Building a Family Reading Culture, 4: Writing in Books

(A part of a very occasional series, and by occasional, I mean I wrote the rest of it many moons ago here, here and here.)

Most of my college education took place in the margins of novels. J once commented that reading my undergrad copies of Jane Austen is like following a complicated math problem as I work through the relationships in any white space (J+B = E + D in virtue? C + C =/= Bennets???). As an adult, this penchant has continued, despite me often having to restrain myself in library books, loaners, and ebooks (which you can of course digitally mark up, but which remain a sort of barrier to entry in browsing).Read More »

Read Your Own Books Update

In January, I vowed to work on reading all the unread books I currently own. Read on to learn how I’ve fared in the first half of the year.


Books I buy myself: I forget and buy The Last Policeman kindle book when it’s featured on Modern Mrs. Darcy’s newsletter of sale kindle books. I unsubscribe to the (excellent) newsletter so I won’t be tempted again.

Books I actually read this month: Strangers and Sojourners (book club), On Pilgrimage (book club), The Turquoise Table (OWN), The Essex Serpent (OWN), Anne’s House of Dreams (OWN).

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Building a Family Reading Culture, 2: Books As Un-Sacred Objects

I’m a librarian, and I let my kids eat books.

Gee, this book tastes delicious.

I also let them break the bindings. (And I come from a book binding family.)

I will buy secondhand board books cheap — something I found horridly unsanitary before I had kids, but which became both feasible and essential after reading Good Night, Moon approximately 6742 times in Pippin’s first year, and, as grad students, not being able to buy many brand-new board books. (Why are they so much more expensive than other books?)

I will also spend absurd amounts of time and money on a customized book. Below is the only gift we gave Pippin for Christmas the year he was 1: a board book of photos of him and his extended family. (We got ours here — let me know if you find another service you like better, because Scout will need hers soon, and they don’t come cheap.) I’ve also made, upon Pippin’s request, a “Granby, Massachusetts book” of photos and memories from our life there, and we often read our family photo books as if they were stories.

Aunt K, Uncle Tom and the marshmallowy baptism boy, commemorated in a fully edible board book

I do all this because I think books are meant to be read and used and loved on. I buy Pippin dumb books that excite him and I buy books that excite me and I buy books I hope someday Scout will love.

If I collect enough copies, surely Scout has no choice but to be an Anne fan, right?

Books are meant to be loved on, and that will come at the cost of an untidy house (well, untidier) and books damaged beyond repair and books misplaced who knows where. Besides a lovely popup of The Little Prince my childhood friend once gave Pip, I can’t think of a book in the house I wouldn’t let him handle. (He can touch that when he is 12.)

This is his first copy of that book, long since relegated to the Great Bookshelf in the Sky and promptly replaced with another copy.

The goal, after all, is a family of readers, not a perfectly curated collection of tasteful and well-preserved books. The goal, after all, is this:

Reading the book he received for his third birthday from his godparents