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Readers Writing in Books

H. J. Jackson

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From Pierre de Fermat to Samuel Taylor Coleridge to Graham Greene, readers have related to books through the notes they write in the margins. In this pioneering book—the first to examine the phenomenon of marginalia—H.J. Jackson surveys an extraordinary range of annotated books to explore the history of marginalia, the forms they take, the psychology that underlies them, and the reactions they provoke.

Based on a study of thousands of books annotated by readers both famous and obscure over the last three centuries, this book reveals the intensity of emotion that characterizes the process of reading. For hundreds of years, readers have talked to other people in the margins of their books—not only to authors, but also to friends, lovers, and future generations.

With an infectious enthusiasm for her subject, Jackson reflects on the cultural and historical value of writing in the margins, examines works that have invited passionate annotation, and presents examples of some of the most provocative marginalia. Imaginative, amusing, and poignant, this book will be treasured by—and maybe even annotated by—anyone who cares about reading.

H. J. Jackson is professor of English at the University of Toronto.

A Selection of The Reader’s Subscription

“Jackson zooms in with forensic assiduity on the now no longer marginal subject of the physical annotation of books. Her study is an utterly fascinating blend of evidence and implication; we take away an almost visceral appreciation of the dynamics of reading.”—Sven Birkerts

“A smart and entertaining study of people writing in books.”—David Gates, Book Forum

“[A] must read.”—Alex Beam, Boston Globe

“The scribbles, symbols, notes, and questions that all of us, at one time or another, have written in our books are here explored in careful and scholarly detail.”—Tara Neelakantappa, Boston Review

“A delightful combination of enthusiasm and humor. . . . The result is a carefully researched, carefully written, carefully organized book that will give many readers a new way of looking at the history and the dynamics of reading.”—Charles Paolino, East Brunswick Home News Tribune

“[Jackson] is able to convince us that here [in marginalia] is a rich resource for historians of reading. . . . But the warmth and humour of Marginalia reach beyond to the lay reader, who is often tempted to risk scholarly indignation and scribble in [the book’s] pages, ‘how true.’”—Economist

"[A] buoyant, clever study."—Ludovic Hunter-Tilney, Financial Times

"Anyone who has ever underlined, highlighted or taken notes in the margins of a book (and that is everyone) will find this book a thought-provoking insight into a very common but little understood phenomenon that has a universal relevance for all readers and annotators alike."—Mark McGrath, Irish Times

“This fascinating study is recommended for literary collections.”— Library Journal

“Jackson describes Marginalia as an introductory anthology, the ‘greatest hits’ of the genre. It has considerable potential crossover appeal for nonacademic bibliomaniacs--much like Princeton historian Anthony Grafton’s The Footnote, another volume about para-texts . . . Jackson’s analysis offers a challenge within the domain of study called history of the book. . . . [She] makes a strong argument for marginalia as the most tangible reminders of how deeply books leave their imprint on us (and vice versa).”—Scott McLemee, Lingua Franca

“Jackson’s book, like the volumes she surveyed, is filled with delightful discoveries. . . . A pioneering effort in the exploration of this subject. . . . Jackson has reminded scholars that what may seem trifles can provide insights into an author’s reception the thoughts of a reader, the attitudes of an age. In the process, she has produced a charming addition to the history of the book.”—Magill’s Literary Annual 2002

“Jackson’s Marginalia has done for marginalia what Anthony Grafton’s The Footnote did for footnotes. Henceforth we should all take a more informed interest in the scribbles that we find inside many battered books. The scribbles may be riches.”—Frank Kermode, New Republic

“Jackson has made an original contribution to the study of reader-response, and marked out a path for others to follow. But much of the time she also allows her literary instincts free play, and it is her feeling for books and authors that gives Marginalia most of its charm.”—John Gross, New York Review

Marginalia is a gold mine of information about books in general, with useful and detailed description of terms like ‘extra-illustrated’ and ‘grangerized’; summaries, punctuated by lively quotations, of various books and articles on reading and books; and so on. Anyone seriously interested in books can profit immensely from a careful reading of this brilliant wide-ranging study. It more than repays our reading, whether or not we annotate our copies of a book whose design and illustrations enhance the text.”—Sewanee Review

“Jackson . . . has produced nothing less than a thrilling, thought-provoking monograph. Her sense of literary provenance, authorship, forensic insight, and the multiple levels of inference, propel this book to the forefront of scholarly imagination. This is most valuable work of methodology in action. . . . Jackson has accomplished a mighty feat in the history of reading by coordinating thousands of shards of marginalia into a cohesive, informative, well-written, and enjoyable study. . . . I say with respect and sincerity, H.J. Jackson is a reader’s reader.”—Oliver B. Pollak, SHARP News

“Jackson reveals not only the scholarly virtues of sensitive classification and discriminating judgment in this delectable book; she reveals also the ability to be surprised and delighted, and she conveys that delight with clarity and wit rare in an academic work.”—Fredric Koeppel, The Commercial Appeal

"A captivating study of the emotions and psychology of the act of reading—and thought—itself."—The Herald (Glasgow)

“This book provides a comprehensive, scholarly, yet entertaining look at marginalia, based on the author’s examination of more than 2000 annotated books in public and academic libraries. . . . This book may not convert us all, but it certainly succeeds in widening our view of books and their readers. Even those readers who don’t mark their own books will probably now look with greater interest and discernment at the markings in books they come across.”—Clare Imholtz, The Indexer

“Of several books on reading, this one, a study of the textual graffiti that has occupied many great literateurs, is the most intriguing.”—Martin Levin, Toronto Globe and Mail

“[A] pleasure to read, it ought to persuade all but the most curmudgeonly skeptics that marginalia, far from being eye-offending mutilations, may be a rich and various source of instruction and delight.”—Kevin Jackson, Toronto National and Financial Post

"Magisterial."—Library Journal

“A lucid and lively foray into the history of reading. Attacking a formidably long period, and a remarkably wide range of materials, H. J. Jackson sheds new light on literary and intellectual history by showing how a diverse range of readers have reacted to, and interacted with, printed books. Jackson’s book has no rivals and few counterparts.”—Anthony Grafton, Princeton

‘HJ Jackson has written an absorbing and deeply informed study… She writes with a wry and humane intelligence and this is a fine book, not only an authoritative piece of literary sociology but also a winning study of life’s little ironies’—Seamus Perry, Literary Review.

‘In her extended meditation on the formation of the literary canon…Jackson proposes a new model for explaining how some authors remain perennially popular. She argues convincingly that to do so a work has to appeal to a variety of readerships.’—Jane Darcy, THES

Selected by Choice as an Outstanding Academic title for 2001.

Finalist for the 2001 National Book Critics Circle Award in the category of Criticism.
ISBN: 9780300097207
Publication Date: September 10, 2002
336 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
11 b/w illus.
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