Marginal Worries

| February 23, 2011

Book Lovers Fear Dim Future for Notes in the Margins is a rather alarmist New York Times article about the preservation of marginalia in physical books and bemoaning the lack of character in the notes of the scary digital future. It’s all well to write a nostalgic article about the emotional clout of historical objects, but the article seems to imply that the marginalialess digital book scene is one without literary conversation. The article paraphrases Studs Terkel, stating that he told the friends to whom he lent books, “that reading a book should not be a passive exercise, but rather a raucous conversation.” I would argue that the digital age supports this kind of conversation as never before. Writing in the margins of a book, as the article states, is an act of rebellion but it is also an act of entitlement and ownership. Marginalia is heavily skewed towards historical owners of books, the educated, white and male while things like Amazon reviews, blog posts, literary tweets and Youtube videos are skewed towards the young and academically or professionally obligated. Seriously though, there is the real potential for a future of literary conversation that is free, easy and inclusive. When future book lovers reflect upon the digital marginalia of today I doubt they’ll long for the cramped and indecipherable marginalia of the past when they can have this: