TSS - Marginalia

There was this fantastic article in the NYT over the weekend that discussed marginalia, briefly sharing where its been and where it might go in our electronic world.

I think that most book readers, and definitely book bloggers, have strong opinions about writing in the margins of books.  It's been my experience that the general consensus for writing in books is a big no-no.  I have to say, I am a cheerleader for Team Marginalia, especially with difficult texts, emotionally striking reads, or classics.  Writing on the sidelines makes more a meaningful experience.

And evidently there's been a lot of Greats who felt writing did make meaning: Mark Twain, William Blake,  Samuel Coleridge, just to name a few.

But then, a time came when writing in the margins was *gasp* a horrible thing to do.  Sacrilegious even!

"In the 20th century it mostly came to be regarded like graffiti: something polite and respectful people did not do."  (btw, go read the article LIKE NOW)

So, there's going to be this symposium about writing in the margins, the importance, the merit, the JOY.  And there's going to be this book that shares all of the above as well.  

The basis of the article is "Hey, reading ISN'T passive."  Push yourself outside of the pages but perhaps writing in them?  

I also dig how they refer to marginalia as literary archeology.* Comments that we write in the margins are like time capsules.  I know that I get a kick out of looking at my twenty-year old self in the words that I scribbled through out my Norton anthologies.  Or those "aha" exclamatory comments that I jotted in my psych texts.  Introspective questions that I may or may not have answered.

I've lost most of my marginalia skillz.  They're not what they used to be.  Similar to the article, I've allowed my consciousness to consider it is book graffiti.  Deep down I know that it isn't, but there's been a certain amount of guilt associated with the writing now.  Maybe it's because I felt like the writing could be rash and speculative when I was twentyish.  As a thirty year (and few) adult, my notes strike a certain amount of permanence and yes, there's even an amount of insecurity that I might be WRONG and SILLY.  And I can't be WRONG and SILLY at 33.  (I am 33, yes?)

Oh Lord, am I having a midlife book crisis?

*Did you see what I did there?! Pun Fun!

The Real

This has been a fairly relaxed week compared to last one.  (Although there was a mid-week-birthday-celebration-turned-"let's-go-downotown" soiree that left me tired and a wee bit hungover for a work day.) Saturday I spent it downtown again, but without the alcohol.  Our girls had a step competition and they were AWESOME.  They'll be competing at the State Fair next weekend too.

The Blog

The Books

This week, I read

  • The Ghost Orchid by Carol Goodman
  • I, Q by Roland Smith

I abandoned set aside

  • Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  • Subjection of Women by John Stuart Mill

And I will continue reading

  • Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko
  • The Well Educated Mind by Susan Wise Bauer


  1. I used to write in my margins and I loved it. I wish I never got out of that habit. Now that I am going back and rereading some of the classics I read in high school and college, my little notes make me smile.

    Maybe it is a habit I need to get back into? But then I would worry about lending my books to anyone...wouldn't want them to think I'm silly. ;) Perhaps I will just stick to my post-it method.

    You know, after my productive weekend...I haven't read anything. I am in reading FAIL mode. Nothing is grabbing and everything bores me. *sigh*

  2. I've never made a habit of writing in margins...it's kind of funny actually..part of me is appalled by writing in books, but I think a BIGGER part of me loves seeing a page filled with notes :) Something about it just makes me happy!

  3. I recently wrote a post on this topic, and I too am on Team Marginalia. It just provides such a wonderful way to interact with the book. And I really like reading other people's notes in books too.

  4. Sometimes I'll highlight passages in my books, but that's usually about as far as I'll go.

  5. I just can't make myself do it! I like the idea of writing in margins, and I'd be delighted if I found books that, say, my grandmother had written in. But I can't bring myself to do it. Once I write in the books, it's there forever and I can't take it back even if I've written something deeply stupid.

  6. I love marginalia. I hate it that used book stores and swap sites won't allow books with marginalia anymore. If they had a section labeled, "Books with writing in them," I'd go there right off the bat every time.

    For me it's a shared experience. I get the experience of reading a book and the experience of observing another reader's reaction to the book. Once, in graduate school, I got a 120 year old copy of an obscure Victorian novel through inter-library loan. The person who first owned the book left copious marginalia including a six page essay on the blank pages in the back attacking the central argument of the book.

    It was fascinating to see how a contemporary reader reacted to what was not a very dated book. The book was called The Woman who Wouldn't. It was about a woman who married but refused to sleep with her husband for political/feminist reasons. The note writer took it much more seriously than I did.

  7. I like marginalia to a certain extent. I like reading other people's thoughts on a particular book I'm enjoying just to see if we like the same things. However, I myself don't do it. Most of the books I read are loaned to me by other people or through the library and even with my personal copies, I can't seem to write in them. I'm so uptight.

  8. I'm a hypocrite. I think it's justified to do it, but I might turn my nose up at buying a second-hand book with copious scribblings inside. Unless it was neatly autographed as coming from a literary giant - or, let's be honest, any celeb.
    I've been talking about the subjext too here http://wp.me/pDjed-Me and I've linked to you because... Because it seemed like a good idea and gave me the chance to write in your margin.

  9. I found my way to your blog from blackwatertown's link to both of us on the topic of marginalia. I laughed when I read your comment about your Norton anthologies. I still have three with copious notes in the margins and I've giggled at how esoteric the notes are. Somehow my brain must've melted in the 20 years between then and now. LOL


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