Thank you Sue Halpern for a great article on the New York Review of Books blog. Book markers, unite!!
When I saw David Foster Wallace’s annotations at the top of the blog page, it was like seeing a meal of comfort food waiting on the table, warm and familiar. I passionately love to mark up books. I have been doing it for most of my life and am now at the point where I can’t really sink deep into a book unless I have a writing device in my hand at the same time. It’s like the mind, eye and hand have to all be engaged for the magic to begin.
I’ve asked myself why this behavior appeals to me so deeply. I think of my markings as a form of map making, applying my own personal navigational sense to a text the way a previously uncharted landscape could be notated. These annotations are a kind of personal guidance system, a breadcrumb trail laid down for my future self when she needs to make her way through that part of the forest again. Going back into a book I’ve marked up years later feels like the front door was left open with instructions to just walk in.
Book marking is also a sly way of creating parity with an author, of softening the advantage he or she has of having already laid down their arguments so carefully in advance. My markings feel conversational, interactive and contributory.
Halpern’s article, What the iPad Can’t Do, actually deals with the difficulty of marking up a text when using e-books. Halpern has included a very detailed description of what one would have to do if one were to attempt to create markings on a Kindle or an iPad. Reading her ingenious but convoluted instructions of mismatched apps and gerrymandered platforms is actually kind of hilarious. And as much as I love that iPad I bought my partner Dave, I love marking up books just as much.