I believe in annotating. I believe in scribbling notes in the margin. I believe in highlighting and circling and underlining.
Annotating serves so many purposes. It is a way to reply. It becomes a conversation with both the author and yourself. Annotating cannot be passive. It demands your attention far more than just reading. It is asserting your opinions and ideas. Your annotations might agree with the author, or argue. It is an expression of yourself; you become the author of your annotations.
By annotating, you are taking ownership and making a connection with the work. You are changing the book or essay, making it personal and meaningful to you.
My favorite annotations are the subtle, significant ones. Just an underline or circle, no explanation in the margin. But they have the power to change the meaning of the sentence, maybe even the entire essay. A word may fade into the background of the writing until your circle shines a spotlight on it. That word may be the key to an allegory, an anchor between metaphor and reality.
I firmly believe that a page is far more beautiful when embellished with arrows, scribbles, sketches, highlights, questions, smiley faces, and all other manner of symbols than a page fresh from the printer can ever be.
Really, an essay is not so different than life. Annotating life means expressing yourself, beautifying, paying attention, banishing passivity, and taking ownership.
It is sad that we teach children not to annotate. We tell them not to write in books or fold over the corners. They are told that it damages the book, but really, it liberates it. They are told that it is the author’s work, but it can be theirs, too. We teach them, whether we know it or not, that they should accept exactly what they have been given, they should not challenge or improve it. They should be quiet and invisible, neither seen nor heard. They should not engage in conversation when they disagree, but instead collapse passively in front of even the weakest argument, never pointing out the counterexample or flaw of logic.
Library books especially, are to never be annotated. But why not? Annotating lets you connect with previous readers. Annotating is intensely personal, but it is also an ideal media for sharing. The fossils of a thought process are preserved. The tendrils of imagination that can never be articulated enough for sentences leave their mark in underlines and arrows. Think of all the new understandings and realizations we could get from others’ annotations.
And that is why I believe in annotating prose and poems, paragraphs and books, chapters and verses, but most of all, life.