writing in the margins: vandalism or interactivity?
Books are even more holy. In our house you’ll find no dog-eared pages and never, ever has a book taken to be read in the toilet!
But contrary to the unwritten lores of my family, in recent years my father has begun defacing books. I can only imagine the inner struggle that must go on between the Virgoan twin desires of neatness and utter righteousness. One day I noticed one of the many tombs on his beloved national park had been sullied with his unmistakable handwriting. He’d taken a pen and annotated every single mistake the author made, neatly in the margin.
Coming across a defaced book in the house was a revelation. I didn’t know you were allowed to write in the margins. It was as if the world had tilted slightly. My father had become so incensed with the authors inaccuracies, that correcting them was the only option. He did not, as far as I know, actually send the notes back to the publisher. Instead the book just continues to sit innocently amongst others on the subject.
Though last month that changed. During my trip home my father handed me two foolscap pages of corrections for a different book. This one was written about the town he grew up in. Instead of sullying the edition he’d decided to send them directly to body that had commissioned the work. Each mistake was noted by quotation, page number and the correction supplied, often with references from his archive – including old copies of his high school’s own journal. From the 1940s. Page numbers included.
So this morning, lying in bed (an indescribably wonton act on a Monday morning while the rest of the world toils), I glanced at a new “healthy” cookbook I’d picked up from the local library. I was surprised to read that the author was Australian and alumni of my own profession, as I’d never heard of her.
I was only a couple of pages in and a photo showed seedling of “coz” lettuce. Not a good start. The following page spruiked the wonders of agave syrup. I checked the publishing date, 2010. No excuses because by then this highly promoted wonder food had since been relegated to the “almost as bad as high fructose corn syrup” department by most of the authors peers. And spriulina? Surely that’s not still doing the rounds in the 21st century?
Like father, like daughter - I was already itching to pick up men pen and write a few references in the margin. But it’s the fourth recipe that did me in. It’s one for rhubarb and guess what doesn’t feature in the ingredients list? Aha, rhubarb. With 4/5 of the book yet to explore, should I just take a chill pill and take it back unsullied to the library.
So here’s the deal. Do I throw the baby out with the bath water? There are some good recipes and health information amongst the inaccuracies. Should they go through to the keeper? It’s one thing to annotate in the margin if your own cookbooks. Because as far as recipes are concerned, the notes of your own experiences, the temperature and timing of your own oven, varying the amounts for your own palate – to me adds to the value of a cookbook.
Illegible teenage scrawl in my Moosewood cookbook. Indeed the sour cream cheesecake is pretty damn good subbed with tofu. Must make it again soon.
But should you deface a library book? In pen? In pencil? Is this bringing the interactivity of new media to an old format? Or is it just vandalism.
I’m leaning towards sticky notes. What do you reckon?