Book club

An ode to scribbles in the margins

Grace Schutte

More stories from Grace Schutte

May 10, 2023

Photo by Delia Brandel

It has come to my attention that there has been a grave mistake: I haven’t written about book annotations yet. 

Oh my. Oh no. How could I? How dare I withhold such delectable information, such scrumptious conversation from you all? 

Rest assured, you can get your fix here — wait no longer. 

So, annotations. We’ve all done them for class and with much reluctance. I know because I was right there with you, underlining random passages and writing “interesting” in the margins to keep up appearances that I was jiving with Henry David Thoreau and his transcendentalism

Back in middle school, I was publicly humiliated by my seventh-grade social studies teacher when he showed my annotations as an example of what not to do. Were they pretty lackluster at the time? Sure. But still. 

To any future educators out there, don’t do this, and if you do, be ready to face the consequences. Mr. Buchanan didn’t know it at the time, but his actions that day led to the creation of a powerful creature, the likes of which he had never seen before. 

He is the Victor Frankenstien to my monster. Really, it’s him you have to blame for what I have become: a book-annotating fiend. 

Now, you’re probably wondering what my annotations look like, exactly. Am I one of those people with the multicolored tabs spilling out? Are the pages coated in translucent sticky notes? Do I have an army of highlighters on hand at all times?

No. I am not this type of annotator. 

Rather, my system — if you can even call it that — is much simpler. 

I am a black pen kind of gal; a star-er of passages; a braketer of paragraphs; a dogear-er of pages. I underline sentences and write emphatic exclamation points. I scribble oh-my-god’s and what???’s and slay!’s in the margins. 

This is the type of annotator I am. 

And I do it. All. The. Time. 

I’m the literary purist’s worst nightmare. Every book I manage to get my hands on leaves with a little bit of me somewhere within its pages — which I think is only fair, considering what they leave me with. 

What I love about annotations is how they encourage folks to interact with the text in a more engaged and conscious way. It’s such a joy to go back and revisit those notes years after they were written. 

Sometimes I leave little timestamps in my books, like this one from when I was reading “Circe” by Madeline Miller while studying abroad: “Timestamp: 20:01, Sat. 16, April 2022, Valladolid, Spain — Crying outside Sesentta because of this (freaking) book.” 

I lent my copy to a friend, and while she didn’t write in it, she definitely saw all my scribbles. I think there’s something beautiful about that. Like a mini book club or exchange within the pages. How wholesome and sweet is that?

Now, not all annotations are meant to be shared, of course, but I do like to post the highlights every once in a while. It’s like giving a review, but with fewer words. 

While annotating for fun may seem like a chore, I find that it can be an absolute joy — I always make sure I have a pen nearby while reading (that and my chapstick, because I am an addict). 

I encourage you to give it a try. Who knows, maybe you’ll like it.

Schutte can be reached at [email protected].