Friday, December 2, 2011

Prayers in Medieval Marginalia

I don't know that Eamon Duffy prayed he would find margin notes in the medieval books of hours, or prayer books, that he researched for his book, Marking the Hours: English People & Their Prayers 1240-1570 (Yale University Press, 2006), but medieval marginalia is what he hoped to find and did.

In America: The National Catholic Weekly, Thomas J. Shelley offers an informative review of Duffy's book. Summarizing the contents, he writes, with a quote from Duffy:
This book is an attempt, says Duffy with his customary wit, “to trace a history written quite literally in the margins.” 
Shelley expounds further:
These annotations provide a rare insight into the personal religious convictions of those who used the books daily to sustain their spiritual life. The fact that many of these laypeople were women adds an extra dimension of interest and originality to Duffy’s research. The book of hours was popular with such dissimilar characters as the unscrupulous King Richard III, hard-faced London grocers, pious country gentry, devout widows, St. Thomas More and even Thomas Cromwell, the ruthless royal minster who engineered More’s downfall and execution.
Prayers comprise the majority of the marginalia Duffy encountered in his research. Collectively, they offer valuable insight to the mindsets of people, primarily women, during medieval England. In turn, Duffy' book offers a valuable addition to the emerging field of scholarly research of marginalia.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Martial arts and marginalia--Bruce Lee's library

Stumbled upon this interesting library on YouTube--Bruce Lee's personal book collection, many of which appear to be annotated (so says daughter, Shannon Lee). I found it interesting that he would use different colors of ink to emphasize different points.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A dad's 9/11 gift

A copy of Seabiscuit (published 2001), by Laura Hillenbrand. A simple gift inscription from a father to his daughter on September 11, 2001:  

Dear Bethany, I hope you enjoy this (I did). Love, Dad.

Next to the inscription, the father created a tiny memorial of sorts to mark the day for his daughter: a small American flag affixed to the page by a 34-cent US postage stamp that depicts the Statue of Liberty. A caption underneath states simply "9-11-01."

Various scenarios come to mind about why this book was presented on 9-11-01 and why it wound up in a resale shop where I found it and thought it worth saving. Scenarios come forth for each, but I'll just let the moment of the gift resonate here--the father's gift to his daughter, a book and a simple, poignant observance of the tragedy that befell a nation ten years ago today.

That day will never be forgotten in the lifetimes of those old enough to have had it indelibly imprinted into their memories. Many memorials and observances, in various forms, were erected that day. Even in a gift book, whose story of inspiration, hope, and renewal may have reflected the needs of the gift's recipient as well as those of the gift giver and an entire nation.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Marginalia in poetry

The subject of marginalia is not just for scholarly studies, filmmakers, or whimsical blog posts (present company included most of the time). Marginalia has found its way into poetry. None other than Billy Collins, former Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003, included a poem titled,  Marginalia, in his poetry collections, Picnic Lightning (Pitt Poetry Series, University of Pittsburgh Press,1998) and Sailing Alone Around the Room (Random House, 2001). Here it is:

Marginalia, by Billy Collins

Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.
If I could just get my hands on you,
Kierkegaard, or Conor Cruise O'Brien,
they seem to say,
I would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head.

Other comments are more offhand, dismissive -
"Nonsense." "Please!" "HA!!" -
that kind of thing.
I remember once looking up from my reading,
my thumb as a bookmark,
trying to imagine what the person must look like
why wrote "Don't be a ninny"
alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.

Students are more modest
needing to leave only their splayed footprints
along the shore of the page.
One scrawls "Metaphor" next to a stanza of Eliot's.
Another notes the presence of "Irony"
fifty times outside the paragraphs of A Modest Proposal.

Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers,
Hands cupped around their mouths.
"Absolutely," they shout
to Duns Scotus and James Baldwin.
"Yes." "Bull's-eye." "My man!"
Check marks, asterisks, and exclamation points
rain down along the sidelines.

And if you have managed to graduate from college
without ever having written "Man vs. Nature"
in a margin, perhaps now
is the time to take one step forward.

