's, Mysteries of Christianity, which was printed in 1951, is terribly hard to find and a book which has influenced my thought profoundly (I have another copy that is marked up though).
So here's my question: Do you write in your books? Do you have particular books you can't bring yourself to scribble notes in or mark-up with a highlighter?
One last thing, this post was inspired by something Bill Heroman recently put up on his blog. Check out what he did to his copy of the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. I might do something similar to mine. I must say, while I'm in agreement with his criticism of this volume, I am a little offended by the way he vandalized the spine's of his Loeb Classical Library. . . Surely, if there's a line to be crossed this is it! Bill--you've gone too far!!!
It's a good thing he isn't a private owner of any of the Dead Sea Scrolls! What he might do with 4Q521, the War Scroll, or 4Q174 will keep me up at night. Not that I have reasons to think it might happen, but just as a precautionary matter, I'm appealing to all interested scholars: let's take whatever means necessary to prevent Bill from obtaining any of the Dead Sea Scrolls for his personal library.