I read Lord of the Flies with an eraser in hand because somebody marked up the library’s 50th-anniversary copy. Some notes had been erased, but I could still see their graphite ghosts, so I gave them another rub. A lot of words were underlined, like “contemptuous” and “ebullient”—probably because somebody wanted to look them up later—and the names of characters were written next to dialogue, I guess to remind the reader who was doing the talking. Writing in books is no longer horrifying. We’re hundreds of years past the time when books were priceless works of art that held rare information. In these days of copious copies, there really is no reason not to mark up a book, an expensive one or a cheap paperback, if it belongs to you.
If it does not belong to you, then writing in it is (I’m trying to be calm) insensitive. The next reader might have no trouble remembering which character is speaking and your written reminders will break her concentration. The next reader of the book is likely to know the meanings of the words “contemptuous” and “ebullient”, and your having underlined them will call attention to your underdeveloped vocabulary. Do you want that?
The book in contention with Lord of the Flies, Robopocalypse, was not marked up. It’s well-regarded, but it's not a classic assigned to middle schoolers to read as Lord of the Flies is, which should protect Robopocalypse from English-class note-takers. If you think a mash-up of The Stand and The Terminator sounds good, you’ll like it; it’s artificial intelligence run amok with lots of cleverly deadly bots; a situation Stephen Hawking says we ought to worry about more. Around the globe, human survivors of the robot uprising band together to fight back. The story is heavy on the sweep of battle and light on character development, like a computer game. The end comes up fast, as if the author got tired of writing it, but he creates a fun image at the finale when he kills the main bot with ironically primitive weapons.
There are about five billion books and movies about the end of civilization (fake library statistic) because we like to imagine how we'd behave. I liked both books. Which book you prefer will depend on your mood. If today you want to watch desperate humans revert to tribalism, read Lord of the Flies; if tomorrow you want to watch a million crawling bug bots melt, read Robopocalypse.
And if you check them out from Austin Public, please don’t write in them.