41: The margins

A Thousand Things to Talk About
A Thousand Things to Talk About
41: The margins

Today, we’re talking about the margins.

Do you consider the practice of hand-annotating a book you are reading sacrilege or a part of a time-honored tradition?

Show notes and links:
Marginal (The New Yorker)
Kindle Margin Notes

Full episode text

Marginalia is fascinating. Partially because as a kid that grew up in the library, for me writing in books was completely verboten, and partially because my family has a habit of writing in the books that we own and share. It’s an extraordinarily intimate experience to see the thoughts, ideas, or impactful phrases that someone found worth noting directly on the page.

In a 2010 New Yorker piece, the author writes that in Jack Kerouac’s copy of “A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers,” by Henry David Thoreau, borrowed in 1949 from a library and never returned, a single sentence on page 227 was underlined with a check mark next to it. The line was: “The traveller must be born again on the road.”

With e-books, readers have the option of making marginalia marginally less private. Each month Kindle collates the “most popular” highlights from books and marks them in the digital versions. You can even publicize – or subscribe to – other’s margin notes.

Yet for many, the act of physically adding to someone else’s words can still seem like an act of sacrilege.