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June 09, 2009



I always write in cookbooks, what I changed, who I served, and the like. I also write in nonfiction. I remember loaning my scholarly uncle a book and getting it back filled with Marginalia. It was like having a conversation with him about the book and I loved it.

Charles A. Burroughs

I inherited my love for "real books" from my grandmother (1872-1963) who worked at the Boston Public Library for fifty years. Upon her retirement from BPL, she applied for a job with the Boston Atheneum for another twenty years. Of the many books in my own library today, some of the most valued are those that bear her ownership mark and, yes, some with marginalia (in pencil). As for electronic books, I have co-authored one, as recently as two years ago.

David G. Stone

Your comments on writing in books is right on, Steve. As I am solidly into the second half of my life on this earth of all my possessions, my most prized are the books I inherited from my Mom and Dad. For example, in front of me as I share with you and your other readers these comments is "Cadet Days" (A Story of West Point) by Captain Charles King, U.S.A (Brigaier-General, U.S.V.)who also authored "A War-Time Wooing," "Between The Lines," "Campaigning With Crook" as well as others. It was published in 1894 (the year my paternal grandfather -Raymond Stone -was graduated from the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis) by Harper & Brothers. On the inside first page is beautifully inscribed, "To Raymond Stone with love from The Author". You see, my grandfather married Esther Suydam King, the daughter of Captain Charles King. My father, Raymond Stone, Jr. was the oldest child (of seven)of Esther and Raymond Stone. Dad, who would have been 109 this coming September, inherited this prized possession as I inherited it from him. Ironically, Dad could not get into the Naval Academy because of his eyes, so he accepted a conditional appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point (Class of 1923), following in his maternal grandfather's footsteps!!

Captain Charles King was a direct descendent of Rufus King, United States Senator,first from Massachusetts and then New York, and a signer of the United States Constitution. Rufus King's brother and Charles King's namesake was the first President of Columbia University. For me, the "fluttering paper" will always be the only choice, and someday our son, Alexander Graham Stone, will view this book (and many others) as his most prized possessions. They will help solidly seal his identity - a reality sadly so many young people today are unable to do. Thank you for your role in my Well-Read Life. Regards,
David G. Stone
1701 Skyline Drive
Sherman, Texas 75092-3140

L.A. Hernandez

My greatest keepsake from my oldest son's childhood is a copy of the book "The Flying Hockey Stick". In it my son scribbled over a picture of some lions. When I asked him why, he looked at me with great pride and said,"That's a cage to keep them from catching the people." I can't wait to read it to my grandchildren and tell them the story.

jim knauff

Thank you. Terrific stuff sir. I have pretty much become a library patron, preordering new titles as they are released, but from this time going forward when a book is purchased, writing therein will be the norm.


I was never one to write in my books. I suppose it had something to do with my Catholic school education. After reading this, I am definitely going to start writing in them today. Thanks.

Royce Carter

I think the electronic books will be the downfall of reading Everything is too fast-paced now. When I take time to read I go to my reading area, away from all distractions, and take time for myself. We need to slow down and enjoy what has been given to us, before it is gone.
I like to take a book down that I have read and relive the time past.

Micheal Alan Dean

I have in front of me the May 31 edition of the New York Times Book Review. On the back is an ad for Bauman Rare Books. Included in the ads offering are copies of Benjamin Franklin's 1769 "Experiments and Observations on Electricity" and William Harvey's 1653 "Anatomical Exercises". While I may never be able to afford such works, and very often rely on computers, how can computers replace these samples of living history?

Michael J. Koss


You are unfortunately on the money. Our paper bound friends will begin to diminish in number. That said, I recall a terrific interview with Harold Bloom on the Charlie Rose show. Bloom was asked about EBooks and EReaders. I will try to paraphrase his insightful response:

"Imagine you are living a world of electronic books. Suddenly a paperback book is introduced. You marvel at the compact size and revel in the fact that this book can come along with you into the bath or to the beach. It never runs out of batteries on the train. You can annotate n the margins and hand it to a friend at the completion of your journey. Imagine the overwhelming impact such a new device would have upon the world of E Books."

I can't tell you how often I recall that story.

I own two Kindles and have been reading books on Palms as far back as the Palm Pilot, Newtons, iPhones, Blackberries, Ninos, and my first notebook computer...before they were even laptops.

