This article is part advice and part confession. I believe that at one time or another I have managed to perform at least several acts of desecration upon a book. Thankfully, they have not involved the use of human waste products. On the other hand, I am pretty sure that I have destroyed a book in a way that few others will have done. More on that later.
Right at the top of my list of how to deface and devaluate a book is highlighting, underlining and annotation. Especially if done using a highlighter or pen. I used to do this as a student but found myself highlighting/underlining half the book. I eventually figured out that this was actually detrimental to my learning. You tend to ignore the parts that aren’t highlighted, which may actually turn out to be an important section you forgot to mark. Or, if you actually do the unthinkable and try to re-read the text again, you will miss new information because your eyes will be drawn to the highlighting instead of to something new. I feel that highlighting, underlining and annotation are signs of intellectual laziness. Don’t do it – don’t give in to lazy.
For myself, I eventually found that I learned better by writing notes in my own way in a separate notebook or on a separate sheet of paper stored in a loose-leaf binder. This technique requires you to actually think about the material and condense it into something that can be reviewed in much less time than it takes to re-read all of that highlighted text. This also works well in a lecture setting, and forces you to actually listen to and not just hear the lecture.
I put the title/author at the top of the page and when I find something interesting that I want to remember, I write the page number at the left, or use some other kind of outline scheme. Play around until you find the layout that works for you. Copy the section of interest, or even better, condense it into your own words. You will be amazed at how much more material you can retain in your brain. Plus, you get to have a nice clean book that you can read again, or you can pass it on to others for their enjoyment. Or, in the case of textbooks, sell them for cash. I always laughed at the kids who would buy a pre-highlighted textbook. How did they know whether the former owner aced the class? Maybe some dummy highlighted all the wrong stuff? It’s much safer and easier in the long run to just do your own work.
Another thing I used to do to my books was put my name in them or even worse, write it on the edge of the pages. I was more inclined to do this with textbooks than in my other books. I would like to say I stopped this practice long before I became a bookseller, but it would not be true. In my earlier days as a bookseller, about ten years ago, I had an open shop for about three years. I had some old hardcover westerns that were ex-library and in pretty rough shape, so I decided that they should never be allowed to grace my shelves again. So, I marked really low prices in pen inside the covers, so no one could bring them in to sell to me again. Not knowing that some of them, even in the rough condition they were in, still had some value. I believe I sold them by the box. Ten years later, I still come across some of those books that I had sold so cheap. Sometimes I buy them back. And mentally kick myself or cringe every time I see a book that I defaced like this.
Now, all my pricing gets written using a light touch on the pencil. I also use a softer lead; one with an ‘S’ after the number. I avoid the hard leads with an ‘H’ after the number; you will engrave the price permanently into the paper trying to make it legible.
Another way to mistreat a book is to fold down the corner of a page as a bookmark. Again, this is another bad habit I used to indulge in. Does wisdom really come with age?
Yet another mistreatment. When reading your paperback, fold it back so that the covers meet. that way you can read it and keep one hand free. On of my customers, God rest his soul, used to get mad at me when I would not take his destroyed books in trade. The books would be in nearly new condition when they went out the door, but looked like they had been through the washer and dryer – totally trashed.
Last but no least, that other story.
When I was in college I struggled my way through differential calculus and managed to slide by with a D-, not good enough to get credit for the course. Paid all that money just to fail the course. I kept that stupid textbook for years, even after I later re-took the course at another school and passed. I eventually gave the book away but came across it several years later at the local library book sale (it had my name written on the edge of the pages). I found that I still harbored resentment toward that book. So I bought it. I then took it out to a local gravel pit and shot big holes in it with a .357 Magnum. I felt good. And maybe just a tiny little bit guilty.