Wednesday, February 23, 2011

It's marginal

Have you ever made a note or comment in the margin of page? What kind of comment was it? A reaction? A reminder? A note to help you? Or did it express an anger, a sigh, a giggle?

So the question is asked - will marginalia disappear now that electronic reading is growing? And even if you make an electronic comment, will anyone ever find it? Or will it disappear when you delete the page, a bit of you lost/destroyed as the image dissolves into non-ash?

School kids are reminded not to write in their textbooks. The schools often own the books, and your notes in the margin 'damage' the book for the next student. When I went off to college, I wanted my textbooks to all be new. I didn't want some fellow student's discard. I wanted new, new, new. For one semester, I afforded new. By my second semester, my economic standards dwindled, and I bought all used books. By mid semester, I not only was satisfied with the monies I saved by buying used, but I was leaps ahead in understanding what my textbooks really said - I was reading the marginalia. I could trigger discussion points with my classmates - points and ideas that I would have never imagined on my own.

Take Ode To Autumn by John Keats. How many times had I read this book and made the routine acceptance that Keats wrote about autumn. Until I read a note in the margin - a note left by a previous owner of my textbook. The note? It addressed the whole second stanza, starting with Keat's word 'abroad'. Was this really meant to be "a broad"?

"Heehee," said the comment.
"... whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor... "

The next scribbled comment said "Whoa, Keats!" and was followed by a smiley face.
(Obviously, I noted, this book was previously owned by a GUY)

I re-read the first stanza.  "...Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun...

And I jumped sentences ahead.
"Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reaped furrow sound asleep,
Drowsed with the fume of poppies... '
Hmmm, this guy - the previous owner of this book, the margin writer - had a point.
Was Keats dipping into porn poetry? Or was my marginal writer suffering? 
My classmates stared at me when I suggested the poem was about 'a broad'. My professor rolled his eyes. "Explain this!" he commanded. I did, following the marginalia in my used book. 
Suddenly I was the star. Because I dared to interpret, dared to find imagery, dared to be bold in my comments, the professor accepted this 'marginal' idea.

Marginalia has opened many eyes to new ideas. The whole New York Times article teaches us that margin notes are worthy and are history lessons in their own right. Sometimes marginalia can stand alone, create a thought or even a world that never would exist otherwise. 
Don't stop writing in the margins. Share your concepts, your imagery, your knowledge. Okay, don't write in a library book; keep those notes in a journal. That journal? A best seller someday??? It is marginally possible.

Here is a Billy Collins' poem on marginalia. You go places with this...


giantspeckledchihuahua said...

I have always enjoyed comments in margins! I really do resent technology and what it's cost our society. Of course, there's much to love, too.

The electronic books are practically blasphemous in my book loving mind. And I hadn't even thought of the loss of marginalia!

Sandra said...

my Bibles are covered in marginalia. underlined, highlighted, notes on almost ever page i ever read. when i would hear a sermon i would write their points, i have done this all my life, when i started to teach and over-comers Sunday school class it helped me so much, because the interpretations i heard years ago, i had forgotten until i saw them in the margins. also every blank page front and back is covered in notes. great post

Banjo52 said...

GREAT topic. I used to look for pristine books in a used book store until the only copy of what I wanted had INTERESTING marginalia. It was a little like two humans conversing over time about a topic that was important to both.

Banjo52 said...

Love Billy Collins' conclusion, tho' I think he takes a while to get there.

Stella said...

A while ago, I bought a used copy of Billy Collin's Sailing Alone Around the Room. Most of his poetry just grabs me but this book went one better. The previous owner had written a most touching poem in the back pages of the book.
I wanted to find this person and tell her I loved her poem. It was scrawled, scratched out words, I am sure it was hers. I need to find the book and read it again. What a little treasure it was to me.

The Collins poem reminded me of this! Thanks for writing such good stuff, Brenda!


Jo and Stella

PS: I haven't read either book you have mentioned here but I just finished Swamplandia by Karen Russell and I loved that too!

Brenda's Arizona said...

Oooh, Jo, I have to contact you offline about the poem in your book! And thanks for the Swamplandia recommendation - I have read a lot about it, but the title alone left me less than interested!

Banjo, glad you stuck with Collin's poem. It has a punch line, doesn't it?

Sandra, your margin notes alone make you an excellent teacher! You are right, margins are the best places to find your reference notes.

And Cyndi - let's hope we aren't relics in 10 years. Books will always line my walls...

tracy said...

This is a really interesting post, Brenda!

altadenahiker said...

I don't like reading the notes made by other folks, but I like finding old notes of mine. Mainly because they show how much I've changed.

Pat Tillett said...

The new ebook readers do allow you to make notes, highlight, and dogear pages... I was very happy to find this out!

Along that line...
One of my daughters recently bought me a hardback James Patterson book. IT WAS $27.99!!!
In my humble opinion, the publishers know exactly what they are doing to us...they are herding us toward ebooks.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

I mark up text books so badly that that schools refused to buy them back. I've only kept one, but it's interesting to me that you've kept yours.