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Book Fair Blog

Every book has a story
Every book has a story.

Check in frequently to read the behind-the-scenes scoop on the Newberry’s popular Book Fair. The blog is maintained by “Uncle Blogsy,” otherwise known as Dan Crawford, Book Fair Manager.

Adding a Story

Not everyone who writes in a book is inscribing it as a gift. This job is not ALL “To Snooky-Ookums from Muppet T-Shirt.”

Books in languages other than English are prone to have the new words underlined, with translations in the margin. Plays often come in with one part highlighted: either we were performing that role or writing a paper on it. (Plays which have been acted can usually be recognized because whole sections will be crossed out. For classroom use, this is merely wishful thinking.)

Books of essays or short stories often have annotated tables of contents, anything from grading each selection to a simple mark to show which ones have been read (or assigned.) Crossword puzzle books, sudoku books, and books of mazes have obvious temptations for the reader with a pen.

And, of course, any book is liable to underlining, or to highlighting, or to sidelining. I don’t know if sidelining is the technical term for it, but it is one of the least annoying forms of marking a text: the vandal draws a simple line in the margin wherever the text should be especially noted. People who do this tend to do it in pencil, too, which makes it even easier to ignore.

But sometimes, people get carried away. An uncle of mine owned a large Mark Twain anthology in which the previous owner had worked hard with a pencil, underlining virtually every line. “It’s fairly annoying,” he said. “But sometimes when I feel ambitious I get an eraser and clean up a page or two.”

Just in, however, is a book which took special effort. I knew it was the type when I saw that the front free endpaper bore no fewer than four inscriptions: one to the owner from the donor, one to the donor from the owner, one by the owner to any subsequent reader about how the book was, and one by the donor after the owner’s death. This was a group which LIVED with its books.

The book is a reference book covering a wide range of subjects, presented in one-paragraph tidbits. The owner underlined here and there in some paragraphs. In the majority of cases, he has underlined every sentence in the paragraph. And in special cases, he has put brackets around the paragraph. You could go through this book and tell what sorts of things interested him, even without the marginal notes.

What? He made marginal notes as well? Of course, he did.

I have not perfectly deciphered his system. On quite a number of these paragraphs, he has written “NOTE”. At the outset, I did wonder why you would tell yourself to note a paragraph which you have just totally underlined, but as I progressed, I understood that not all underlined paragraphs are created equal. Some, though worthy of complete underlining, are not worthy of a marginal note, even “NOTE”.

Some paragraphs rate a “Smart!”, while others get a “Stupid!” There are occasional question marks and exclamation points, and once in a while he will provide a lengthy gloss on the text, at one point noting that he could have written that particular anecdote better than the author. More deadly, in a collection of interesting tidbits, is his note after one story: “So what?”

The story told in the notes is much meatier than the one on the printed page. There is even a moment of suspense, on the page where he writes that he cannot see to read any more and thinks it unfortunate that he should go blind on his son’s birthday. This seems to be a passing phase, as it is not the last dated note in the book. (Yeah, sometimes he’d also mark in the day he was reading the paragraph.)

In general, we throw away books which are so marked up. I may charge double for this one: you’re getting two books for the price of one.


Ahh, that sounds delightful. Have you looked at the new book (stocked at the Newberry Bookstore, I noticed) by Ander Monson, "Letter to a Future Lover: Marginalia, Errata, Secrets, Inscriptions, and Other Ephemera Found in Libraries"? I think you would really enjoy it.

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