Books & Art

Time-Worn, Annotated Books Are the New Pristine

In 2022, writing in the margins of your books is no longer “illegal.”
ILLUSTRATOR WARREN ESPEJO
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The experience of holding a new book in your hands is a difficult one to match. The distinctive smell of paper and ink, the crisp pages, the sturdiness of an unbroken spine—it’s a pure, sensory encounter. 

But there’s a unique kind of charm that comes with reading someone else’s thoughts, scribbled hastily but purposefully between paragraphs or in the margins. The chance to see what another mind underlined, marking the prose they saw themselves in (at least one point in time), is a different class of intimacy all on its own. 

Gone are the days when writing on our books was considered its own classification of vandalism. Scroll through BookTok and Bookstagram in 2022, and you’ll witness the growing community of bookworms that adore the look of jet black script on yellowed pages.

One of the most common reasons why people keep their books in pristine condition is to preserve their sale value—buteven bookworms’ preferences as customers could slowly be changing. Prime example: @wmgpdlv (on Tiktok and Instagram), a Cebu-based book influencer and bookseller who goes by the name of Paula. She’s one of many Bookstagram influencers rising in popularity among both local and international book lovers for her “butchered” (her adjective of choice), well-loved books, made elegantly characteristic thanks to her silky penmanship, and delightfully fat thanks to page after page of sticky notes, which she uses to write down all the insights that the margins can’t contain. 

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She opened her online shop after seeing persistent demand from her followers, granting everyone the opportunity to own her annotated paperbacks. These highly sought-after copies sell at anywhere from two to seven times their original retail price. She ships internationally for her overseas followers, too. 

Arguably one of the most popular techniques among the book-annotating community is creating a color-coded system with sticky tabs; readers assign a unique color of tabs to each category or emotion they want to mark (e.g. sad moments, memorable dialogue, ideas they’ve yet to understand), then take pleasure in seeing the rainbow of hues at the fore edge of their books. 

On the other hand, there are also readers who prefer less complexity. Last year, the online book community raved over book influencer Sadie’s (@sadies.reads on TikTok and Instagram) unconventional, but highly convenient technique—zero sticky tabs necessary. It’s resourceful and honestly quite fantastic (though we must deeply apologize in advance for the amount of times we use the word “highlight” in this next sentence; you’ve been warned). With just one colored highlighter, she highlights the lines she deems important, then highlights all the way down the sides of the pages that contain these highlighted lines (You made it! Please don’t exit this article). The end result resembles the look of a painted fore edge—a decoration style that is usually only now seen in collectors’ editions of books. 

@sadies.reads Reply to @annafckinglauren for people curious or concerned #annotating #highlighting #booktok ? Lofi - Domknowz

If you’d like to start annotating but still feel reluctant to write directly on the pages, you aren’t alone. Many readers whose hands are still warming up to the once “illegal” act of writing on their books are using these transparent sticky notes. Widely available online, they’re great for writing down your thoughts without having to fully commit to ink on paper. *Pro tip: Since these sticky notes are waxier in texture, make sure to use a ballpoint pen (as opposed to a sign or gel pen) to write on them. Otherwise, the ink could smudge ungracefully all over your book’s pages. 

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Personally annotated books make fine spectacles for your Instagram feed and priceless gifts to your friends. In fact, many bookworms now fantasize about receiving one from a thoughtful, mysterious lover. But of course, annotating your books can also be just for you. Besides increasing your comprehension, making life more convenient when searching for an idea you wish to return to, and helping you engage more actively with your text, annotating is a way of leaving specks of nostalgia for you to reminisce on next time you pick up the book. 

Consider the act of annotating as the contemporary, well-read man and woman’s version of sending messages to your future self.

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Claudine Abad Santos
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