A recent New York Times article explores the question of what will happen to marginalia as readers begin to embrace e-books. It prompted me to think some more about the challenges of e-reading and the difficulty of preserving “the mind of the reader” in a digital context.
Marginalia on paper — commentary and notes added to books, articles and other texts in response to the ideas and prose presented — remain as long as the paper lasts. The commentary is available to anyone who has the book in hand. Marginalia by famous people, major thinkers, admired novelists and the like may increase the book’s value very much indeed both in scholarly and monetary terms. While marginalia on e-texts may be preserved, it’s unlikely that, like the Mark Twain jottings featured in the article, digital marginalia will be available to scholars and bibliophiles in the future quite in the way marginalia on paper is.
There is an interest, though, beyond considering the “uncertain future” of marginalia, in how to annotate e-texts in ways that promote understanding of the text while conserving natural resources. While some e-book platforms work well to add, and even to share, comments, highlighting, notes, etc. they require more than picking up a pen and jotting down one’s thoughts. The LTS E-Book Committee has been experimenting with e-book reader software (iBook, Kindle, Nook, and Stanza) on several devices and with using an iPad app for annotating articles in PDF. One can add commentary and have ready, mobile access to the text. How do you annotate e-texts? How does your e-reading differ from “regular” reading?
*From the Oxford English Dictionary:
E. A. Poe in U.S. Mag. & Democratic Rev. 15 484/1 The marginalia are deliberately pencilled, because the mind of the reader wishes to unburden itself of a thought.