Is it more responsible to leave my books unmarked?

Kachi Eloka
4 min readApr 1, 2022

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Ph: Gaala Paris

For the past month, I’ve been facing a dilemma and the question that plagues my mind each time I pick up my highlighter to emphasize a phrase or sentence in a book I’m reading is this;

“will anyone else be able to read this after me? “

I imagine the answer is “no”. No one can possibly enjoy a book that’s littered with coloured markers drawn over sentences that are meant to give the book its thrill. In essence, when I mark my books, I probably take away the joy of unravelling a story one sentence at a time for any future reader.

An excerpt from Love In Color

Last year, on the 13th of June, I made my first highlight on a book I owned. It was Bolu Babalola’s Love In Color and the question “Can you properly cherish and relish and revere something without the fear of losing it?”, struck a chord deep in my heart.

It was, sort of, a liberating moment as I finally allowed myself to truly “possess” a book, quelling the discomfort I had long felt about staining pages of a book with the permanence of a highlighter.

Then in January, I took it several notches higher by writing my thoughts at different stages as I read through the chapters of Elizabeth Gilbert’s City of Girls.

Random thoughts on City of Girls

I guess I see these markers as evidence that I have lived through my books. Leaving a mark; highlighting a phrase, proves resonance and relatability. It shows that the book made me feel something.

A book that is left blank — just as when it was first picked up — gives me a sense of disconnectedness. Like nothing struck a chord… because if something did, then the reader would definitely want to immortalize it, no?

As a beneficiary of the used-books society, I’ve always felt fortunate to be able to afford great books at a tiny fraction of what they must have originally cost. So, with thoughts of how I’ve benefitted from unmarked books, coupled with my growing awareness of eco-friendliness and circularity, I now wonder if the choice I’ve made is inconsiderate and even now bordering on irresponsible.

I guess, in honest consideration of the situation, the dilemma is really this:

to be selfish or selfless?

To refrain from emphasizing the words and ideas I resonate so deeply with as a reader so that I may allow someone else to experience the same book in future without the distraction of incessant highlights; an indication that someone already possessed the book and hence they can only be a mere witness or at most, a participant, but most definitely not an owner?

To be selfish or selfless is a dilemma that I find distressing in an era when society campaigns so ferociously for self-care yet arrogantly demands that we do not get too self-involved. Somewhat dictating that it’s okay and recommended that we prioritize self-care and choose our self-fulfilment, but only within a reasonable degree, lest we fall off the precipice into selfishness.

I’m stressed. Lol.

It should be a simple decision;

to mark my books or not.

But that decision distressingly swings on a pendulum between selfishness and selflessness. Except, *gasps*, I may completely misunderstand what selfishness in fact means.

Perhaps, selfishness isn’t an irrational desire for self-satisfaction or a consuming obsession with what only serves you, but rather it’s the honest consideration of what contributes to your well-being even when other people would rather you choose them first.

Before you think of it, I am aware that people are fond of twisting words of morality to suit their own conscience and I have no intentions of doing that with my proposed definition of selfishness.

And that brings me right back to the center of my dilemma.

In the end, I think it all boils down to intention; what’s my honest reason for marking my books? Is it simply to declare ownership or an effort to help myself remember the most significant parts of what I’ve read?

If it’s the latter, then I guess I can acquit myself and relinquish the responsibility of “preserving” books for future beneficiaries when I, in this present time, absolutely need these markings so that I can easily reacquaint myself with a book whenever I need to.

Truth be told, whether I decide to forsake my desires and ignore the personal benefits, or cave in to the moral obligation of leaving books in a state that they can be passed down, some eco-conscious climate advocate could still eventually ask me the distressing question;

do we really even need to print books, at all?

I guess that will finally leave me speechless, and I can rest my case and just go back to doing whatever it is I was doing, quietly, lest I be dragged.

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