Memoir of a Highlighted Life

I know ebooks are coming on like gangbusters, the total wave of the future, but how in the world will we be able to highlight important words and thoughts? Yes, I can highlight on my iPad, but using my finger and the result on the text is far from satisfying.

I want a good, old-fashioned highlighter, thank you. I am persnickety about them, too. I use bright ink highlighters for most books, dry-type for thin paper, and both style with clips, so I can attach them to books, book jackets and covers. My favorite highlighter color is yellow, although I have gone through pink, blue, and orange periods. When I don’t have a highlighter, I judiciously use an ink pen. Really striking thoughts get a star.

For the first half of my life I never marked in a book. For our family, books were dear and priceless, (certainly more dear than today’s Kindle), and mostly not our own. I never entered a bookstore before adulthood. Ah, but libraries! I can recall going up the walkway into the library, trailing behind my mother, at the age of five. I would come out of the library trailing her in the same way, my skinny little arms bearing books. I imagine I wobbled to the car under the load.

There never was a torn page or crayon mark in any book in our home. Those Little Golden Books that some families have with crayon-scribbled pages and tossed helter-skelter in toy boxes–that did not go on at our house. For one thing, our family was too poor to spend 25 cents for a Little Golden Book. We did have Humpty Dumpty magazine, and even in it, no page was ever torn or colored upon. The connect-the-dots page was done very carefully. Our parents smoked, drank, and carried on, but never, ever marked in a book. To damage a book in any way was the greatest of sins in our family.

I was well into my thirties, with three published novels to my credit, when one day the daughter of a friend sat down near me with a novel she was studying for college English. She had an ink pen clipped to the book. When she left the table for a few minutes, I took the opportunity to open the book and avidly read all her underlined passages. I was fascinated.

For the first time, the thought occurred: “You are an adult. You own books. You can mark in them.” After that, I kept an ink pen (blue ink) clipped to each book I read, and I underlined with great abandon passages of thought and wit that struck me.

Then I discovered highlighters. My husband even took to buying me packets of highlighters for Christmas. He liked to buy the packets with varying colors. I have developed the habit of taking out the yellow ones and throwing the rest in a drawer. When I die, or if burglars strike, someone is going to open that drawer and wonder why I am hording every color of highlighter, except yellow.

Once I mentioned how much I enjoyed highlighting my books, and a friend said, “You devalue the books when you do that. No one wants to buy them.”

All the old sinful feeling of childhood washed over me for about ten minutes. Then the realization dawned of the joy and excitement I get when highlighting a thought I want to somehow press into my mind, or make it easy to find it again. My highlighting is evidence that a book is worth reading, and I have no intention of selling it.

I am fascinated by books that people have highlighted or marked in some fashion. When I come upon marked pages in a used book, I will instantly stop to read. I want to see if I agree that the passage was worth noting. Reading books that have been previously highlighted or marked is like peering through the lit windows of the homes of strangers at night.

I have inherited Bibles belonging to my mother-in-law and father-in-law–Big Mama and Pa. I am boosted by the underlining and notes made on the worn pages. Pens were used in their era. Most of the underlining in Big Mama’s Bible is done in purple ink, her very favorite. It is as if she speaks to me with those underlines.

In some of the books on my shelves, I have passages highlighted, underlined in ink, and starred. When I turn to those pages, I know instantly that there is something on them that is vastly important to me, and I want to see what it is. On occasion nowadays, I re-read a book and get the main points by reading only the highlighted parts.

Sometimes I imagine years from now, hopefully, when my son and grandchildren, and perfect strangers, who have bought my library of books from the sale spread out in the yard after I’m gone. I imagine them reading through my highlights and seeing my whole life.

Blessings until next time,


17 thoughts on “Memoir of a Highlighted Life

  1. CurtisAnn,
    You are a woman after my own heart! I doubt I’ll ever own a Kindle or Nook (though we bought a Nook for our 21 yr old for Christmas, which he loves). I prefer a solid book for precisely the reasons you’ve listed here. I’m a highlighting fool, and love re-reading things to see if the highlighted words still strike me.

    And confession: I often imagine my kids and grandkids reading through my old books, pausing on the highlighted sections with a sigh. We’re kindred hearts, indeed. ๐Ÿ™‚


  2. Me again.
    So you see, imagination needs moodling โ€“ long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering. ~ Brenda Ueland.
    Just was looking through your quotes on your website and found Ueland’s. I so love her book on writing and used this “moodling” a lot in exercises for my women in “Write Now” classes.
    I find it somewhat amusing, I’ve moved back North, which is home for me, from my temp stay in the South and my three most important contacts through the web (four actually) are all Southern women, two of them just a stone’s throw from me , Charlotte — Hickory NC;
    Preparing for the big storm aiming at us tonight….. hot chocolate, tea, warm covers, good books to read, and the writing table await….How good can it get?


