Underlining in Books

After a week apart, my laptop and I have finally been reunited. One of the fans inside went wonky and thus, my almost five-year-old laptop, which has already crested the hill of Obsolete, had to stay in the repair shop for a few days. So, I haven’t really made progress on the draft. Today will be a writing day for sure–I’m raring to go after an enforced period of time away–but first, a wee post.

I took the time sans computer to read, both on Kindle and, you know, actual books. Because I don’t have to worry about paperbacks losing their charge.

Every so often, when I’m reading, I’ll come across a line or a paragraph that makes me react, as a reader and as a writer, and–I only ever do this in my paperbacks–I underline whatever it was that struck me. It’s usually only a handful of words in an entire book and I always do my underlining in pencil. I guess they’re just lines I want to remember or feel intense jealously over not having written first.

First, current reads:
From Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks:

He convinced himself that what he had missed could not, by definition, be extraordinary. It was a simple function, unremarkable, and easy for him now to ignore. The thought of ending his abstinence became more and more bizarre and full of practical pitfalls he could never overcome; it became, in the end, unthinkable.

From Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen:

Mamma, the more I know of the world the more am I convinced that I shall never see a man whom I can really love. I require so much!

From some faves:
From Persuasion by Jane Austen:

She hoped to be wise and reasonable in time; but alas! alas! she must confess to herself that she was not wise yet.

“We certainly do not forget you, so soon as you forget us.”

“All the privilege I claim for my own sex (it is not a very enviable one, you need not covet it) is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone.”

I am half agony, half hope.

One Day by David Nicholls:

Emma’s mid-twenties had brought on a second adolescence even more self-absorbed and doom-laden than the first.

“Oh you know me. I have no emotions. I’m a robot. Or a nun. A robot nun.”

Sometimes, when it’s going badly, she wonders if what she believes to be a love of the written word is really just a fetish for stationery. The true writer, the born writer, will scribble words on scraps of litter, the back of a bus ticket, on the wall of a cell. Emma is lost on anything less than 120gsm.

And, of course, from the designated favorite book:
Atonement by Ian McEwan:

For example, did her sister really matter to herself, was she as valuable to herself as Briony was? Was being Cecilia just as vivid an affair as being Briony? Did her sister also have a real self concealed behind a breaking wave, and did she spend time thinking about it, with a finger held up to her face?

No, it wouldn’t. It would be worse, but he still wanted it. He had to have it. He wanted it to be worse.

The cost of oblivious daydreaming was the always this moment of return, the realignment with what had been before and now seemed a little worse. Her reverie, once rich in plausible details, had become a passing silliness before the hard mass of the actual.

But how to do feelings? All very well to write, She felt sad, or describe what a sad person might do, but what of sadness itself, how was that put across so it could be felt in all its lowering immediacy?

I know there’s always a certain kind of reader who will be compelled to ask, But what really happened? The answer is simple: the lovers survive and flourish.

-Do you underline or write in your books? Which ones and why?

4 thoughts on “Underlining in Books

  1. I don't really like to write in my books, but I will, though it's mostly to highlight. And I'll draw squiggly lines or boxes around large sections of text rather than highlighting the whole thing. I rather gets books like that in eformat now since it's so much easier to find what I've flagged or hightlighted that way. It used to be the other way around.


  2. Highlighting makes me think too much about school. I don't write in my books that much. But it's kind of funny to go through some of my favorite books and see the very light pencil underlines. I haven't gotten too much into flagging on my Kindle though, since I mainly read stuff that I go through quickly on it.


  3. I can't highlight in a non-school book either. Plus, somewhere down the road the highlighted portions turn into funky puke looking colors as opposed to pens and pencils which generally retain their colors/marks. If I want to remember sentences, I underline them. But if it's a longer paragraph I'm more inclined to mark it off in the margins. Sometimes, I'll scribble notes too depending on my mood. My designated favorite book is unbearable lightness of being (by Milan Kundera). The physical copy of the book reminds me of my younger self. It amuses me to look back at what I thought was interesting way back when. Krystal, I felt the same way during my first few months with the iPad (circa 2011). I used to love Kobo because I could use their coupons and buy many many books, but then one day (eons before their update) my app crashed and with it all of my highlights, flagged pages, and notes. And as you may be aware, I couldn't transfer my Kobo books to iBooks or to the Kindle. So my books will in effect gather virtual dust on their eBookself. And to the credit of my friends, I complained endlessly for weeks on end and they listened quietly and patiently. I still use my Kindle on vacations and less important reads (aka things related to work) but some books I still want to hold in my hands and see on my shelf. I'm not a crazy cat lady, I'm the crazy book lady. And I'm perfectly fine with that.


  4. Thanks for your comment, Sonal! The only book I've marked on Kindle so far is a writing book. Otherwise,my Kindle has a lot of romance novels, a couple of research books, and whatever strikes my fancy but I don't want a physical copy of. I have a small pile of research books going on one shelf (flagged, not written in). My copy of Atonement is, behind my copies of the Lord of the Rings, the most underlined book I own. And that's not saying much, because I only wrote on a few pages. Somehow, underlining the lines makes them stick in my mind, so I can recall them a little easier. To what ultimate purpose, I'm not sure, but I guess so I can take those lines and think of variants when my characters come up against similar feelings or situations?


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