We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
and reached for a pen if only to show
we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
we pressed a thought into the wayside,
planted an impression along the verge.

Even Irish monks in their cold scriptoria
jotted along the borders of the Gospels
brief asides about the pains of copying,
a bird signing near their window,
or the sunlight that illuminated their page-
anonymous men catching a ride into the future
on a vessel more lasting than themselves.

And you have not read Joshua Reynolds,
they say, until you have read him
enwreathed with Blake's furious scribbling.

Yet the one I think of most often,
the one that dangles from me like a locket,
was written in the copy of Catcher in the Rye
I borrowed from the local library
one slow, hot summer.
I was just beginning high school then,
reading books on a davenport in my parents' living room,
and I cannot tell you
how vastly my loneliness was deepened,
how poignant and amplified the world before me seemed,
when I found on one page

A few greasy looking smears
and next to them, written in soft pencil-
by a beautiful girl, I could tell,
whom I would never meet-
"Pardon the egg salad stains, but I'm in love."

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Writing in Books - The Film

From reeselife (a section of reesenews), a source of news about Chapel Hill and the University of North Carolina, here is an interesting film that explores the practice of marginalia or writing in books and its personal and cultural significance:

Friday, July 1, 2011

Nixon in the margins

A reader of this copy of the book, Nixon in the White House, by Rowland Evans, Jr. and Robert D. Novak (Random House, 1971), sees Watergate as having been inevitable, but that wasn't Nixon's biggest crime.

Between these covers, it's pretty obvious that one reader of this book felt very passionate about the subject and interacted rather intimately with the text, letting his emotions and feelings flow in annotated anger across many a page.

The reader's liberal use of a pencil to annotate this book--rather, what his annotations speak to--tells me the marginalia occurred after the scandal. That and the date of the book. Watergate hadn't hit the headlines yet.

The reader doesn't take long to crank up the marginalia. A page 7 reference to Donald Rumsfeld gets the pencil scratching across the paper with Rumsfeld's name underlined (reference to a phone call he shouldn't have received from Nixon) and the margin note "Security Risk!" But that's not the first notation you see. A summary of the book and the reader's opinion welcome you on the half-title page:

After reading this book, Watergate seemed inevitable. But Watergate is only the tip of the iceberg visible above the surface.

Treason is defined as giving aid to the enemy of a country. Communist Red China was our enemy in the Korean War. A deadly enemy still in the Vietnam War. Mr. Nixon put them on "The Most Favored Nations" list.

And this annotation is but the tip of the iceberg for the marginalia that occurs throughout this book. Marginalia and underlining.

Below are a few examples out of many that exist from this impassioned reader.

Somehow, during this reader's Nixonian annotation rants, Mr. Walter Knott of Knott's Berry Farm fame winds up in the marginalia. An interesting connection for later research, perhaps.

And if you're wondering how this reader held up over the long haul of reading this book, I assure you he was still going strong the last several of 410 pages. On pages 403 through 405, no less than three passages are once more marked with the word, "Treason," all pertaining to Nixon's relations with Communist China.

Further, the marginalia sometimes has a source other than a knee-jerk reaction from the reader; the annotation at times contains a citation for the source, (i.e., Wall Street Journal, Aug 1 1973). I'd venture a guess that this is an unusual practice in the art, if you will, of annotation and marginalia.


There you have just a taste of one reader's reaction to a period in US history that created such intense feelings as to cause a reader to relive it as it unfolded in this book, accuse President Nixon of treason, and write marginalia with a vision that only comes with hindsight.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Marginalia in a digital world

I found some interesting discussion on David Weinberger's blog Joho about the loss of handwritten marginalia in digital books. But not the loss of marginalia itself. Weinberger foresees highlighting and annotations flourishing in a digital format, perhaps even the dawning of a Golden Age of Marginalia.

The example used is the literary marginalia of famous authors, such as Twain or Kerouac--marginalia the average reader is unlikely to ever see. But it serves to illustrate a point about loss and gain.

