Monday, May 30, 2011

writing in the margins: vandalism or interactivity?

I come from a family that has a certain reverence for the written word. My father begins his day worshipping the newspaper. It’s now delivered at 5 am and I swear the early drop off is the cause of his insomnia. He can’t bear to think of all that paper and ink sitting out on the drive in the cold.

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?

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Anonymous Lucy said...

well, with so much that needs correcting, maybe put the notes in the very front so that the librarian can find them with ease.

seriously, nothing shits a librarian more than archivally destructive sticky stuff!

umm...who the fark is the publisher?? who edits something so badly that they don't check that the rhubarb is, ya know, in the list of ingredients?

i always like coming across notes in books, but not in pen. go food nazi dad!

10:41 am  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

You're right - pencil is the way to go. Though quite frankly the thought of over the years that the acid on the sticky note may eat away at the paper is kind of appealing :) Local publisher that I've never heard of, suspect its a vanity job.

11:02 am  
Anonymous Lucy said...


i kinda like your thinking, actually...

11:24 am  
Blogger Deb K Williams said...

To this day I am a margin scrawler, but only ever in pencil. It's always so nice to see someone's hand writing in the margins, in this digital age, even if it takes a while to decipher.

4:43 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh my comment disappeared. sigh.

god bless your father.
X X Brownie

10:24 pm  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

Thanks Brownie. Bloggers been a bit toey lately (a bit like my father).

10:25 pm  
Anonymous Duncan | syrupandtang said...

For me, it's vandalism. I just can't write in a library book because it is the property of many, not one. That said, I'd be tempted to destroy the book, wear the replacement cost, but beg the library to choose something better in lieu!

Vanity publisher or international big guy/gal, proofing of cookbooks is not great... it's just insultingly obvious at the small-scale end of the spectrum.

10:40 pm  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

Oh and it didn't have an index either. Is this a growing trend in cookbooks. It's the second new one I've seen recently to omit a recipe and ingredient index, thus severely limiting the functionality of the book.

8:26 am  
Blogger steve said...

Hi AOF-I reckon its not only fine to write in a book but one is duty bound to do so. This act makes the book 'yours' imo and defines your relationship with it. What other way could any future scholar determine the relationship of the book to its owner without a few footnotes or two? Who knows, your Mossewood could fetch Gazillions in the future?
Perhaps you could call it Literary Daubism, the act of embellishing and thus re-directing the meaning of the text. In the very least you have personalized your book and given it another layer.
I hate those post-it notes. They are so transitory. Endilible marks cannot be reversed and in a world where 'refreshing ones opinion' is but a mouse click away, the weight of a pen and ink on paper is like a diary entry, a still life and a rare commodity these days

1:43 pm  
Blogger Johanna GGG said...

this reminds me of books that I used to get out of the library as a student which were covered in scrawl - in the days before the internet - which I found quite fascinating but I hated people using those fluro markers.

I would prefer pen than sticky notes in any library book I borrow - sticky notes would feel like something else I would need to look after a return and I am sure they would float off somewhere.

I grew up with a reverence for the book but I have started to appreciate just how much others notes connect me to other readers which is sometimes nice as book reading can be solitary

9:55 pm  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

Ok so the consensus is post it notes are out. Nasty. Works of satan.

Adding ink in your own hand to books enhances them but the jury is out over the vandalism/art issue if it's one you don't own?

I forgot about the ghastly highlighters Johanna. Awful awful awful!

7:46 am  
Blogger Zoe said...

Those things can be so fun to find, even on post-it notes -

9:29 pm  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

Zoe - priceless!

9:51 pm  
Blogger librarygirl said...

AOF, what would happen in my library is that the next person who borrows the book would bring it back to us the next day and report the damage. A staff member would then remove it. Then a note would go on your card about you being the potential damager and you would be QUESTIONED.
I understand your rage, but I'd email the publisher or author.
If we had to remove every book from the library due to the stupidity of the author or laziness in the publishing process, the shelves would be alot emptier!

8:16 am  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

Totally understand LibraryGirl - the book went back unsullied, as do all my library books. Venting on blogger is a much more therapeutic option :)

8:19 am  
Blogger librarygirl said...

What would we do without our blogs?
Cheaper than therapy!

8:21 am  
Anonymous Robyne said...

I can barely bring myself to write in a book, even if it is for study. I do have pencil notes in the texts I use for marketing lecturing, but as for anything else: no can do. Just not on if the book comes from the library or belongs to someone else.

PS It's probably just a typo, but perhaps your wonton would like to be wanton :)

1:49 pm  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

Robyne it's a wanton wonton :) I know typos piss us all off but maybe it's a bit like the story of the traditional Persian rugs. You know it's genuine as there will always be a flaw. The fable goes, only Allah can be perfect. Us mortals can never be. Think of my dyslexic typos as the deliberate flaw in a handmade rug.

3:24 pm  

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