Friday Reads: “The Art of Marginalia” by Jocelyn Kelley and “The Psychology of Books” by Dell Smith

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There were many articles I enjoyed reading this week. The first one relates to my Wednesday post about marginalia, and it comes from Jocelyn Kelley in the Huffington Post. Kelley appreciates marginalia because it opens up a book’s possibilities and transforms the book from a valuable and pristine artifact to the book as personal diary:

Finding a book with personal notes that someone has scribbled in the margins feels like a gift. It increases the value of the book, in my opinion. These notes have changed the book from its original state (novel, biography, self-help tome) into a diary of sorts. How did certain passages resonate with a reader? What quotes did he or she find so inspiring that it needed to be highlighted? (“The Art of Marginalia“)

An example she uses in the article: Jack Kerouac’s copy of Heny David Thoreau’s A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers has this passage underlined and checkmarked: “The traveller must be born again on the road.” Nice.

A person’s marginalia might reveal something about their thought process, but what about the psychology of how we choose what to read? Beyond the Margins author Dell Smith discusses this in his article “The Psychology of Books“:

Your desire to buy and read a book uncovers the dark hinterland of your soul. Your choices are often a reflection of your id. I can spend hours online or in a bookstore browsing the shelves (virtual and real). In person, I’ll first check the new releases (fiction, mostly) and then do a deep dive into the stacks, sometimes A to Z.

The act of choosing your next book reveals something deep, yet simple, about your personality, your desires and wishes.


I also shared several articles on Twitter throughout the week. Here are my top favorites:

Is the book a crucial cultural artifact, or just an outdated container for content? by Mathew Ingram in @paidcontent

Will Gutenberg Laugh Last? by Nicholas Carr in @roughtype

A Calm Place to Think: On Reading the Classics by Guy Patrick Cunningham in @the_millions

Better Books, Better Brains. by Lauren O’Neal, @laurenoneal

Visions Of Moby by Levi Asher (@asheresque) at

I’d love to hear from you about your own Friday Reads. What articles have you filled up you Kindles and tablets with this week? Follow me on Twitter to share your own favorite longform reading for the week.


About Kevin Eagan

Kevin Eagan (@criticalmargins) is a freelance editor, writer, and teacher who lives in Central Florida. He edits book manuscripts and articles for local and national publications. In addition to writing about book technology and teaching college students how to write, Kevin works as an associate editor for punctum books. Previously, he was the books editor for Blogcritics. You can also follow him on Google+ or check out his professional website,

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  • peterlicari13

    Marginalia is the best way to truly get what the author is doing. When you write and comment on what they’ve written, you’ve become just as critical in the creative process as the writer themselves. You two now share a connection of thought. It proves that writing shouldn’t just be a one-way street.

    Awesome post! Makes me happy to know I’m not the only one who likes to write in the margins.

  • Pingback: Marginalia: Do you scribble in your books? | virtualDavis()

  • mattmaldre

    Yeah! I’m very happy to find your blog which talks about marginalia (and other publishing topics). I have been a long lover of marginalia. In fact, I discovered your blog, because I have an RSS feed in Google Reader that searches for tweets that include the hashtag #marginalia. Your tweet about @harvard’s open collection of historical #marginalia came up.

    One of the things that I love about blogs is the built-in marginalia system through comments. This very comment in of itself is a form of marginalia.

    I should blog more about marginalia. I was surprised when I searched for the term in my blog, there wasn’t many posts that came up. Only one stood out: Using the iPad to write marginalia in the margins of online articles.

    I’ll be very happy to give this Jocelyn Kelley article a read. Thanks for linking to it. I’m also very happy to find your blog. I look forward to your future posts (and to checking out your archive).

    • Kevin Eagan

      Thanks for reading, Matt! I’m always happy to find a fellow marginalia fan.

      I’m a true believer in marginalia and its importance in reading. Digitally, we do more with text on the margins, in terms of engagement, than ever before. This contradicts the myth that people are less engaged with text than they were in an analog world.

      Have you ever used Pinterest to find other marginalia fans? I search Pinterest for marginalia and always find fascinating stuff. I re-pin stuff on my board, Dancing in the Margins:

      I look forward to reading more from you on your blog!


  • mattmaldre

    Whoa. That is an amazing pinterest board! Whenever I go to a used book store, I always check out their Bibles to see if they have any with marginalia. I haven’t found any with superb marginalia. I do have a peraonal book of Psalms where I’ve written a ton of notes in the margins. I should post pics of that sometime.

    You are so right on with how we can do more digitally with marginalia. At one point I had high hopes for Amazon’s Kindle and how you can see the top highlighted passages. I only wish Amazon would have a feature where you can read other people’s notes right in the very book you are reading. I would so love that. Right now the only notes you can read are the 10 most recent notes on Amazon’s webpage for the book. And even then, those notes are only ones that have been shared on twitter, so they lend themselves to being very short.

    I’m also looking for an easy way to export my marginalia from ebooks. So far Amazon has the best ability. Which surprises me, because Amazon is so not social.