21st Century Literature discussion

Question of the Week > How Do You Feel About Marginalia? (7/20/20)

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message 1: by Marc (new)

Marc (monkeelino) | 2744 comments Mod
How do you feel about marginalia? If you've borrowed a book, do you enjoy reading the marginalia from other readers? Do you write in your own books? If so, what do you write? If you don't like to write in your books, do you capture quotes or make notes in other ways? Do you make use of the highlight or note features on your e-reader?

message 2: by Robert (new)

Robert | 442 comments I'm a bit of a hypocrite - I LOVE reading marginalia and would seek then out in used bookstores (in my early days of dating my partner would give me old books and stuff them with marginalia) but I HATE writing in my own books.

Incidentally one book which contains really fun marginalia is J.J. Abrams 'S'. The Selected Work of T.S. Spivet by Reif Larsen is a close second.

message 3: by Neil (new)

Neil | 309 comments Exquisite Cadavers by Meena Kandasamy comes with pre-printed marginalia. I haven’t read it yet but it is top of my to-read pile.

message 4: by Sam (new)

Sam | 208 comments I'm a fan, and remember when good highlights and marginalia in a text drew a premium if you sold books to a student taking the class the following semester.

message 5: by Xan (new)

Xan  Shadowflutter (shadowflutter) | 59 comments I write and highlight all over my nonfiction books in bright colors. I underline quotes in my fiction books, most of which are e-books. My non-fiction books are almost always physical.

message 6: by Marc (last edited Jul 20, 2020 08:07AM) (new)

Marc (monkeelino) | 2744 comments Mod
Psychologically, I find it easiest to write in non-fiction books (perhaps, because I view these as utilitarian objects vs artworks), and paperbacks are less daunting than hardbacks. I think this may have more to do with my handwriting, which is horrendous, but I genuinely enjoy physically interacting with the books. I'll underline quotes, circle words I don't know, make notes to look something up, sometimes write something to the author (like "damn you, [author's last name]!" when they upset me). Feels like I'm in a dialogue with the book. Using pencil instead of pen will sometimes overcome any reluctance I might have. I'm not someone who collects valuable or special editions, in general, so no worries there. Also love stumbling upon the marginalia of other readers except I don't like when a nonfiction book has highlights in it--usually, I don't care what other people highlighted when I'm reading non-fiction and I find it distracting.

What I don't really understand is why I'm reluctant in the first place. It's like there's an invisible barrier to marring a mass-produced object even though I have no intention of re-selling it and its "worth" to me personally is probably increased by the process of creating marginalia.

If you are a person who does not write in their books, are you also a person who does not dog ear pages?

message 7: by Bretnie (new)

Bretnie | 670 comments This is an interesting topic!

I used to write in all my books, but I got to a point where I give away most of my books or sell them to the used book store, which made writing/highlighting feel kind of useless!

But I DO dog ear my pages!

Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 245 comments I'm similar to Robert--I often enjoy reading other's marginalia, but I rarely ever make any notations myself.

Dog-ear?! Say it ain't so, Joe! I would a hundred times prefer to mull over someone's marginalia than to unfold their dog-eared pages.

message 9: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 277 comments Dog-ear! Marginalia! Heaven forbid!

The only way I desecrate a book is to write my name, my location, and the year I purchased it on the inside cover. I like to keep track of when and where I purchased a book.

Plus, my books have a nasty habit of disappearing from my shelves. My boys have extensive bookshelves in their homes. I like to casually browse their shelves when I visit and pull out any book that looks familiar. It's a real "gotcha" moment if I pull out a book with my name on it.

message 10: by Whitney (new)

Whitney | 2176 comments Mod
I absolutely love the ideas of those who write in their books as a dialogue with the author, but I've never been able to bring myself to do it; except in exceptional cases such as House of Leaves, where there are mysteries to be puzzled out.

I do highlight in my Kindle. It's also fun to turn on the "show highlights" to see what passages other people have highlighted.

message 11: by LindaJ^ (new)

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2369 comments I never write marginalia in books - never, ever. I may dog ear a used mass market paperback. I mark pages where there is something I want to remember with a piece of torn paper - usually a napkin as I frequently read while eating. I have highlighted in Kindle on a rare occasion. I do not like to read other readers marginalia in any type of book, although I do enjoy reading, in used books, the notes a giver of the book has written. I have on a rare occasion written a note in a book I am giving away, but usually write my note on a piece of paper and tuck that in. I enjoy finding things tucked into a used book -- a bookmark, a grocery list, a picture, a leaf, etc.

message 12: by Kathleen (new)

Kathleen | 282 comments No, no, no, no, no. I have some deeply-rooted subconscious objection to marring a book in any way. I even feel awful when I fall asleep and it falls out of my hand onto the floor! Who knows where this came from, but it has something to do with a general reverence for books I guess. Marginalia and highlighting are intriguing but distracting. I just LOVE finding things in books though. I've found lots of bookmarks left behind, pictures, shopping lists, even a poem once or twice. :-)

