April 13, 2010


In the Democratic Review, November 1844, Edgar Allan Poe began his article “Marginalia” with the following words:

“In getting my books, I have been always solicitous of an ample margin; this is not so much through any love of the thing in itself, however agreeable, as for the facility it affords me of penciling suggested thoughts, agreements, and differences of opinion, or brief critical comments in general. Where what I have to note is too much to be included within the narrow limits of a margin, I commit it to a slip of paper and deposit it between the leaves…”

Now, I have a few friends and acquaintances who consider marking in the margin of a book to be ranked somewhere between ‘a hanging offense’ and ‘a mortal sin’. Most of those are the same friends who would like to see me dead about now…

But I digress.

I share Edgar Allan Poe’s love for marking in my books. It may be as simple as a single line underneath a sentence or description that struck a chord with me. It may be a brief note on why a particular paragraph is particularly well-executed, or a note of agreement or critique. Sometimes, as Mr. Poe said, it may even extend to a slip of paper tucked in between the pages. Regardless of what form it may take, the majority of my books are full of notes.

To those among my readers who may be going into cardiac arrest about now, I can only say “sorry”. I know many of you will agree with me when I say that there is nothing like the moment when you read a sentence, a description, a line of dialogue that touches something… stirs something… awakens something… deep inside of you. Those moments are sadly few, far-between, and worth remembering.

Yes, my books are ‘marked up’ and full of notes – but I will always be able to remember the moments when a turn of phrase or well-crafted verse captured my fancy. My books have the same feel about them as my house: not always spotless, perhaps, but lived-in, comfortable, and well-loved nonetheless.

So, all your readers out there, let’s have it: which category do you fall into? The ‘thou shalt not mark in thy books for any reason’ category, or the note-takers category?


  1. Some of my books are marked like that--well, only one. At the Back of the North Wind. The others I respect too much to include my comments on.
    And the Bible. But that's different.

  2. I don't mark up my books, but I don't have an aversion to it. My mother, grandmother, grandfather, uncle, father, and so on all do, although usually with theological books.

  3. Hmmmm. Of course you chose names for the two categories with total neutrality.
    Perhaps I fall in the "I'm-not-telling" category.

  4. I hate to mark up a book, but once I get started I don't mind. My new bible has no notes, but my old one had nearly every verse highlighted, annotated, or circles.
    I usually mark nonfiction books that I'm writing reviews of.


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