Books as a Passive Social Vector

This concept isn’t super well thought out, but I’ve discovered if I want for an idea to congeal in my brain I don’t end up writing the blog post about it. SO COME ON THIS MENTAL JOURNEY WITH ME.

Yesterday I gave a book to a friend and as I did so, I realized it was one of the rare times I had highlighted passages. I apologized for it, I mean, I don’t want people to think I’m SOME MONSTER who defiles the pages of a book.

But later (like now) I was thinking about how oddly fascinating it is to come across highlighted and underlined passages in used books I’ve picked up. Or, books passed to me by family members. Or even when terrible monsters make notes or underline things in LIBRARY BOOKS. After the initial shock of “HOW DARE THEY” it’s weirdly enjoyable. It’s like someone in a different time and place time traveled to say “hey I thought this was worth a second look.” Sometimes the passages are utterly baffling. Even if I was the past person who underlined something. “What made this so special?” I find myself asking, trying to either learn more about the passage itself or about the person who thought it so curious. It can make a weird, but also strangely visceral, connection.

My favorite example of this lately was a graphic novel my friend group all got and read from the library which had little scraps of paper slipped in that said “right arm?” “left arm” (or some such) as a previous reader thought it worth noting that the artist either got mixed up and switched a character’s missing arm or something went wonky when they printed the pages. It didn’t change my life or philosophy, but it was oddly social.

In fact, I find myself ALSO drawn to leave notes or make corrections in books when I come across them. It’s almost as if that other person was the icebreaker, and now I don’t have to worry about “starting” the conversation. There isn’t social pressure to contribute, but there’s an open door. You don’t have to worry about keeping up a dialog. But, if you want, you can add something for whoever else may pick up the book.

For some reason this reminds me of something I read in Tribal Leadership, which, if I had highlighted it, wouldn’t have taken SO LONG to find again I suppose. It’s about having a “tribal leadership epiphany” but one of the actions they talked about stuck out to me. “People who’ve had this epiphany read books differently, often highlighting sections for others, hoping to spread the insights that changed their lives.” (Tribal Leadership, The Tribal Epiphany, pg 111.)

I guess I had never really seen highlighting, or note-taking in that way before. Not as something I may want to come back to later, but with the intention of improving someone else’s life through my own reading. Granted, that can take SO MANY FORMS, but I think it’s worth noting that it can be as simple as a quick highlight and a shared book.

So what do you think? Is highlighting bad? Has your curiosity been piqued by a note in a book?


7 thoughts on “Books as a Passive Social Vector

  1. I have a lot of thoughts and opinions about marking up books (I go back and forth on whether it’s ok, and what utensils are okay to use; currently I’m highlighting and/or using post-its, depending on the book), but I haven’t thought about it in a social way before. “Not as something I may want to come back to later, but with the intention of improving someone else’s life through my own reading.” Dude yeah this is a neat thought!

    I kinda want to do an experiment now. LFL but with rules about marking things for other readers. That would get really wild really fast.


  2. I think highlighting is fine. And even written notes are okay too. Sometimes I’ll put post-it notes in a book to mark particular pages that I want to come back to, but I hardly ever highlight. I guess because I usually know I’m not going to read again. Never thought about highlights for books I’m passing on.

    Just realized my Kindle has a feature just like highlighting. You can see sections that people have shared with how many people have shared that section. I read those parts more closely.

    Btw, a book that I JUST received has a post-it note in it in addition to the highlighting. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Latepass, but when I was in high school my friends and I all passed around the same copy of The Picture of Dorian Gray and we all underlined/wrote in it, there was even an emoticon on a couple of pages, haha! It was such a fun experience to see what jumped out to whom, and to have my attention physically drawn to things I may have otherwise missed.

    Liked by 1 person

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