Something every reader has an opinion about is marginalia. Do you dare mark up the printed page? And what about when you buy a previously owned book, must it look as though it was never read or do you love to buy books that have been well loved?
I came across an article at Fast Company today A Kindle Designer’s Touching Online Memorial to The Marginalia Scribbled in Books. The article talks about Eric Scmitt who helped design the graphic interface for the first Kindle. He is a collector of marginalia which seems like a fun thing to collect. To my horror, however, he doesn’t save the book entire, but slices out the marked up pages he wants to keep with an X-Acto knife. WTF? I’m still a bit faint and trying really hard to not hyperventilate over that bit. Maybe I’m wrong, but isn’t part of marginalia the whole book package you find it in? Doesn’t taking it out of the context of that particular book risk losing the charm and pleasure of it?
The “touching memorial” ends up being a website Schmitt started in order to share his marginalia finds. The Pages Project is an interesting idea and Schmitt invites page submissions. The design of the website is at first look kind of cool but not reader friendly in my opinion. In fact, I think some of the continuing faintness I feel is because of the website making me dizzy.
Schmitt does realize the irony in his helping create a device that is chipping away at the existence of the marginalia he loves. He does worry about how digital “marginalia” will be preserved because at this point there is no real way to save it without actively taking steps to do so. Who among us is going to take the time to do that? I know I won’t. That makes me a little sad because I love opening books I read a long time ago and marked up. I love rereading them and adding to the commentary of previous years. But with the ebooks I have read? Not going to happen unless I manage to preserve that same exact ebook and the notes file across ereaders as the years go by. And even if I manage such a thing, whose to say that in 20 years the files will still be readable because of changes in technology and formatting? It’d be like trying to retrieve a file you saved on a floppy disk in 1989. Good luck!
I am not the best or most active marginalia writer. I find some books easier to mark up than others. Some books require it. I marked up Ulysses like crazy when I read it and would not have been able to get through it otherwise. Other books invite me to make comments. Proust is one of those as well as Virginia Woolf and Jane Austen. Other books I fear would scream if I should ever touch a pencil to the page. For Some Reason Margaret Atwood falls here which is weird because I am sure she would encourage scribbling with abandon.
Marginalia isn’t dead yet. As long as there are print books there will be people who write in them. But it is certainly an activity that is becoming less common. If it ever does disappear, would you miss it?