Tonight I found a posting from an old acquaintance from high school on my Facebook Newsfeed. An avid and proud reader, which I admire very much, she was very upset for having gotten a used book off the Internet that turned out to have been underlined by a previous reader. In all fairness, she did say she was upset because the description did not mention any such markings but my advice to her was to treat this as a gift instead of the perpetuation of fraud.
Books are not sacred objects, they are tools. The ideas found on a book's page might be sacred, the truths of the words might be divine. But the book itself is a tool meant to be used, read, reconsidered, and made one's own.
The practice of decorating books with marginalia has a very long history, going back into the first century BC when "Scholia" were added to classical texts. Some of these marginal notations are among the most important clues to life and thought in ages long grown dark with time.
I find it difficult to borrow any kind of serious books, from friend or library, because I want to make the text my own. I want to interact with the author, but more importantly still, I want to make the book a useful tool I can come back to over and over again to remind myself and learn anew. When I pick up a copy of a book I have read, by eyes are not lost among the thousands of words but are drawn to those key passages I felt important. When a student asks to talk about a book she has read, it is a wonderful tool to go to my shelf and and find a copy that has been marked and made more useful.
Some of my students have difficulty writing in their books and that is why I buy them each a copy of Marcus Aurelius's Meditations. "This is not your book, it is mine. If I want it back, I will ask for it back, so you have no excuse but to follow my demand that you take this text, read it, mark it, and make it your own!" I check their progress once a week with the hope that a habit will be created to help them build a truly useful library that is truly their own.
And, what a great gift a marked copy of an important book might be to a friend or to a grandchild. My Grandfather, Thomas Edward Gregg passed away thirty years ago today. I miss him terribly. What I would not do to have a book or a Bible marked up by him so that I could ponder with him even today and so that he might take my hand even now and lead me on.