word of the day:


Notes, scribbles, comments,  in the margin of a book, manuscript, or letter.


Who would have thought that there’s a specific term used for a reader’s scribbles down the margins of a page? One on which essays and poems have been written.

When growing up I remember the reverance with which one was taught to treat books: marking the page was a massive no-no. And yet it appears that the comments written in a book by some may in fact be something to be treasured. The glimpse of a rebel in the midst perhaps?

What hadn’t occurred to me was the dialogue that it creates; initially between the reader and writer of the original text, and then subsequently between the reader of both pieces of writing on the page. The comments may take the shape of positive responses, critical remarks or simply emphasis of a point. Edgar Allan Poe –  a prolific writer in this area – revealled that he had a preference towards books with ample margins due to ‘the facility it affords me of pencilling suggested thoughts, agreements, and differences of opinion, or brief critical comments in general.’

Others known for having often been the authors of marginalia include Charles Darwin, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Sylvia Plath and Voltaire (who composed a whole book within margins when in prison).

For me I think it was an intrigue into who the author of the marginalia may be that captured my attention when I discovered the term (found on A Collection Of ). It was here that I came upon what I would say sums up best the breadth of personal expression that ‘marginalia’ can evoke. Billy Collins, in a poem on the subject, finishes his piece with the following – regarding the marginalia in a copy of Catcher in the Rye:

A few greasy looking smears
and next to them, written in soft pencil-
by a beautiful girl, I could tell,
whom I would never meet-
“Pardon the egg salad stains, but I’m in love.”


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