In front of me, I have a couple of books that I read a while ago. There are notes in the margins…and things like smiley faces for passages that I liked. Now, my question for today is: what do the notes you make in the margins say about you?

I’m not limiting this to novels or textbooks–some people don’t mark those up at all. I would argue that not marking a book says that the owner was concerned about destroying the book, and the hard-earned money that went into buying it, or that there is an awareness that the opinions marked would change over time. For myself, I mark up a book because I interact with it…however, I always seem to stop in the middle. All of my ‘marginalia’ is at the beginning of a novel or story. After a while I just engage with the story and forget that I’m supposed to be ‘studying’ or ‘having opinions’.

But I think marginalia includes ‘notes to self’ in notebooks, or half-finished stories, or sentences that were the spark of an idea (you wrote it down and then forgot about that brilliant little nugget). If, as a writer, you died today, what would your marginalia tell scholars? I don’t date anything…they’d be lucky to decipher what I wrote when. And I skip between notebooks. The first part of my first ‘under the bed’ novel is written in one notebook, typed up in a seperate file, and the rest of it was written on random scraps of paper. So, I guess the future scholars will have to absolutely love me because I’m leaving behind one hell of a jigsaw puzzle.

How about you?

Questions from the Ether Writing Thoughts

jenny maloney View All →

Jenny writes dark fiction that her mother hates. Her stories and essays have appeared in Across the Margin, Pantheon, Shimmer, Black Denim Lit, Skive, and others. When she’s not writing her own stuff, she’s reading mysteries for Criminal Element. When she’s not writing fiction or reviews, she’s writing/directing/performing/designing plays at Springs Ensemble Theatre.

3 Comments Leave a comment

  1. I don’t write in margins of books for the reasons you state. They were/are so expensive. My mother revered books and passed that on to us. No breaking the spines or dog-earring or, goddess forbid, writing in them. It took me forever to be able to highlight stuff in my college textbooks.My notebooks may be confusing, too. I used to jump around a lot. Or I’d use one notebook until it was full so it might have ideas for MMG or a short story or A:TM (there’s a blast from the past) or a grocery list. Now I try to keep things together for each book, but if I get an idea and that notebook isn’t around, I jot wherever. My Feminine Ink journals are dated, but they don’t have the prompts listed so why I’m ranting about sci fi inventions that aren’t here yet may not be readily apparent. Morning Pages may have to be incinerated before I die. 😉

  2. I don’t write in my books much, just not my habit, and if I’m reading slow enough to write in the margins, chances are the book’s not that good.My own notebooks – I wish whoever tackles them the best of luck, because they’re not dated, not chronological, and lately, fragmentary.

  3. I started putting dates in my notebooks. I like having something to do right before I start stuff, so I can sort of bring my focus in, so I put the date in the margins. Trouble being that sometimes it takes me so long to figure out what day it is–and I can’t refer back to yesterday, usually, because I have about seven notebooks right now, and five are lost at any given moment, and it’s never the same five. So I don’t have the same notebook twice in a row. So sometimes I don’t even have something written with a given date. And most of my notebooks are general purpose notebooks, with random school stuff and phone numbers and games of tic-tac-toe from complete strangers and that graffiti from camp a couple years ago that just sort of appeared and pages devoted to being covered in mud to protect the pages for writing…. Yeah. I love my notebooks. They’re all folded in half because I put them in my back pocket. Then I whip them out and whack people.

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