Funny how things change as you age. Perhaps it’s the realisation that life’s too short, and, really, it’s not that much of a bother.

When I was at school, I disliked marginalia with a passion. It was sacrilegious, almost.  I hated it to the extent that, when I was studying To Kill a Mockingbird, I made all the notes in pencil, so I could rub them out after the exam.

opened book with pink note bookmark
Photo by Dominika Roseclay on

I’d had a bad experience with Pride & Prejudice. The copy we had had been someone’s exam copy, and there were notes all the way through. Some of them linked to scenes and events which hadn’t happened yet, which rather spoilt it for me. Because, of course, I was reading the notes as well. I find it hard to ignore writing.

Now, though, I think it’s less sacrilegious; there are degrees of scribbles. For personal use, anyway. I still don’t think I’d want to buy fiction with someone else’s marginalia in it.

Fiction, for reading and enjoying and escaping – scribbles remain a no-no. They distract from the pleasure of escape, and bring you back to reality. Besides, I rarely have a pen to hand when I’m reading. Cup of tea or hot chocolate, yes; pen, not so often.

Fiction, for studying or purposes other than entertainment – make your notes. It’s easier to see your thoughts if they’re on the page with the original text, than if they’re in a list elsewhere. Easier to remember them and what they mean, too.

Non-fiction – scribble away. I’ve found that it’s really rather therapeutic to underline things and write snarky notes if something’s incorrect. Previously, I’d have just chucked the book across the room with a snort. Or it reinforces something which chimes with you. Helps you to remember important points.

I have a faint feeling of regret at the loss of my Mockingbird marginalia. I could have just got another copy for simple enjoyment.

How do you feel about the scribbles in the margin? Are you for or against?