Where We Live: Marginalia

Today’s Where We Live comes from J.E. Johaneman, a writer in northeast PA. He is currently working on a novel about the poet John Clare. He is a Contributing Editor at Apple Thoughts, and maintains a blog called I Write in Public. He can be found on twitter under the username dogboi.

Since I was a child, I have viewed books as sacred objects. If I bought a used book, and later discovered writing it in it, I was horrified. It was a sacrilege to highlight, underline, or write in the margins. Even in college, I copied interesting passages from my textbooks rather than writing in them.

A series of things changed my mind about marginalia. The first was the remarkable stories of people who found books that had belonged to David Markson with his marginalia inside. Then I saw copies of the books that David Foster Wallace had written in while he was alive. If two of my favorite writers thought it was worth doing, then it must be. Then I bought an e-reader, and I learned to highlight and take notes on e-books. Being able to make notes on digital books got me hooked on the idea of marginalia.

Once I got comfortable with e-book marginalia, it didn’t take me long to start writing in my physical books. Mostly, I respond to what I read(“that’s not how people talk” or “what a drama queen!”.) Sometimes I underline things that made me gasp or made me smile. Now I can’t imagine reading without marginalia. It has helped me become a more attentive reader. The ability to read mindfully is a skill that all writers need, and marginalia has made that easier for me.


The Where We Live series is chance to travel to all the different places that writers and readers live, in a deeper sense than simply geography, but the mental and emotional space they inhabit during their creative lives. Interested in contributing your own Where We Live? Check out previous entries and send us what you got.

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