Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Makings of a Marginaliac

marginalia in sir isaac newton's OPTICE Marginalia in Optice by Sir Isaac Newton, possibly by the author himself. Image c/o Colorado State University

As part of BBAW, we were asked, "Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you?"

Personally, I love to write in books, and love coming across books that have writing in them.

A lot of people who answered this question said marginalia (or book graffiti, a less complimentary term) horrified them.  I can understand that--I was raised to respect books.  I don't dog-ear books, I don't take them into a bath because I don't want to get them wet, and I don't eat while I'm reading because I know I'm going to spill something on the open pages (and usually myself).  But writing in books?  Hell yeah.

It really all started when I went to grad school and realized that writing notes in the books I was using for research made writing the final paper sooooo much easier.  Then once, I was reading a book and came across a notation with the title of an article and an author.  Being a naturally curious person, I looked up the article on JSTOR.  It convincingly refuted the book chapter's entire argument, and the author of the book never once cited it.  The kind graduate student who wrote that note had just saved me hours of work.  After that incident, I was all about the writing in books.

Plus, speaking purely as a history geek, what's better than coming across a book someone owned in the past and seeing their thoughts scribbled on the side of a page?  That's a researcher's dream come true, and it gives you a real connection to the last reader of the book.  It's like book blogging old skool style!

Finally, writing in books gives me a real sense of ownership of that particular book.  I've always been very attached to my copy of a book--reading isn't just an intellectual experience, but a tactile and visual one, as well.  Memories aren't captured in the pages by words alone, but by smells, pictures, and markings, so re-reading a book can take me back to the place and time I first read it--if I still have my original copy (I'm not sure what would happen if I didn't have the original--that would be sad).  By writing in a book, perhaps the memory of my experience with the book will survive, even after I haven't. 

Besides, since books are much cheaper and easier to come by now than they were when famous marginaliacs like Coleridge, Poe, Voltaire, and Newton were alive, I think I have more than right to write in books.

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