Sharing Scribblings in the Digital Margins

30 Oct
#360 perhaps you do not need to write all over library books by romana klee

Photo credit to romana klee

I’ve had a hard time getting excited about things recently, but was lucky enough to stumble across Findings and its gotten my head buzzing.

The newest advancement in digital, literary culture, Findings is a website/app/digital service/what have you that allows you to share your margin notes with others across the community of readers, opening up the potential for reading to be a more dynamic and engaging experience that ever before.

WritingEven since reading Good Omens, I’ve been interested in the possibility of interactive marginalia.  In the story, a family passes a book down through the generations, each scribbling his own notes in the margins, often having contentious discussion of particular passages that last for generations.  (Yes, I recognize that that’s a very selective telling of Good Omens, but I thought it’d take too long to explain angels, demons, and the new four horsemen of the apocalypse.)

Although it’s always seemed like marginalia was a conversation, it never truly was, it was always uni-directional.  The first person that reads a book writes something and the next is left to either ignore the comment or reply to it.  (I guess the first person could then read it again and they could go back and forth ad nauseum, but books that are worth that level of attention are rare, indeed.)  So, with marginalia, as it currently stands, there’s no true back and forth; there’s acting and reacting.  But, Findings allows us to all have our own clean draft to respond to, and then the ability to selectively turn on (and off) others’ comments.

As a society, we talk about where were you at certain moments, at those historical moments that so define our collective psyche (9/11, the moon landing, the fall of the Berlin Wall), that the divide our lives into before and afters.  But, I’d argue that there are moments in books that can be those defining moments in our lives, too.  Especially those pivotal moments in the the bildugnsromans that we read as teenagers.  The stories of growing up that are part of every high school English curriculum.  How did you feel when they murdered Piggy?  Or when George killed Lenny?  When you first read The Lottery and realized what exactly the “prize” was?   Or when Boo saved Scout?  (Personally, I was really confused on that one and had to read it over a few times before I could get passed my initial reaction: Why is she dressed as meat?)  For readers, those are defining moments, but we analyze them after the fact, in a generalized way.  Respond to the events of Chapter 5.  What was the central theme of the novel?  Was this novel romantic, realistic, or naturalistic?  Discuss.

Marginalia by serikotik1970

Photo credit to serikotik1970

I want to have conversations with people’s real honest reactions, not those that they prepare for a teacher after the fact.  I want to get to know my friends (and thoughtful strangers) through their books and through their notes.  I want to read their scribbling in the digital margins.  I’ve written that I worry that the move from paper to digital paper will fundamentally change the way that we read, that sometime tactile and beautiful will be lost.  I still fear for the loss or musty paper and old fashioned type faces, for judging a book by its weight as well as its cover, but maybe well gain something wonderful in the move to ebooks, too.  Maybe books will become vehicles for true multi-directional communication.  Just think of the possibilities for choose your own adventure books…

Questions of the day: What book moments stand out in your life?  Do you write in your books?  And why is Scout dressed as meat?


MaggieCakes is a blog about social media, marketing, culture, and what’s new on the internet written by me, Maggie O’Toole.  Every day (okay, I try for every day) I comb blogs and news outlets for the news about internet culture and social media to bring them to you (with my commentary, of course) here on MaggieCakes. Find anything interesting in the worlds of culture or social media that you’d like to see a post on? Leave a comment or send me an e-mail at 2maggieotoole@gmail.com.

One Response to “Sharing Scribblings in the Digital Margins”

  1. Emily from wild & grace November 2, 2011 at 2:32 pm #

    Yes! I write in books that really move me (move my beliefs to a different place). No other book has been like this more than my most favourite non-fiction of all time “Meeting the Shadow” edited by Connie Zweig and Jeremiah Abrams and a close second “Myths to LIve By” by Joseph Campbell. A chewed (by my daughter) pencil sits next to the pile of books next to my bed. I often circle and underline and asterisk bits that inside i go “wow” too. Thanks for your post.

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