I am truly excited about an article I just read in The New York Times Magazine (print version) published today. I think all of you would be interested as well. This is a must-read: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/06/magazine/06Riff-t.html?_r=1

Sam Anderson describes his personal obsession with adding marginalia to all of the literature he reads. He writes: “Books have become my journals, my critical notebooks, my creative outlets. Writing in them is the closest I come to regular meditation; marginalia is—no exaggeration—possibly the most pleasurable thing I do on a daily basis” (46). Demonstrating his attachment to this practice, this quote also explains why he is wary of e-readers, having experimented with them but ultimately put them aside. Tapping into the nature of books, Anderson arrives at the phrase “social reading” (46). He draws on his understanding that “Books are curious objects: their strength is to be both intensely private and intensely social—and marginalia is a natural bridge between these two states…Digital technology, rather than destroying the tradition of marginalia, could actually help us to return it to its gloriously social 18th-century roots” (46). Having been interesting in e-books for a short time and then having put aside my Kindle for awhile, Anderson’s perspective on the future of reading as social reading, as a truly enhanced—an optional—form of reading adds to my optimism regarding the future of books and reading.

Anderson mentions sharing electronic marginalia with friends, but also having the option to have an important writer’s marginalia appear on the electronic text of our e-book. He jokes that this is a “vision right out of a Library Science seminar circa 1949”—a comment in which I delighted.

Anderson correctly comments on the current state of e-books, saying that “they’re very bad…at something that physical books are good at: gathering ‘metadata’ about our reading—broken spines, dog-eared chapters, marginalia. This metadata is crucial. It is… ‘where our experience of the book lives’” (47).

This article makes me think of Cultural Heritage Access and Description in a different way: what Anderson suggests is a demand for different aspects of cultural heritage—what others have had to say about the text we’re reading—but in a way that is less like random commenting to me, and more like studying the text at hand in greater depth. In addition, the metadata or description even seems to take on a new life. How important in the description of an object is what others have had to say about it, especially if those others are important writers and thinkers (or maybe not especially)?

What does everyone else think?

(About halfway through the article, I began creating my own marginalia, of course.)