    • Oh, you know Brenda Ueland’s work, too! How exciting for me to find someone else who appreciates her book! A friend gave it to me many years ago. I have had to grow into truly knowing the truth of it. I really should put up a page of books that have helped me with writing.

      Hugs, CA


  3. I cannot imagine giving up books entirely for a Kindle or Nook. When we moved into this smaller retirement house I watched as the three men kept bringing in boxes and boxes, but no furniture. Finally I asked, “Isn’t the furniture on the truck?” One of the fellows looked at me and grinned saying, “No m’am, just boxes of books.” He was kidding of course because eventually the furniture emerged from the truck, but indeed, there were many boxes of books. And yes, a few of them are marked and highlighted. Thanks for your blog CA.


  4. I just looked at your Website, CurtissAnn; I (we) like NCIS too! “Waste” many hours watching reruns in the evening that we’ve seen over and over again. Like the characters’ interplay and relationships and respect for each other — even when disagreeing. I liked Kate too, but love Ziva! The new show “Kate” went on didn’t sell her at all to me. Don’t think show lasted.


  5. The first time it occurred to me that I could put a mark of any kind in a book (heaven, forbid) was when I entered college and bought used text books (which today, still sell at over-inflated high robbery prices just because they have a captive audience.) I was shocked to see writing and highlighted lines in books after my 12 years in strict, Catholic schools. Then, studying to become a teacher, I became intrigued by marked up books, and would spend extra time in the student book stores reading the notes in books. The third phase of this played out as I became more adept with the notes & underlines and bought books I though had been used by a thoughtful student ahead of me.

    But as life rolled on, I, too, have been a huge book buyer — just look at the boxes around me I have to tote to our new location! As we’ve experienced a bancruptcy, & loss of business and home, we spend on a very tight line, and move increasingly to smaller spaces with rents that fit our budget but……library books (I tried) aren’t the same…..and the subjects I’m interested in now I want to BUY…and I still put $24-$40 orders into Amazon or Barnes & Noble, to get my books…not an e reader or a Kindle reader.

    Hang in there with your yellow marker, Curtiss Ann.


    • Oh, darling Susan, you bring to mind a quote that I have often thought since dear husband and I retired and attempt to adjust to far less money: “When I get a little money, I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.” ~Erasmus. I am buying more used books these days. I remember the years when I bought any books with abandonment. It was fun. ๐Ÿ™‚ As long as we can have books and friends who share the book habit, we are rich indeed.

      Hugs, CA


  6. There was no marking in books at our house either! I grew up respecting books and it never crossed my mind to mark in one. Then, 4 years ago when my mama died, I opened her Bible and found it marked and highlighted, with notes in the margins! I can’t tell you how shocked I was! I wish my mama had been there to see the look on my face. Soon the shock disappeared and I realized how thankful I should be that she’d leave me this treasure, with her handwriting scribbled in the corner.
    After 50+ years of not marking in books, I still can’t comfortably pick up a pen and leave my mark, but I’m getting good at leaving sticky notes to mark the important passages.


  7. As far as marking in books as a child, it was a sin of the first order when I was a child. That and turning down the corners of the pages to mark our places. But as far as the Bible, I never owned one of my own until after I was married. And until about 20 years ago, I would never have thought to highlight or underline in one. But a pastor gave me a new one that I treasure. He had been preparing for a funeral of a dear friend and was looking through her Bible to get her favorite passages. He showed me how much it was underlined and then her notes in the margins. After her funeral, her children all remarked about how much it meant to them that she left that legacy,,,,,,,,a treasure of marked passages. I now have a very marked-up Bible that I pray my children will take some heart messages from when I die. I have actually written personal messages to each of my sons when a passage helped me through a situation with each of them. And in the very front, I have left notes for whatever pastor does my funeral sermon so he or she will be able to locate them as needed. Thanks for the reminder that I am not alone in this.


    • Oh, Judy, thank you for sharing your experience! What wonderful ideas you give us all for marking in our Bibles. I have little scraps of paper on which I have written prayers stuck in my Bible, well, in a number of Bibles :), but I never thought of writing personal notes to my son and grandchildren. How precious a gift! Thank you so much!

      blessings, CA


  8. Wow, this so perfectly explains my highlighting obsession! I have one of my grandma’s Bibles. She’s been gone a long time, but when I open that book & read the scriptures she underlined I feel like she’s right beside me. And yellow is my favorite color also!


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