Marginalia, or scribbling all over books

I have a confession: I write on books. I scribble all over them.

I think it’s a habit learned from studying literature, I’m so used to highlighting and underlining and scribbling down my initial thoughts that it’s transferred into the reading I do for pleasure. And now in my job, although I don’t make notes in the same way and I can’t write on the samples, I do take notes as I read the books, and stick post it notes where there are issues.

The printed word is treated with such reverence, as if once something has been stamped on paper, it is sacrosanct and must not be touched. We can react to it, have opinions on it, but we aren’t supposed to attach those to the words as they stand. I don’t really know why. (FYI, Witch, Please has some great discussions of marginalia, particularly in relation to Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince).

When I say that I write on books, or lend someone a book that I’ve scribbled on, the response is often surprise. People tend to tell me off for it, which is bizarre because they’re my bloody books and I will do what I like with them.

I like that when I reread books, I can see my original responses, the bits I’ve underlined and the bits I’ve written NO in huge letters next to. I like seeing that on other people’s books too – if I borrow a book and someone’s written on it, I enjoy feeling that I’m sharing the experience with them, and wondering why they might have marked a particular section as important.

I also think that writing on books keeps me actively engaged in reading them. It means I’m paying full attention to what I’m reading, taking the information in, analysing it, questioning it, returning to points I don’t immediately understand. It prevents my reading from becoming a passive act. It helps me retain what I read, and it directs what I will read afterwards. I read widely, but making notes on them makes me see the patterns in what I read, so that it all feeds into each other.



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