Weinberger concedes it would indeed be a loss not to hold the book Kerouac held, read, and interacted with by transcribing his thoughts upon the text and margins of the page that inspired those thoughts. He uses the word "thrill" to describe the experience of handling a book containing such marginalia.

Ian Frazier used the word "sublime" in his New Yorker article on the same subject, albeit in a setting more conducive to using that word. It was Frazier's article that led to Weinberger's blog post. The distinction between "thrill" and "sublime" might parallel the distinction between attitudes toward traditional formats for literary matter. "Sublime" would certainly seem to connote an incomparably greater connection or attachment to the annotated codex than would "thrill."

Weinberger sees a trade-off looming, one that should actually be more beneficial to readers in the digital book arena. The potential to create digital marginalia, especially in a social reading environment, will negate (and then some) the loss of of an author's handwritten notes in the margins of the printed page. Specifically, Weinberger asserts:
We will gain the ability to learn from the digital traces left by all of today’s Kerouacs, Kerouac scholars, and Kerouac readers.
To that, I would add: As long as those digital traces can be read or accessed via whatever medium is currently in vogue. Will historically significant digital marginalia from the year 2016 survive more than 200 years as has the marginalia in John Adams' books, which are currently being shown around the country in a traveling exhibit? I pondered the ephemeral nature of all things digital in this Bibliophemera blog post last year.

An interesting thread of comments follow Weinberger's thought-provoking post (Joho link above).

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Back to the Future with Morris the Cat

Here's a curious gift inscription written on the half-title page of Morris: An Intimate Biography, by Mary Daniels:
To Mom--1965
This 1965 inscription is curious because the book was published by William Morrow & Company in 1974. Something to do with nine lives and time travel?

Monday, February 21, 2011

A Flying Tiger's inscription mystery

Here is a 1991 reprint of the 1949 Flying Tiger history, Way of a Fighter: The Memoirs of Claire Lee Chennault, by Claire Lee Chennault, Major General, U.S. Army (Ret.); James Thorvardson & Sons, Tucson.

Chennault was commander of the 1st American Volunteer Group (AVG) of the Chinese Air Force in 1941-42, otherwise known as The Flying Tigers. Hired by the Chinese government to defend China against the Japanese, their training actually began before America's entry into the war, and just days after the the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, the Flying Tigers were flying combat missions.

I found this book at a library sale and was thrilled at what I discovered inside. The blank page preceding the title page (verso of the frontispiece) has a wonderful inscription from famed World War II ace fighter pilot for the Flying Tigers, "Tex" Hill, who flew for Chennault:
To my dear friend and fellow Fighter Pilot, a man I admire most. Thank you for the sacrifice you made for our country. All the best. "Tex" Hill

My first thought, after getting over the excitement of finding this inscription, was whose book was this? As Chennault died in 1958, he's quickly ruled out, but would have been the top contender otherwise. So who, or which fellow fighter pilot, did "Tex" Hill admire most? Perhaps some biographies of Hill would shed some light on the provenance of the Chennault book.

A few years ago on Archaeolibris, I blogged about another Flying Tigers fighter pilot named Joe Rosbert, who died in 2007 in the Houston area, where I found his signed autobiography and later Chennault's book. So I entertained the idea that the Chennault book signed by Hill could have belonged to Rosbert, but I can't find anything to connect the two in such a way that would lead to Tex Hill's inscription.

However, Tex Hill's fighter pilot experience was not limited to the Flying Tigers, so the fighter pilot in his inscription is not necessarily a Flying Tiger and maybe not even a fighter pilot he served with.

At any rate, I now have a companion book to for the Rosbert book and what looks like the beginnings of a Flying Tigers collection.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Unfinished inscription to a linksman

I don't remember ever having seen an inscription in a book that stopped mid-sentence.

In Gene Sarazen's Better Golf After Fifty (Harper & Row, 1967), I wondered if a better memory after fifty were needed, when I came across this incomplete inscription:
Dear Lindy, I've wanted to repay your many wonderful favors you
That's it. Favors you... What? We're left hanging like a putt on the lip of the cup.

