Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Putting Dots in the Margins of Books

Here is a post on Nicholson Baker's reading habits—or rather it is about the similarity of the blog-writer's own reading habits and those of Nicholson Baker, who
When I come across something I really like in a book, I put a little dot in the margin. Not a check, not a double line—these would be pedantic—but a single, nearly invisible tap or nudge of the pen-tip that could almost be a dark flick in the paper.
and
I also write the numbers of the marked pages in the back. Then—and this is the most important part—at some later date, sometimes years later, I refer to the page numbers, locate the dots, and copy in a spiral-bound notebook the passages that have awaited my return.
There are also references to other authors and their practices.

I follow a similar method, but I underline the passages, mark the pages that have underline passages, and then transcribe or summarize the important points in ConnectedText. Why don't I use the electronic form right away. A lot of my reading takes place on the "T" — one hour to the office, one hour to go back home. The practice of marginal dots seems to be going back a long time, that is, to the time even before the printed book.

The blog contains much about the author's ideas about "commonplacing." His ideas do not always accord with the results of my research and thinking—some of which can be found in this blog.

1 comment:

JWS02459 said...

Though I used to underline, since I started using a portable pen scanner (the IRIS Executive, which produces good results) I've avoided it on pragmatic grounds: underlinings greatly compromise the IRIS's ability to do OCR conversions. I've shifted to placing lines in the margin, making sure to keep them a fair distance away from the text (otherwise the IRIS picks them up as the letter "i" or as a "/"). In the case of library books, this makes erasing easier.

The problem I could see with dots in the margin would be that it might not be immediately obvious just how much of the text was allegedly important. But I suppose there might be a virtue in that: it would compel me to reread the area around the dot to see whether I might have missed something.

I wasn't always this chaste in my underlining: I spent the morning looking at a book that I first read back in the 1980s and have reread several times since then — almost everything is now underlined!