Thursday, May 31, 2012


Hello, my name is Sydney and I am a lifetime student. This also makes me a lifetime bibliophile.  My library is expansive. In fact, Amazon owes me a thank you letter! IMHO. When the first Kindle came on the market, I was first in line. Ditto with the Kindle Fire. And of course, I still buy hard copies of used books, art, and writing books. How can you not? However, that’s not my true focus here. I want to share how I read a book; or, more accurately, how I “decorate” the pages.

When I am reading I have a highlighter and a pen in hand (or finger on the Kindle screen); I am in “discussion” with the author inside the margins. The pages become adorned with my underlining, asterisks, and highlights to create a kind of personal topography.  The term for this is marginalia. Writing notes in the white space on the page. It helps me to digest and interpret the text and to remember certain words, phrases, and ideas.  It is my form of study and reference. Nerdy, huh? On my Kindle I can highlight and type notes for later printing. The Kindle developers included this function because of me and countless others who also mark up their books. But, it’s nothing new.

For centuries, authors such as Emerson, Keats, Melville, Twain, Poe and Kerouac practiced marginalia. In the 1944 Democratic Review, Edgar Allen Poe said “In getting my books, I have been always solicitous of an ample margin; this not so much through any love of the thing in itself, however agreeable, as for the facility it affords me of penciling suggested thoughts, agreements, and differences of opinion, or brief critical comments in general.”

The margins of written pages speak to me like a blank canvas. Marginalia changes the meaning of the text is into something even more meaningful. A well-read book is essentially transformed into a whole new art form.

"A child her wayward pencil drew
On margins of her book;
Garlands of flower dancing elves,
Bud, butterfly, and brook,
Lessons undone, and plum forgot,
...Seeking with hand and heart
The teacher whom she learned to love
Before she knew t'was Art. " ~Louisa May Alcott

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