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The Importance of Marginalia

Did you know that President Thomas Jefferson, novelist Mark Twain, and evolutionary biologist Charles Darwin all wrote in the margins? According to the New York Times, marginalia was denounced in the 20th century as a form of graffiti. These days, scholars love marked up books.

The article offers these observations from University of Toronto professor Heather Jackson: “Books with markings are increasingly seen these days as more valuable, not just for a celebrity connection but also for what they reveal about the community of people associated with a work…examining marginalia reveals a pattern of emotional reactions among everyday readers that might otherwise be missed, even by literary professionals.”

The Caxton Club and the Newberry Library will host a symposium in March to debate this subject; Jackson will be speaking there as well. The event will spotlight on a new essay collection entitled Other People’s Books: Association Copies and the Stories They Tell. This title contains 52 essays and 112 illustrations.

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