Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Do You Write In The Margins?


Image copyrighted by io9.com There are people who are vehemently opposed to defacing books, inside and out. Many take great care not to crack the spines of mass market paperbacks or dent the dust jackets of hardcovers.

Me? I like to write margin notes. I highlight relevant lines. My paperbacks don't have uncreased spines. My dust jackets might end up with creases and minute tears. About the only thing I will not do is dog-ear the pages.

Looks like I am in ancient company. Even those monk scribes who laboriously worked for months on a single illuminated manuscript, tended to leave margin notes.

The following, unintentionally humorous, GEMS come from the spring 2012 issue of Lapham's Quarterly, entitled Means of Communication. Thanks to Brain Pickings for bringing them to my attention.

Image copyrighted by FreeChristImages.org The parchment is hairy.

Oh, my hand.

Thank God, it will soon be dark.

Writing is exessive drudgery. It crooks your back, it dims your sight, it twists your stomach and your sides.

As the harbor is welcome to the sailor, so is the last line to the scribe.

Now I have written the whole thing: for Christ's sake give me a drink.

My justification for marginalia comes from How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler (1940).

"When you buy a book, you establish a property right in it, just as you do in clothes or furniture when you buy and pay for them. But the act of purchase is actually only the prelude to possession in the case of a book. Full ownership of a book only comes when you have made it a part of yourself, and the best way to make yourself a part of it—which comes to the same thing—is by writing in it."

"Reading a book should be a conversation between you and the author. Marking a book is literally an expression of your differences or your agreements with the author. It is the highest respect you can pay him."

Does that make you want to take a pen to your books?


3 comments:

Tasha B. said...

I am definitely a marginaliac, and I love reading others' marginalia in old books. Just remember marginalia got Harry Potter through advanced potions. :)

Keira Soleore said...

True!! I'd forgotten about how much help Harry Potter got.

To me, marginalia is like the comments section of a blog post. For example, on allrecipes.com. People will put down their modifications, alternate ingredients, etc. and my recipe is always the richer for having read the original + the comments.

Max Weismann said...

We are a not-for-profit educational organization, founded by Mortimer Adler and we have recently made an exciting discovery--three years after writing the wonderfully expanded third edition of How to Read a Book, Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren made a series of thirteen 14-minute videos--lively discussing the art of reading. The videos were produced by Encyclopaedia Britannica. For reasons unknown, sometime after their original publication, these videos were lost.

Three hours with Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren, lively discussing the art of reading, on one DVD. A must for libraries and classroom teaching the art of reading.

I cannot exaggerate how instructive these programs are--we are so sure that you will agree, if you are not completely satisfied, we will refund your donation.

Please go here to see a clip and learn more:

http://www.thegreatideas.org/HowToReadABook.htm

ISBN: 978-1-61535-311-8

Thank you,

Max Weismann