Old Diary


Do you write in the margins of your books? Actually, using the word “write” is presumptuous as “marginalia” includes not only “writing” but also scribbling, critiques, etc.marginalia

I find that as I age I do less doodling, and that my marginal note taking has been on the decline.  I don’t know whether I think I know it all (far from the case) or if I’m not as interested in the world around me (I don’t think that is the case); perhaps it’s because I no longer have the stick-to-it-ness to truly study things as seriously as I did when I was younger.marginalia2

When we volunteered for the U.S. Forest Service I was required to take some online courses to qualify in several skillsets.  I discovered then — four or five years ago I guess — that my powers of concentration and my memory were not what they had been.  At the time I came as a rude and brutal shock.  That was before my heart problem diagnoses — in the days when I wasn’t thinking much about my physical self, or my mortality, and I still thought of myself as a pretty young and vibrant guy.  The fact that what I recognized as being relatively easy things to remember were not staying “stuck” in my brain long enough to answer the online questions really annoyed me.  I mean REALLY ANNOYED me.marginalia3

Recently I started reading Peter Wohlleben’s book, The Secret Life of Trees and I was inclined to write in the margins for the first time in quite a while.  Funny how that act seemed more personal now.  It was as if I was taking ownership of the things I was marginalizing.  They had special meaning — for some personal reason.  Of all that the author had written these things hit home, these things were important enough to remember.

fightbirds1When I was still a bi-vocational pastor I wrote in the margin of my Bible a lot.  Those notes are still there, whether or not the ideas encapsulated still agree with my thoughts. In most cases they do, I’m sure. But life has matured my thinking and I wonder whether I’d write all the same comments if I saw that book for the first time today.  Which doesn’t do justice to the marginalia written 30 or 40 years ago — as a good deal of thought had been spend thinking about those things back then.  The notations weren’t the result of a moment of consideration — they might have resulted from days, or weeks, or years of thought.

When I read a book like The Secret Life of Trees however, I don’t expect to go back and study the book again and again.  The marginal scribbling — or nowadays the highlighting — is all about the thought of an instant.  Perhaps it’s the subject for a future blog?  Or something beautifully written — I do get excited about really great prose!marginalia1

Marginalia — to me — are about making something my own.  It’s a sign of ownership.  I like that thought.  I want that thought.  I am taking that thought with me!

I suppose they are also signs that I have been here.  Marginalia are a way of saying to the future:  Peter was here.  Whatever import that may have is irrelevant.  It’s a personal assertion of being-ness.

Well, whatever the reason we doodle in the margins, I’m all in favor of it.  We aren’t as patient as the monks of old who carefully crafted those “illuminated manuscripts” that scholars labor over for years — making entire careers out of deciphering someone else’s scribbles.  Most of our marginalia are the “work” of a moment.  I suppose most of them also deserve about that much consideration.

Still.  I don’t think I’ve given up on doodling in the margins!


2 thoughts on “Marginalia

  1. Linda says:

    The idea of writing in a book still appalls me even though I learned to do it in college. It took me years to feel I could even underline things in my own Bible. Maybe because most of my books were library books back then?


  2. Liz says:

    I agree with Linda in how she feels about writing in the margins. However, one of my literary treasures is (I think my subject is singular) the books my Danish grandfather owned, some in Danish but more in English, and all his margin notes and underlining. He was a prolific writer even though English was his second language. Seeing and reading the margin notes makes me feel closer to him, as I was only 5 when he died. He was an immigrant who became a Danish Lutheran pastor after time as a college professor and a carpenter.
    In other words, write away! Future generations will be glad you did.


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