I Don’t Write In The Margins Of Books

(Word documents are another matter entirely, however)

I like reading; I’m doing an English degree, and so I will not only have to read things, but respond to them in words, in the form of notes, essays, discussions and so on. But none of said notes, I imagine, will take the form of margin-based annotations in the books I read.

I’m not a neat freak, who wants to avoid ‘defacing’ a book with my own silly ideas, which may influence the interpretations of the next person to read this particular copy, nor do I fear ruining the re-sale value of the book five years down the line, like the archetypal nerd keeping his action figures in their original wrapping to sell of three decades later for a profit. I simply don’t want to run out of space.

I don’t usually write enough to run out of space in margins, and I don’t write in particularly large text, but I don’t like the idea of having a limited amount of space to work with, in case I do run out one day; then I’d have to pick which ideas are ‘deserving’ of a spot in my margins, which overstates the intellectual quality of the notes of an eighteen year-old reading Chaucer for the first time, and means that the two-step process of throwing ideas around when first reading a thing, that are later refined into an essay, is undermined as you’re forced to be both creative and critical on one’s first reading.

I have worked in the margins of things before – my A-level English course consisted largely of scrawls down the sides of Yeats poems – but I always found that these notes were too messy to every work with; they would be organised by their spatial position in relation to the poem, rather than by theme or device, and even that system gets undermined when you’ve filled up the page with the first half of a poem and you’re drawing lines from the second line all the way down to the foot of the page.

Often I’d go over the pages that poem was actually written on, and make more traditional bullet-point notes on the back of the page, or on a separate sheet entirely; it was these notes I could actually read when I was revising for the exams, and it became apparent that I only remembered my annotated notes because of the process of writing them out, rather than being able to actually interpret my multi-coloured scratchings.

Ideally, I’d like to make notes on a separate sheet altogether, but I understand that this may not be possible (because of both the expense of buying physical paper and the difficulty in organising it that it brings) so I might just have to suck it up and makes notes on a computer with everyone else. I’ll lose the process of writing the words out by hand, which really helps me to remember, but it’ll be much easier to write things, and search for specific notes, on a computer.

But things rarely go according to plan, so I might be highlighting passages in neon pen and doodling in margins a week into my course.

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