Alas, No More Margin Scribbling

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As the brave new publishing era emerges, book lovers have fretted over every wrinkle of a Kindle-dominated literary landscape. How, for example, will a kindred spirit be spotted on the subway if book covers disappear? Will future literary gems be papered with advertisements as cash-strapped publishers try to maintain profitability despite rock-bottom e-book prices? These are pressing questions. And new wrinkles in the debate seem to crop up every week.

Courtesy of the New York Times, the latest such worrisome development is the slow death of margin scribbling. "Book Lovers Fear Dim Future For Notes in Margins," declares the Times, who details the fading art of the "rich literary pastime" of scrawling one-sided arguments to authors. Marginalia, as it's called, was once quite popular in the 1800's, even though in the 20th century it came to be known as akin to graffiti, "something polite and respectful people did not do."

What lies for the "uncertain fate" of marginalia in the digital era? Well, maybe books with stuff written all over them will become even more valuable. “It might be a shepherd writing in the margins about what a book means to him as he’s out tending his flock," one professor told the Times. "It might be a schoolgirl telling us how she feels. Or maybe it’s lovers who are exchanging their thoughts about what a book means to them."

Or it could just be bored doodles on high-school textbooks.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.