Friday, February 21, 2014


I went to a talk yesterday in the rare books library at my uni, which was mostly about 19th Century publishers, Walt Whitman, and Emily Dickinson. At some point, however, the conversation diverted to marginalia (notes written in the margins, in case anyone's wondering) and its disappearance. I wasn't aware of this, but apparently historians learn a lot about responses to books from the marginalia. Other than professional reviews, there wasn't an outlet for reader's responses, so many of them wrote down their thoughts in the book itself.

Now I know this is a divided issue, but my books are pristine. I have my name and year in the front, but other than that, nothing. I don't even dog ear my books anymore. If I have thoughts about a book, most of the time, they stay that way, unless I write a review on Goodreads or here. To me, a book is precious as an object.

However, this presents its own problems. Historians are having a really hard time figuring out how to preserve and document information on the internet. We don't know in five hundred years if we'll still have access to the internet, and so it seems like there should be a back-up plan. There are universities that put all of their digital records onto microfilm, but that sounds inconvenient and time consuming. Do we print out everything? Where do we store it? How do you even begin recording something so large? At the moment, there's no surefire solution.

So why don't we write more in our books? They're cheaper and more available than they've ever been. They're equally disposable, too.  Doug Dorst and J. J. Abrams played around with marginalia in S. and it's simply fascinating to read. Couldn't marginalia be part of the reading experience, too?

Me? I personally don't know. After that conversation, I'm thinking about recording more of my thoughts in my books. I would like to have a record of how I felt at this exact point at this particular time. But I'd also like to come to a book with clean, legible pages. I like to reread a book knowing that I'm coming to it with fresh eyes, especially if I've forgotten the plot.

Anyway, I'm curious. Thoughts? Comments? I'd love to know your opinions on marginalia and how it affects the reading experience.

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