Chicken Scratch

My methodology in terms of annotation is largely due to my seventh grade English teacher. I remember her lesson vividly. Circle and define the words you don’t know. Underline key phrases and concepts. Finally, write any opinions you may have to the side of the text. While I follow the majority of these steps, it is the last step, the inscription of my own opinions, that is jarringly lacking from my own marginalia.

I suppose I should first explain that I am anything but a traditionalist when it comes to annotation. I refuse to blemish the appearance of newly printed or well-loved library books. I write all of my annotations in a notebook kept neatly next to me as I read. I can accredit this to my generally atrocious handwriting. I would hate to rent a book and see my marginalia all over it. Arrows strewn across the page linking words to their definitions. Sloppy underlines threading below (and sometimes through) the words that they are supposed to be highlighting. I just can’t do that to books.

There is, however, an exception to this rule. I have no problem whatsoever defacing handouts. I write all over them without a care in the world. Why is there such a discrepancy between books and a Xeroxed-copy of the same material? This may be due to a feeling of ownership that I feel I have with Xeroxed-copies. More than likely though, it stems from my feeling that handouts don’t have the same kind of permanence as books. A handout is likely to remain in two places: in my hands or in the recycling bin. A book, however, is more likely to remain in circulation. I would never throw a book away, but rather would donate it or gift the text to a friend.

This falls perfectly in line with one of the most striking things about my own annotations: I rarely take the time to write down my own opinions. The idea of marginalia being a type of delayed conversation between the author, the reader, and readers to come is particularly interesting when it comes to my case, as I never involve myself in this conversation in the first place. I don’t write down my thoughts on the page but rather exclaim them in my head or even out loud sometimes (I promise I’m generally normal). I never really pondered my reasoning for this until now. I think that it generally arises from an irrational fear of others judging my marginalia.  It’s one thing for others to see words that you defined and phrases that you found to be important. It is an entirely different thing, however, to truly write down your opinions on the page. This form of self-identification scares me a little bit. I certainly have lots of opinions but am not as willing to key others in on them.

If I do ever succeed in making my mark in the world, I guess it won’t be found haphazardly scribbled in the margins of a book.



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