My trouble has remained the same.....I am instructed to turn off the device on the runway...this can last up to an hour on commercial flights.....I am instructed to turn off the device on approach for a minimum of 20 minutes. This is prime reading time!

I won't take a hardbound book to the beach, let alone an electronic device....sand, salt and water ruin everything .....and the last two times I traveled with my Kindle it was DOA on start up....Batteries can be misery.

I do love the Kindle....but long live the Paperback book!

Michael J. Koss

Matt Boutte

I long for a Kindle. The very idea of not having to deal with ever diminishing shelf space sounds terrific.

But one of the joys of books, for me, is the ability to share them. I love nothing more than to be able to loan or borrow a book.

Ebooks make this impossible. While the publisher may reap additional revenues as a result, I think the readers lose. Not to mention the inevitable impact on the lending library...


In China nowadays, there are many Christians whose family's most cherished possession is a single page that was torn out of a Bible. They don't even have the money or the access to a full copy of the entire book. So, I daresay that the advent of the electronic format of books could make the chasm wider between the haves and the have-nots of the world -- an "unintended consequence," as they say in Congress. Let's not let that happen!

Lynn O'Connor

Loved your essay on: "What's happening in the margin?" I'm a big time footprint leaver, and now, as a Levenger junkie, I've added leaving lots of those yellow/green paper devices --I don't know what they are called-- that allow me to write on the page without wrecking the book (although I continue to underline of course). I am also a serious Amazon junkie, with deliveries almost every day. As a researcher/knowledge worker some of this is grant funded, so that serves as an excuse for my excesses.

I have a Kindle of course --but for me, it still has a problem and I turn to paper when I am seriously skimming, which I do all the time. What I do with a book when it arrives is look at the cover, read inside the cover, read the foreword, acknowledgements (they are important as they tell me what group the writer belongs to), the Table of Contents, Introduction, and then quickly look in the index, for subjects of particular interest to me --are they mentioned. Finally I skim/speed read in part by whizzing through, hitting all the chapter titles, subtitles, and moving more slowly when I hit a section that interests me. This is where I am underlining, writing notes in the margin, putting that yellow or green paper on a page with scribbles. This whole process I can't do with a Kindle, nor with the computer. A blog that interests me and that has many parts to it gets printed out.. If I really love a book and it's heavy going, lately I have started to mindmap, or add it to an already ongoing mindmap on a related topic.

Sad though this might be, in recent years I have been absorbing much of the information I need from blogs. You are so right about where we are going, and how even five years from now we won't understand what we were doing with all these paper books. I'm not sure what technical advance will make it possible for me to run through my process, digitally, but I'm sure it will happen. However, for now, I need to be able to run through a book, which requires holding it and having each section appear like magic. This is an interesting question: are you a footprinter or a conservationist? Thinking about research, I wonder which personality traits or factors would significantly correlate with reading style.


Paul Douthit

Great article and very thought provoking. I read and write a great deal in my profession. For many years I spent a good deal of money on rare or significant printed books. At the same time I think that the e-reader is a good idea. Keep up the good work!

danny bloom

This was a terffic blog post, sir. I say that ebooks will be the death of civilization. Why? Because ebooks are not for thnking. They are just games to "read' on a screen. They are not books. Please don't go down this road, sir. Printed books on paper are the key to our survival as a species. Don't believe me? Read my blog.


Weber Baker

Ok, to follow up on another post. I never wrote in books. Yes, it was a Catholic School lesson. If we wrote in our books (which we bought, by the way) they took our fingers, held them together and rapped the tips with a metal ruler. Really. So it took me 40+ years to get to the point where I could even get a writing implement to touch a book page.

But I am glad I did!


good blog,
I am one of those that "respects" books and does not write on them, but you made me realize that is nonsense, I will make them my own from now on, I like your blog, will tell my girlfriend and her friends about it,

Steve Leveen

Dear Joseph,

Many thanks for your kind note about my blog. You inspire me to keep at it. I look forward to more dialog with you. Until then, enjoy your new-found freedom to write in your books.

All best wishes,



I always write in the margins my thoughts, reactions or a word that sums up an important fact, and then index that at the front or end of the book for ease of reference. Then I only need know the book(s front or end) in question to check a fact or remind myself.

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