Marginalia: Connecting With The World Through Pages Of The Past

Posted on: 17 March 2015

Are you feeling blah, blue, or blocked? Have you lost your creativity or started to feel disillusioned with the world around you? This kind of minor disconnect happens to nearly everyone at one time or another, and it can be hard to reconnect with the world. A way you can reignite the spark in your life is by going to a used bookstore, like pioneerbook.com.

The Energy of Used Bookstores

There's something about a used bookstore that immediately changes your view on the world. For one thing, there's the smell of antique paper and leather bindings. Smell can trigger memories and thrust you into the past, which can be a good thing in this case. Even if you don't have any particular memories associated with the old books, the scent of a used bookstore should put you in an historical frame of mind.

You need to be catapulted out of your present malaise in one direction or another. While it might seem like you're moving backwards, looking at the past can actually help move you towards the future.

Pages of Lives Past

Besides the smell and the overall ambiance of used bookstores, the actual pages of the books there can provide a connection to other people, even if they lived over 100 years ago. Of course, the actual texts can provide a link to times gone by. But even better, what you need to do is find books that have writing in the margins.

Marginalia, as this practice is called, lets you know what everyday people were thinking when they read a book in years past. You'd be amazed that someone generations ago has the same opinion as you about a topic. Or maybe they completely disagree with your point of view, but they get you thinking and debating in your head, as if they were actually there with you.

Marginalia has been referred to as "literary networking" of a sort that you can't experience with social media or electronic reading devices (even those that allow annotation and sharing--there's no handwriting to lend personality to the "chat"). The richest marginalia occurs when there are multiple entries from different readers in the margins of the one book. Reading the text and the accompanying notes is like being a room full of people having a conversation.

The History of Marginalia

Author Samuel Taylor Coleridge is credited with coining the term "marginalia." He was an avid margin writer, as were many other literary and historical figures of the 18th and 19th Centuries:

  • Jane Austen
  • Mark Twain
  • Charles Darwin
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • Sir Isaac Newton
  • William Blake

Over time, this literary fad fell out of favor, and writing in books, other than certain college texts, became almost taboo.

How to Reconnect with Marginalia

During your visit to the used bookstore, find a volume that interests you that has some notes in the margin. Then purchase the book, take it home, and while you're reading it, make notes of your own. You'll already start to feel like you're reconnecting with the world.

To really bring the connection into the present, think of a friend, family member, or colleague who would enjoy the book as well, and pass it on to them. Ask them to create their own marginalia and either pass the book back or send it forward to another book lover. You'll have started your own literary chain letter in a way, and it will get you thinking about other people again--the best way to jolt yourself out of the blues and blahs.

There's one book many people still write in, and that's the Bible. If you're having a hard time finding a good book in which to share your thoughts with pen and ink, try a religious book, whether it's a Bible or text about an aspect of spirituality that intrigues you. Even if the person who receives the book next doesn't share your religious views, they're sure to learn more about you, and that's a great way to make connections that puts the zing back into your life.

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