Interactive Books

Growing up I learned to treat books with a peculiar reverence. There were rules I picked up along the way, often from school, but sometimes from other places. Among those rules were:

  1. Do not break the spine of a paperback book.
  2. Do not dog-ear a page to mark your place.
  3. Do not write in or otherwise deface the book.

As a child these rules were as unbreakable to me as any rule decreed from on high. As an adult, I look back on these rules with sadness and scorn. Books are meant to be interactive, and all three of these rules prevent one from properly interacting with a book.

If I was giving advice to my kids today, I’d revise these rules. Here are Jamie’s Rules for Interactive Books.

1. Break the Spine of a Paperback Book

Books are meant to be read. I used to read paperbacks in such a way as to avoid breaking their spines, but I was always uncomfortable and could never fully sink into the book. Hold a book however makes you comfortable. If that means cracking its spine, crack it. It is much easier to break the spine of a paperback and lay it flat on the table beside your ham and cheese sandwich than it is to try holding a book in one hand and eating the ham and cheese with the other.

2. Dog-ear the Page to Mark Your Place

If a bookmark is not readily available, dog-ear the page to mark your place. What does it hurt? The book is not screaming out in pain, and you’ll find where you left off that much easier. If pages were not meant to be dog-eared, books would still be made of stone. I still try to avoid dog-earing pages when I can. I use business cards as bookmarks, but I am constantly losing my bookmarks, and I am no longer afraid to dog-ear a page to keep my place.

Both of these rules allow books to take on a used, well-worn feel. That’s how books should look. My bookshelves are filled with a thousand books, many of which are well-worn. I much prefer looking at well-worn bookshelves than the pristine shelves you find in Barnes & Noble and places like that. Well-worn books remind me of libraries.

3. Write In Your Books

Writing in a book makes it your own. It is the ultimate form of interaction. As a child, my schools discouraged writing in books as the books had to be reused again and again by other students. This made it hard for me to write in books as I got older, but I eventually shed those fears. I write in books constantly these days. I highlight passages, I make notes in the margins. I can come back to the book and see my thoughts, what passages impressed me. Those, along with the dog-eared pages and the cracked spines provide a kind of archeological history of my interaction with the book.

These are the rules that I am teaching to my kids. Books are containers of knowledge. They are meant to be interacted with. Reverence for books is not found in a physical form (after all, there are e-books, and audiobooks) but in their content.


    1. My Astoundings remain unwritten in. I recognize that there is collector’s value to some of my books. I have several signed Asimov books for instance. In these cases, I usually also obtain a reading copy that I can mark up to my heart’s content, while leaving the collectable copy alone.

  1. I write in my books, but always in pencil…under the wistful thought that some other reader in the future is going to erase all my blabbering.


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