The wonderful Lokesh, who sends me article links sometimes and who I wish had a blog (hint, hint), sent me a link to a a fun article in the New York Times Magazine, What I Really Want Is Someone Rolling Around in the Text. Perhaps you have seen it? It is about marginalia and observes that there seems to be a lot of buzz about the topic of late.
I think part of the buzz stems from the worry about the disappearance of marginalia with e-books. Sure, you can highlight and make notes on your own e-books, but you will never, ever buy an e-book and discover someone else’s marginalia in it.
Sam Anderson, the author of the article, is an avowed marginaliaist (yes, I made that up!). He is so enthusiastic that I found myself, someone who had the command, “never write in a book!” drilled into her head since she knew what a book was, wanting to pick up a pencil and start scribbling in the margin.
But lest you think the article is simply sounding the alarm on the disappearance of marginalia, it is much more than that. Anderson sees marginalia as a bridge between the private and the social reading life. He had an epiphany about what social reading in the future could look like, a future in which you could see all the marginal notes of your friends from, say, Infinite Jest, appear in your copy of the book where you could not only comment on the text of the book, but on the marginal commentary as well. Sounds cool, doesn’t it?
And then I thought, wait a minute! Kindle has a feature that lets you publish your notes and also lets you see the notes of other people who have read the book. You can’t limit it to only the notes of your friends, but maybe it will get there eventually. Anderson does mention this feature and he adds an interesting wishful twist: the possibility of subscribing to your favorite critic’s marginalia or to have the marginalia of past authors like Blake, Coleridge, Emerson, etc, appear in the book you are reading (assuming those authors had read and annotated said book of course). How nifty would that be?
I hadn’t been to Kindle’s marginalia site in awhile so I popped over to discover that they now have a feature where you can follow the notes of other people. If you have a Kindle and you make your notes public, let me know so I can follow you! I have some public notes anyone can see for my Kindle. I am rather disappointed to discover that books I didn’t download from Amazon don’t appear here. I had some good notes for Turn of the Screw and they are nowhere to be found. So the system isn’t perfect, but it is something that could prove to be interesting.