It's easy to assume that Lindy didn't get the book and he didn't get repaid with this book for all his favors, whatever they were. Afterall, why give a book to someone with an incomplete gift inscription?

So what happened? Several possible scenarios come to mind.
  • The writer had a senior moment or ADD and set the book down somewhere, never to return to it.

  • The writer liked the book and kept it for himself after it occurred to him mid-sentence that he really wanted it. No need to complete the inscription at that point.

  • The writer had second thoughts about whether a cheap book was really the appropriate way to express gratitude for the many wonderful favors.

  • The writer developed a serious case of writer's block and never recovered. Too embarrassed at this point, he put the book away somewhere and years later after a house cleaning or estate sale, the book wound up in a resale shop where some blogger picked it up and wondered about the inscription started forty-something years ago.

  • The writer dropped dead after the word "you."

Whatever the reason, it is unusual, perhaps even unique in the annals of documented book inscriptions. Make that annal, singular. At present, I know of only one creative soul out there who is actually doing this: The Book Inscriptions Project

Friday, February 4, 2011

Poor Leah: A postcard for the psych chapter

What we have here is an example of written interaction with a book, not from the reader's notation, but from her mother's writing via a postcard strategically placed, one could argue, in the book. And there does appear to be a meaningful relationship between this particular book and the written message on the postcard.

A whimsically imaginative tale ensues...

A mother forgot her daughter Leah's birthday and belatedly sent her this postcard with a flimsy excuse and a lame greeting that included her activities with other family members (perhaps adding insult to injury). Poor Leah.

At least four years later, Leah was reading the book Doctors and Specialists, by Morris Fishbein, M.D. (Bobbs-Merrill, 1930). She got to the chapter, The Neurologist and Psychiatrist , and thought of her mother's postcard. Remember, the postcard was written in 1926 and the book it was found in was published in 1930. Did Leah have the postcard handy to use as a bookmark? If so, had she obsessed over it so much as to keep it within reach all that time? Or was there something even worse at play here? Did Leah's mother write the belated birthday acknowledgment (it was hardly a greeting) in 1926 and not give it to her until 1930 (it was not mailed), at the time Leah was reading Dr. Fishbein's book? If so, poor Leah all the more!

Whatever the reason, in a fine Freudian twist, a mother's late birthday remembrance marks her daughter's book some four years later at a chapter that addresses the mental health specialists.

This is how I found it (I swear!) no telling how many years or decades later. Perhaps a depressed young woman used her mother's written admission of procrastination to mark her place in a book. Or maybe she marked this particular chapter to return to for some kind of therapy necessitated by her mother's neglect.
Dear Leah, Thought I could get time to write you a letter for your birthday but I did not get time but this will let you know I thought of you and you will know we are both well & had a dinner at six o'clock for Ed & Family, Robert & Family on my Golden Wedding day they gave me a camio pin it is very pretty Love to all Mother. Will write a letter soon
Mother seems to be absorbed with herself... her party, her gift... Poor neglected Leah. And that postscript about writing a letter soon was placed at the top of the postcard upside down. Unconscious motivation (anyone?) for that choice of placement? Dr. Freud might have enjoyed this one.

I wonder (with my Freud cap on) if Leah bookmarked that chapter specifically for insight of some kind or perhaps some bookish psychotherapy? If so, she might have been disappointed, as the chapter, indeed the entire book, pokes fun at the medical and mental health specialties. To wit:
Oh for the day when there were but two types of mentality, the wise man and the nut! To-day there are as many forms of mental disturbances as there are types of streptococci. They have taken the human mind and split it into layers with the conscious at the top, then the subconscious and finally the unconscious... It was a beautiful symbolism that the high priest should have been named Freud, a name which requires only the exchange of a single letter to make it sound exceedingly doubtful.
Maybe Leah did find some relief in this chapter. Afterall, laughter, it is said, is the best medicine.