Yes, I do. I mark my own books, with a system I've used since University and College days. Always in pencil, and books I know I will want to revisit, consult, read again, and books I want to review, precis and take notes from. There is a discipline close to an art form to marking up a text that has been studied, read closely and deeply, listened to and heard. Personal notes in a personally owned book are like footprints left on the journey, or guideposts left as aids for the next time we pass on this particular path.
And that's the thing. Personal notes in a personally owned book. The first two photos on this post are of books in the University Library in Aberdeen. Disfigured, vandalised, rendered all but unreadable by anyone coming after the perpetrated horrors of ink, highlights and addiction to underlining. The readers who did this, students or staff, have stolen the property of the library as surely as if they had shoved the books up their jumpers and sauntered out into the sunshine carrying, irony multiplied, books about the providence of God! Paul Helm's lucid survey of this difficult yet comforting doctrine about the God who sees and foresees, is an unreadable mess of ink from pens leaned on so hard that the pages are indented on the back as well as defaced on the print side. The use of liquid ink makes it even worse as the ink bleeds through to obscure the print behind.
It's an interesting, and surprisingly depressing exercise to ask what goes on in the mind of a person who takes a book from the shelves which is the property of all students, and feels free to lay it waste as an aid to their education. Education, that process that seeks to make us more informed, wise, responsible, civil, equipped for life in society, open to new ideas and willing to question our old ones. How do you educate people to not destroy the means of education? Or how can you alert potential readers to the privilege, gift, responsibility and opportunity that is a library, and that all that richness and possibility depends on the integrity and stewardship of the hundreds of thousands of volumes held in trust for the purposes of humane learning? And that's the other word, trust. These photos are accurate diagrams of broken trust; they are blueprints of a selfishness that unless converted or checked, will carry on into the world after graduation, as an assumed entitlement to take rather than give, possess rather than share, lay waste whatever can be consumed and steal whatever they want enough to have, but don't want enough to pay for.
Now this picture is different. These are two dilapidated, almost disbound books sitting a couple of feet from each other on the shelves. They are surprisingly unmarked by readers, of whom there have been hundreds. Bultmann on John's Gospel and Carson on John's Gospel. Goodness! For those not familiar with New Testament Studies, the approach of these two scholars could not be more different - almost all they have in common is the title, and it is a given! The issue slips inside have been replaced countless times; they have been consulted, read, studied, plundered, referred to, for years. They should really be sent to be rebound, and no doubt some time they will. But there is a noble shabbiness in such well used books, and honourable dilapidation of burst spines, bumped corners and frayed hinges.
If there was a library sale tomorrow, I'd buy these. They are witnesses to the discipline of study and the durability of classic works. Because different as they are, Bultmann on John is a classic of 20th Century exegesis, famously described as a volume in which Bultmann asked all the right questions and gave mostly the wrong answers. And Carson represents a tradition of conservative scholarship, alongside Leon Morris, which takes the historicity and theological integrity of John with great seriousness. I am a bibliophile, and few sights are more satisfying than books which have enriched generations of students, and have the wear and tear to prove it. There are many books on those shelves, some as old as these, which have hardly been disturbed since acquisition - that doesn't make them worthless or useless. But these books, and others like them, they carry the fingerprints of many readers, the bindings are shaken and split, but their worn shabbiness has its own poignant beauty.