Andrew D. Scrimgeour (dean of libraries at Drew University) has a nice piece about marginalia in today’s NY Times; it starts with one mystery (who’s been defacing translations of 16th-century texts with green ink?) and includes another (which scholar of religion, Will Herberg or Carl Michalson, actually read all three volumes of Paul Tillich’s Systematic Theology?) and solves them both, and discusses the marginal habits of various contemporary authors:
The poet Maxine Kumin never writes in her books. Neither does Karen Armstrong, the scholar of religion, or Jonathan Rose, a scholar of Churchill and Orwell. But many do. “We have all seized the white perimeter as our own,” writes Billy Collins in his poem “Marginalia.” David S. Reynolds, a historian and critic, marks up his books, especially paperbacks. He calls it “talking back” to the book.
Myself, I deplore writing in library books, but I don’t really understand people who don’t write in their own books. Like Reynolds, I enjoy talking back, not to mention that seeing my annotations years later reminds me of what I thought when I read the book and provides a hook for new thoughts. But if you prefer pristine margins, more power to you.