Nadine in California (nadinekc) | 463 comments When I was in grad school I worked at an archive of 17th & 18th century British literature (in Los Angeles!) and finding marginalia was always a thrill - unfortunately never in a book I found interesting though. Today I'm horrified by marginalia - I recently pulled my ancient college copy of Orlando: A Biography off the shelf and found marginalia in someone else's hand writing and I felt like I'd been exposed to a virus ;) Same for a used copy of a book I bought that was supposed to be unmarked. If I have to bookmark a page and have no sticky note or paper bookmark, I'll make an infinitessimally tiny dog ear that I can barely find later.

message 14: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2500 comments Books are to be used! My mantra -- only sorry some misplaced idea I might sell my books to someone who won't want marginalia stops me. (I know I look for "clean copy" when I buy a used book, even though I "know" absolutely fascinating can be browsing the books of the collections of people that do/did mark books.) I love it when I pick up a book I read years ago and find my little notes there. Thru the years, at various times, certain memes have had meaning across the books of that period. Most common are little clouds -- I love spotting phrases that describe clouds. I understand Helen Keller has written about clouds. Someday I should see if I could find those passages -- clouds are one of those physical visual phenomena that it fascinates me how writers translate them into words.

message 15: by Marc (new)

Marc (monkeelino) | 2744 comments Mod
Some real purists here in this thread!
; )

Y'all probably don't break spines either...

JOKING! I'm super delicate with book spines.

message 16: by Xan (new)

Xan  Shadowflutter (shadowflutter) | 59 comments I always cringe a little when I drop a library book in the book deposit shoot. And then hear "Bang!"

message 17: by Xan (new)

Xan  Shadowflutter (shadowflutter) | 59 comments For me books are meant to be written in. A book contains knowledge and opinion. What better way to honor it and its contents than to add to it.

message 18: by Xan (new)

Xan  Shadowflutter (shadowflutter) | 59 comments I don't mind a word or two or an underline here and there. After all, I've had to put up with mud, coffee (sometimes the same thing as mud), mustard, saliva, and the daily to-do post-it list. Cigarette ashes? Why not? I've checked out a couple of books from inter-library loan that when I went to pick them up I wished I had brought along a toxic waste outfit I could don before touching. I wanted to throw them in the washing machine. One was so bad I left without it.

Marginalia? Piece of cake.

PS: I once found five dollars in a library book. Hey, there are bookmarks that cost more.

message 19: by Marc (last edited Jul 21, 2020 10:05AM) (new)

Marc (monkeelino) | 2744 comments Mod
Sometimes it is better not to imagine what caused a stain in a book or what exactly that petrified addition to a page is... YUCK!!!

Marginalia seems like a minor nuisance when put into the what-you-might-find-in-a-used-or-library-book perspective. The public bathroom graffiti equivalent of the reading life...

Nadine in California (nadinekc) | 463 comments Xan Shadowflutter wrote: "PS: I once found five dollars in a library book. Hey, there are bookmarks that cost more."

Off topic, but just have to say it. I found a signed $1,500 check in a library book a couple of years ago, when I first moved to my new city! I bought so many books with it! Just kidding! Although the signee turned out to live quite near me, I returned it to the library - seemed like the least invasive thing to do. I do trust my little branch library to do the right thing.

message 21: by lark (new)

lark benobi (larkbenobi) | 227 comments it feels like I'm defacing a book to write in it and I never do it, unless it's a book that I feel needs defacing.

But like Robert I'm a bit of a hypocrite because when I find marginalia in an old used book it feels like a marvelous window into someone else's soul.

I just bought a used copy of Seamus Heaney's first collection and someone annotated these poems with comments both casual and profound and I love it.

The older the book, the more fascinating these marginalia become, even for the handwriting. To see someone drilled in the Palmer Method, or Kurrent, in my German books, is delightful, given that handwriting is such a lost art now.

message 22: by Bretnie (new)

Bretnie | 670 comments Nadine wrote: "Off topic, but just have to say it. I found a signed $1,500 check in a library book a couple of years ago, when I first moved to my new city! I bought so many books with it! Just kidding! Although the signee turned out to live quite near me, I returned it to the library - seemed like the least invasive thing to do. I do trust my little branch library to do the right thing. "

This made me laugh out loud :)

message 23: by Mark (new)

Mark | 335 comments Hee hee, I was traumatized by my junior high (Don't Deface Your Textbook! ), so I feel guilty when I'm tempted to leave a note for a future reader, but I do it anyway. As noted, older marginalia becomes more valuable: there are books in the Spanish royal library that have notes by Christopher Columbus!

Nadine in California (nadinekc) | 463 comments A few months ago I checked out a short story anthology. Anthologies can be frustrating for me because inevitably there are stories I love and stories I don't even like. Someone who read the book before me wrote a one word review after each one in very very faint pencil. After the first few stories, I noticed that I agreed with the reviewer every time, so I followed their guidance through the rest of the book and they didn't let me down! Sad that I will never know this reading doppelganger of mine ;)

message 25: by Tea73 (new)

Tea73 | 45 comments I like writing comments on post-its. They stay put, but if you are embarrassed about what you wrote easily removable.

message 26: by Dorottya (new)

Dorottya (dorottya_b) | 32 comments When I see a good quote, I just write it out on a piece of paper. The only books I felt comfortable writing anything in are school and university textbooks... for me, other books are kind of too "sacred" to do that to.
(I also had a classmate doodle and write stuff in the history text book in high school I lent her - I was really furious after that :D)

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