Life in the Margins

One of our museum’s exhibits is going to be devoted to marginalia. I am a sucker for an old book with some interesting written comments in the margins. I don’t care what the book is about, but if the person writing in its margins and inside covers sounds interesting, I buy it.

I picked up a really bad book of poetry the other day called Our Own United States in Verse, which some child had written and drawn on. On the inside back cover she (I’m guessing a she) started a list: “My life is not the best life.” Then she started a numbered list from 1-8, with all items being blank except 8, which says, “My house boring.”

At least “boring” appears to be the word intended, since the “g” is missing. She ran out of room at the bottom of the cover. Billy Collins has a wonderful poem called “Marginalia,” wherein the speaker describes a copy of Catcher in the Rye where he found:

A few greasy looking smears
and next to them, written in soft pencil-
by a beautiful girl, I could tell,
whom I would never meet-
“Pardon the egg salad stains, but I’m in love.”

 We reveal ourselves through our notes, especially those we keep anonymous and never expect anyone to care about. Sometimes those notes are about the actual book we are reading and sometimes not. One of my favorite marginalia books is a English literature textbook from the 50’s wherein 2 teenage girls trade comments in the margins of Macbeth about a boy who “wants to go too far.”

It will be the centerpiece of the display.

–Shaun Perkins

1 thought on “Life in the Margins”

  1. Ah, scribbles are the best. Unfiltered as they are they lack the polish of finished things, yet they have that spark that can some only from a spontaneous write. And it’s often were the best ideas come from.

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