Tuesday, December 11, 2012


Marginalia: marginal notes or embellishments in a book. Annotation fits the bill, too. In any event, I mark the margins of my books with lines, words, asterisks and stars. Petite asides in the margins of the books I read is meaningful, especially since I reread books in my library. Many times when I reopen pages, I look first for my cryptic messages, or the definitions to new-found words, or straight-lined edges of a section to remind me something here is important. Finding them is like coming across sweet morsels strewn on a wooded path.

In Chapter Two of The Little Guide To Your Well-Read Life, Steve Leveen reasons why readers should mark up their books. Leveen described "those who write in books as Footprint Leavers and those who do not as Preservationists."Important writers, even mathematicians, have contributed significantly to the role of marginalia, he notes. For examples, visit www.yourwellreadlife.com/footnote.

Local libraries frown on personalizing reading material, and in deciding which donated books to shelve in their collections––annotated copies will, most likely, go elsewhere. You need to know this if you intend to donate books filled with notes and comments. On the other hand, consider the largesse of meaning those scribbles and notes might hold for an unassuming reader––cryptic thoughts, feelings, and opinions, or Aha! moments waiting to be discovered by a fresh eye.

One verse from Billy Collins's poem, Marginaliawww.poemhunter.com sizes it up:
      We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
      and reached for a pen if only to show
      we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
      we pressed a thought into the wayside,
      planted an impression along the verge.

Consider, also, Harvard University's open collections' program on reading and marginalia: http://ocp.hul.harvard.edu/reading/marginalia.html
Marginalia provide unique records of the reader’s experience. Offering insights into how and why a reader reads, marginalia take many forms. These range from glosses on difficult words or passages and lengthier notes on the meaning of a text, to illustrations and personal marks used to denote passages of particular interest. While marginalia are often highly systematic, they are also as individualistic: every reader’s engagement with a text is unique. Marginalia shed light on the mental, emotional, and intellectual process of reading, as well as changing historical patterns of reading practice.