What if we printed our books and wrote our essays right up to the very edges leaving no margin? Wouldn’t that be a much a better use of our space. Why waste all that good white paper around the edges?
I know. I know. The book publishers out there will tell me it’s easier on the eyes, better for binding, and cleaner for copy to leave a margin. But there is a better reason: it’s jotting room. A place to make note, respond, or converse with the author, whom you may imagine is sitting there with you, reading or speaking these printed words to you.
Apparently, I am not the first to discover this and even to value this. There is actually a project called Book Traces which is seeking books with notes in the margin or entries in blank space or even with things shoved in them for safe-keeping. As libraries go digital, these treasures are in danger of being lost. They are asking for help:
Thousands of old library books bear fascinating traces of the past. Readers wrote in their books, and left notes, pictures, letters, flowers, locks of hair, and other things between their pages. We need your help identifying them because many are in danger of being discarded as libraries go digital. Books printed between 1820 and 1923 are at particular risk. Help us prove the value of maintaining rich print collections in our libraries.
Ironically, the books they are particularly trying to save – pre-copyright books published before 1923 – do not qualify as rare or fit for special collections, because they are considered damaged because of their marginalia. I would call them personalized, but to find their personality each has to be opened and examined.
A University of Virginia English professor found a tale of lost love in a 1891 copy of Longfellow’s poetry he pulled from the shelves at the Alderman library. In it, Jane Chapman Slaughter, one of the first women to receive a PhD from the University, wrote in a blank front page,
“Our readings together were in this book, ere you went to your life of work and sacrifice, and I remained to my life of infinite yearning for your presence, the sound of your voice; a yearning never to be satisfied in this world or the next.” (more here)
Ah, books are more than printed pages. There is printing, for sure. Words lived and spoken and acted out. But those margins have purpose:
- So we can expand our thinking?
- So we can share our thoughts?
- So we can reach out to others?
- So our eyes can rest from their reading?
- So we can doodle during the Service?
Somehow, my creativity is meant to go there. I’m meant to be a bit more adventuresome, to try things out, squeeze it in, go sideways or up and down. Perhaps shade or circle, foot print, teardrop or floralate. (yep – just made that up) The margins let me be me, even when we are all looking at the same printed text. They let me put my signature flourish or quiet discontent in writing. After all, who will ever read them?
But what if someone did? What will they say to those who never knew me? Perhaps more than I would say, were I to be standing there wearing my most honest, politically correct and socially acceptable face. There, in the margins, I stand exposed.
Regrettably, so much of my life is pushed to the very edges, leaving no margin, no room for error, no padding, and no comfort zone. There is no room left for whatever might come along.
What if I treated margin as it’s meant to be treated, not as extra room to fill, but extra space for extending?
- Time for someone who needs it.
- Patience for a child who deserves it.
- Calm for a body that rests in it.
- Quiet for a mind that expands in it.
Then in the end, in the very end, there will be room around the edges, just enough for the affixing of our frames in the banquet hall of masterpieces. We will be not only justified by our typewriters, but by our Lord. Oh, our words do echo through the generations, perhaps because the Word Himself left a margin for us.