Maybe it’s only because I’m still feeling the effects of Halloween (I feel deathly, and I’ve got a ghostly shimmer to my skin which just won’t rub off despite copious facewipes) that I’m bringing this up, but this week saw the depressing confirmation of a literary death. Perhaps it’s due to the rise of the ebook, and the demise of public libraries, but book annotations are dying out. Maybe this doesn’t seem quite a profound a literary death as Barthes ‘death of the author’, but hear me out. We should take a moment to celebrate margin minds, o-fillers, and cursive intellects.
It’s year 10, and you’ve just been handed a battered copy of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde. You flick through the dog-eared novel and, joy of joys! Someone smart has written all the notes you could possibly need to write your coursework. Hooray, this means you get to spend more time drinking in the park. There’s also a fun flick book of stick-men shooting each other drawn in the bottom right corner, which you add to throughout the term, and keeps you entertained all class.
You open a library book to find out that someone has used a pink highlighter. You’re beyond angry, particularly at the use of such an obnoxious colour and the imprudent sections this ‘annotator’ has chosen to highlight. You’re so angry that you forget all about the argument you had with your flatmate about never washing up and decide to clean the kitchen to calm down.
You’re in a second hand bookstore, looking at the poetry section. You open a copy of Keats’ letters to Fanny Brawne and discover someone (with beautiful cursive handwriting, obviously) has annotated the tome with emotional outpourings – it’s Romantic poetry in itself! You tell yourself, and all your lit-student friends that this was Keats’ own original copy. The guy with harry potter glasses who sits behind you in lectures is particularly impressed and you go for flat whites in Brew Lab.
So here’s to celebrating the joy of annotations everywhere. Even if you’re not that upset that you’re coming across fewer offensively-highlighted library books, or notations with terrible spelling, or even the purest form of literary graffitti – that of filled in ‘O’s, take a moment to revel in the nostalgia of this passing art form.