Why Marginalia?

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Wallace Marginalia
David Foster Wallace’s marginalia | Source: Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas

Today, I’d like to pose a simple question, and give my opinion on something that I’ve struggled with as a reader for a while now: why write in the margins? Why do many readers mark up, star, or pose questions to authors while reading?

While reading today, I had a simple, yet [I think] profound insight into the purpose of marginalia: the reason we take notes while reading and mark up books is to have a psychic dialogue with the author. For active readers who engage with the author’s work, marginalia becomes more important than the reading itself. This is why it can be such a moving reading experience to read with pen in hand and notebook at the side. As readers, we prod the text to do more and be more, and when the text wows us, or disappoints, we want to respond to that.

I’ve written about this topic before, and on one level, understanding marginalia is the reason I started this blog.

When it comes to e-books and other digital technology, the reading experience needs to make our marginal conversations with the text easier and even more fluid. E-books used to provide a terrible reading experience because of this reason. They are starting to improve: I can type a note in the margin, highlight, and upload these to “the cloud,” but I can’t just grab a pen and write what I want, where I want it: over the text, in the “real” margin, or doodle/scribble random stuff.

I want to know what you, as a reader or as an author, think about this. Thoughts? Comment, like, and share!

Kevin Eagan (@KevEagan) is a freelance editor and writer living in Central Florida. He edits book manuscripts and articles for local and national publications. Critical Margins is his place to share his interests. You can also follow him on Google+ or check out his professional website, KevinThomasEagan.com.