The University of Texas at Austin acquired a bevy of books, letters, manuscripts and random scraps of paper belonging to the late writer David Foster Wallace last spring. Now, the university is starting to post its scans of the author’s notes and scribblings on the Internet:


It’s a researcher’s paradise…


And a librarian’s nightmare.


I love to write in the margins of paperback books, but I usually can’t bring myself to mark up a new hardback. Last week, I almost bought a first-edition, autographed copy of Michael Cunningham’s new book, By Nightfall. I didn’t because I knew I would be too tempted to underline his beautiful prose. Now I’m waiting for the paperback.

One of my friends deals with the guilt factor by using post-it notes to mark important passages instead. Another friend marks at will, rereads the book later, and writes in the margins again.

What about you?

(Above scans of Wallace’s books from the University of Texas.)


18 Comments on Do you write in the margins?

  1. I love writing in books, but as long as they are not first editions of course. I think if you re-read a book after being noted, it's amazing what you teach yourself! Such a great buy.

  2. I write, and underline and comment, and put esclamation marks and question marks! It is a need to interact, to contribute, to discuss, to clear things in your head. Thanks for posting this. Follow the author!

  3. I underline more than anything and have been known to argue in the margin with a point the author is making. But I've never done it to the degree you've shown. I'd love to buy a used book and find all that scribbling. It'd be as much fun reading that as the actual book!

    I love your blog!

  4. I've never written in the margins of any of my books, not even text books. I should try it sometime though!

  5. Great post! I love this about DFW. I got over writing in the margins after I returned to school but have yet to draw on faces:)

  6. Hi-hi Tina darling!
    You may want to use postit notes, they do come in different sizes now!
    But somehow I do admire those scribbles shown here~ such characters, no?

    xo as always*

  7. Yes, absolutely!! I must have a pen or pencil in my hand at all times when I'm reading!! This is a beautiful find. There is something so intimate about reading what others have written in the margins. I love used books for this reason!!

  8. I write some, but when I buy old books i *always* look for notes. I picked up a book on mixed drinks from the early 1960's at the Country Living Fair a month ago with some of the best recipes written in the margins!

  9. I love seeing the notes others have left when I buy second hand books, so sometimes I do, but I'm more likely to turn the corners down on the pages where the words have really grabbed me. And that seems worse somehow!

  10. I've definitely done that one time or another. Especially when I find a stanza or paragraph I love, I have to make a note of it :)

    (Moon Face)

  11. I can't help myself from writing in my books. It's nice to come back and see what you thought the first time around.

  12. Post-it notes…

    I'm embarrassed by notes I took in some books. Then I bought a few used poetry books, a novel by an ex. I lol at some of the comments. Some were spot-on & trenchant. Others, oh dude. So clueless. In case I have to sell my books to eat, I'm keeping my idiocy on Post-its. 'Cause I can be a doofus, too.

    I know, it surprises me as well:)

  13. YES I write in book margins–Having one of my favorite juicy gel pens at the ready and then scribbling comments enhances the tactile feel of interacting with books (which is why I'll never be a Kindle owner). It also makes me feel more engaged with the author (no matter how long dead) and reduces the degrees of separation from that illustrious personage. And it makes me feel just slightly haughty when I correct some editing error that nobody (who gets PAID for this) caught.

  14. Ooh, it's too painful to write all over a book! Nope, for me it all goes in a little notebook (preferably one with a fancy cover!). Funnily enough though, I do love coming across other people's notes!!

  15. Its such a librarians nightmare, but I bet it would be fun to read it..

    I only write on textbooks. If I have to annotate a book, i use post-its! ha.

  16. I don't write in books, like ever, but I love it when I find other people's notes in books I read. A boy gave me a book once that he read in middle school and there were some great doodles he forgot he ever did. Instead, I take lots of notes in my journal, or on notecards if I don't have it with me.

  17. I'm a vicious underliner/column writer when I have a pen handy…other times I get too absorbed in the reading and forget to mark those passages that have thoroughly pulled me in.

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