N.B. This is a how-to that
will only get better with your help
It can be a polarizing
question: Do you write in the books you own? Some people do and some
don't. Emotions often run high in both camps as to the usefulness
and rectitude of their divergent positionsthis we know from the
more than 2,000 emails that arrived in response to Steve's column on Footprint Leavers vs. Preservationists.
For those who are Preservationists and don't
write in books, we understand your position and salute you. Because
of your abstinence, future readers will enjoy your unadulterated
click here for a full page, printer friendly PDF
also understand Footprint Leavers, and it is to you writers in books
that this message is aimed.
Footprint Leaver, you know how writing in books can aid your
understanding and retention as you carry on a dialog with the
author. We would like to assist you in that dialog with this online
edition of our Helpful Reader's Marks for Masterly Marginalia. And
we're hoping you'll add some of your own.
We searched high and low in the mid-90s, and to our
surprise found that no such list of reader's marks existed, so we
decided to make our own. We borrowed some from proofreaders' marks,
such as paragraph ( ¶ ). Others we lifted from Latin abbreviations,
such as "that is" (i .e.) and "compare with" (c. f.). Others came
from mathematics, such as , the symbol for "therefore." One even comes
from Winston Churchill's handwritten lettershis pithy version of
"very" as vy.
put our collection of Reader's Marks in the covers of some of our
notebooks and in a bookmark that we included in packages. Since we
published this list, we've come across more shorthand invented by
creative Footprint Leavers.
Peter Brown, attorney, author
and consummate reader, uses an to
indicate an anecdote, and to indicate quotation.
(He'll underline the passage, too.) Later, he'll go back to
reinforce his memory and will employ both in his conversation and
Why marginalia matters
Throughout history, readers have penned notes in
the margins. Some of these have been more than just personal
observations, valuable as these are to the reader. They became a way
of formulating new truths and passing on that knowledge.
As Owen Gingerich details in his ironically
titled The Book That Nobody Read (Walker and Company, 2004), other astronomers did,
in fact, read Nicolaus Copernicus's sixteenth-century work De
revolutionibus, in which he posited that the earth and not the
sun was the one making all those revolutions. The astronomers'
annotations proved as revolutionary as Copernicus's theory: these
notes in the margins actually helped to advance the acceptance of
the theory among scientists.
Make your own mark on marginalia
Do you have your
own favorite marks? Perhaps you use symbols or abbreviations from
your profession. Are there some email abbreviations that are
transferable back to handwriting in the margins of books? (Ah, the
exquisite irony! The @ symbol, after all, was in use long before we
all got mail.) Please pass your suggestions to us via snail mail to
the address below.
submissions we find particularly useful, clever or funny, we will
add them to our evolving list hosted at Levenger.com. We look
forward to your notes in the margin!
Send your handwritten submissions to:
ATTN: Marginalia Maven
420 South Congress
Delray Beach, FL 33485
Please include your name, phone and email address in
case we need to contact you. Thank you.