The Beauty of Annotated Books

By Anjali Nayak 

An intently written letter tucked into a red envelope, a bag of candy or two, and of course, a paperback book tattered with blue ink. Inside, my messy, scrawled handwriting fills every margin and space it can. When birthdays come around, my friends and family know exactly what to expect—an annotated book. 

I find an odd sense of pride in giving gifts to loved ones. Simply choosing a book requires careful deliberation; moments spent pacing up and down the aisles of my local bookstore. The search is long and tedious, as there are a lot of factors that go into finding a book to annotate. Not too long or short. Personable characters. Easy to read but not at the expense of plot. Spacing large enough for me to write in. But finally, I find the perfect book and my work begins.

I’m a bit of a pen fanatic. The best pens function as a direct medium between my stumbling consciousness and the paper below. I want a pen to glide in my hands; thus, when annotating books I opt for the epitome of human invention — a Sharpie Roller with blue ink. 

Whether it’s nestled in the warmth of my bed, hidden under the desk of a boring class, or sitting in my guitar case on the way to work, my project goes wherever I go. I write whatever pops into my mind, whenever I can. I’d like to think that my annotations encapsulate my presence. I want reading an annotated book to be like hanging out with me. 

My annotations are not merely marks on the page, but rather a one sided conversation. Specifically, Lily Bourne’s copy of Slaughterhouse Five includes typical Anjali nonsense: Mac Miller references, inside jokes from the softball groupchat, and various attempts at deconstructing Kurt Vonnegut’s ridiculousness. The most common comment I leave in a book? A simple “good word choice.” I love a good word. 

As much as I love annotating books, my favorite part of the process begins only after giving the gift. The best part about art is seeing what other people take away or interpret, and how it might be similar or different from my analysis. I love when my friends text me their thoughts on the book, oftentimes they emphasize certain concepts I overlooked. You can tell a lot about a person based on the lines they underline, the characters they root for, and the themes they stick to. 

The next time you are in need of a gift for a loved one, I strongly encourage an annotated book.