July 3, 2016

"Mere reading... is not enough; rather, we must mark our texts lest we forget the wisdom so recently acquired."

"Inscription is a critical part of 'use.' Far from being passive, readers, in their act of marking — a conscious deciding to remember — become participants in a historical body of understanding.... [T]hese marks constitute a kind of graffiti, albeit one stripped of its transgressive connotations... [Books] were items to be improved, even perfected, by the marginal additions of their owners. This historical understanding of books as locations, as readerly edifices within which one might store practical information, binding legal documentation, jokes, and ownership lists, alongside more traditional textual engagement, challenges our contemporary perception of a book’s materiality, one which often equates pristine margins with the value of the new. 'At what point did marginalia […] become a way of defacing [the book] rather than of increasing its value?'..."

From an essay on marginalia by Dustin Illingworth.

Marginalia is the oldest topic on this blog, the subject of the first post, and actually the original name of this blog.


Laslo Spatula said...

I propose that a form of Marginalia can be seen on this blog in the art of Tagging.

Tagging underlines the things you believe you'll return to for illumination, laughter and weeping, among others.

What were you thinking when you first thought "Insect Politics"? Tagging provides the Highlighter.

There is also a Laslo Spatula tag.

Just noting that.

I am Laslo.

Paco Wové said...

The quality of the marginalia depends wholly on the quality of the reader. If you get a book previously owned (and inscribed) by an idiot, the marginalia can be quite off-putting.

Anyway, this is why all Serious books should have margins of at least 1.5 inches.

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

I think maybe, finally, forty years after I took AP English, I've finally come to the realization that I hate essays, I always have, and I always will.

Laslo Spatula said...

Live freely in writing in the margins.

I am Laslo.

Darrell said...

At what point did marginalia […] become a way of defacing [the book] rather than of increasing its value?

I think when it became ubiquitous dick pics.

Fernandinande said...

You can make spiffy animated comics by drawing each frame on the the edges of the pages, then flipping through them.

mikee said...

From marginalia we get, eventually, the Koranic Hadiths (sp?) that form the modern beliefs of radical Islamic terrorists, and Supreme Court rulings that say interstate commerce includes the growth and sale of crops solely within the boundaries of a single state.

I, for one, believe there is value in the original text that is oft lost in letting just any damn fools think they know better.

Unknown said...

This is an interesting observation. Books have had wide margins since the days of Gutenberg for this purpose. I complain to textbook publishers that they fill the margins of their books (in this case physics texts) with all sorts of useless hints and tips on how to read the text, short circiuting the note making process.

Beldar said...

I share my Kindle library with each of my four adult children and a couple of other family members, all of whom I'm delighted to finance, via my Amazon Prime account, in their respective purchases of e-books for our common Kindle library. My only guideline is, "If you think there's a pretty decent chance you'll read it, then buy it!"

Our own book choices therefore influence each others' reading naturally and without necessarily any need for discussion: Typically each book can be "resident" on something like six different Kindle devices simultaneously, and we can all see -- as ready for free download to each of our respective devices -- the books that others in the group have purchased. So my kids and I have indeed found ourselves reading things that interested one of us enough to risk a purchase, even if we wouldn't have sprung for that book ourselves.

The Kindle, if so adjusted in its Settings, will share highlighting and footnotes we leave for one another. Nothing is "defaced," but it is very pleasing indeed to run across a comment from a family member who's had a reaction to something I have just then read myself. It's like a delicious Easter Egg unexpectedly found on my lawn on, say, the 3rd of July -- an unexpected bon mot, typically, from someone I love about something we now have in common that we didn't before.

Pretty nifty, if you ask me, this digital information age.

Beldar said...

To explain the "sharing [of] highlighting and footnotes" across our family Kindle library via my Prime Account, here's an example.

Last fall my son bought and read, over several weeks, six novels in a fantasy-magic series of novels. As he downloaded and read each novel on his Kindle, he'd enter his highlighting and footnotes via his Kindle Paperwhite's touchscreen, which would then get automatically sync'd to Amazon's servers the very next time he connected his Paperwhite to WiFi or an internet cable (his Paperwhite doesn't have built-in lifetime 3G for near go-anywhere access to the Amazon servers).

When I decided to give the first book in the series a look a week or so ago, and downloaded another copy (at no additional cost) for my own Paperwhite, his footnotes and highlighting were automatically downloaded along with the book. I may add some of my own, which my older daughter might then come upon if she reads these books two years from now. The sync process is absolutely invisible to the users, it happens as if by magic.

Thus is my e-book library quite analogous to an on-dead-trees library: I buy once a single copy which I might then annotate and, without guilt or much violence to copyright, share with members of my household. When books in the library are not "checked out" (i.e., downloaded to anyone's Kindle), they're still there waiting for any or all of us, at a moment's notice, on a common set of shelves (the Amazon servers).

We've been doing this for about six years now, and I suppose I'll eventually have to read the Amazon Prime fine print to find out if I can bequeath our e-library to a successor Prime Account as part of my estate planning.

Ann Althouse said...

That's very cool, Beldar.