Whenever I had a university paper due, the library books I reached for were the ones that had been re-bound. The books were uniformly ugly: the re-binding was frequently lime green. The information within was often dated, the pages were leathery from overuse, and it was clear the next step for these resource materials was going to be the pulper. So why the preference? One word: marginalia.
Man, with some of those old books, the essays practically wrote themselves! Key texts were underlined (sometimes highlighted, which annoyed me with its visually jarring colors), and arguments for and against were outlined in the formerly white spaces on either side of the print, often with reference to other works I could look up and include. The feckless and inexperienced preferred newer books to these stinky old things. But at the end or early dawning of the day, who needed Cliff's Notes or even an essay-writing service when these troves were so freely available?
My own contributions to marginalia, on the other hand, should be ignored. Inspired by what I saw, I tried my hand at commentary. After a year or so, when I reread what I'd scrawled (in pen!) I was shamed in realizing what a pretentious twit I'd become. The marginalia promptly stopped.
Anyhow, teh interwebz is abuzz with the seemingly endangered art of marginalia. Will digital deprive us of this pleasure, this artform? Kevin Charles Redmon compiles a number of links exploring the issue, and contributes a few thoughts of his own. But so far, my favorite essay comes from Victor LaValle, who brings a ballsy disregard for the book as totem, over here. Perhaps the time to again uncap my pen has finally arrived.
Marginalia, David Foster Wallace-style.