It’s a cardinal sin to scribble in a book – for some people. I used to feel this way, but now I see them (the ones I own) as more interactive templates. I’m allowed to take notes, highlight, dog ear the pages if I find something wonderful.
Mark Twain, Walt Whitman and Jane Austen did it too. They annotated, or engaged in marginalia. Often gossip it seems in the case of Twain. But also comment on the text.
I’d want to read that marginalia. But it won’t exist in future once/if e-books kill off paper copies.
You see? You see! Bet you didn’t think of that in your headlong rush to the future all you developers. (Unless you in fact have already developed features to let us carry on with our marginal doodlings after all. In which case, drat, you’ve outsmarted me again.)
Some lovers of literature even conjure dreamy notions about those who have left marginalia for them to find. In his poem “Marginalia,” Billy Collins, the former American poet laureate, wrote about how a previous reader had stirred the passions of a boy just beginning high school and reading “The Catcher in the Rye.”
As the poem describes it, he noticed “a few greasy smears in the margin” and a message that was written “in soft pencil — by a beautiful girl, I could tell.” It read, “Pardon the egg salad stains, but I’m in love.”
The full piece is here.
Here are some more highlights:
When Nelson Mandela was imprisoned in South Africa in 1977, a copy of Shakespeare was circulated among the inmates. Mandela wrote his name next to the passage from “Julius Caesar” that reads, “Cowards die many times before their deaths.”
Studs Terkel, the oral historian, was known to admonish friends who would read his books but leave them free of markings. He told them that reading a book should not be a passive exercise, but rather a raucous conversation.
Do you deface books too? Or should that be – do you also enrich and enhance the original text too? If Nelson Mandela does it, who can condemn it? (Mother Teresa did it too. Probably. Maybe. But she was too modest to talk about it.)
Or is it the bookish equivalent of a slightly nutty angry man shouting at his TV or radio? (I had one living next door to me in college.)