Marginalia, Zuckerberg and Unpacking My Library

The December 15th issue of The New Yorker included an interesting little article about marginalia–the comments people scribble in books, even sometimes in (horrors!) library books. The article presents numerous examples, including the words Pierre de Fermat wrote in his copy of Diophantus’ Arithmetica in 1637, next to an elementary problem of number theory:  “I have discovered a truly marvellous [sic] proof which this margin is too narrow to contain.”  It took another 350 years for the theorem his notes inspired to be proved.
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“Books allow you to fully explore a topic and immerse yourself in a deeper way than most media today. . . .  I’m looking forward to shifting more of my media diet towards reading books.”  This seems not an unusual sentiment, until the writer is revealed: Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook. Book publishers are hoping that the books Zuckerberg mentions online will receive the same “bump” as Oprah’s selections enjoyed.  He plans to emphasize “different cultures, beliefs, histories and technologies.”
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You might find interesting a 2011 Yale University Press book edited by Leah Price entitled Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books.  It is primarily photos of the book shelves of a number of literary writers, and their comments about their book collections.  From the introduction, comes this observation:  “The Strand bookstore in New York sells books by the yard to set designers and interior decorators alike.”  Since visitors taking down a book might guess from its pristine condition that you’ve never read it, the Strand will send you books “ready-rubbed”, roughed up by an “expert handler.”  Depending on what you want to pay, your books may be dog-eared, highlighted, written in, stained, and/or bookmarked with theater tickets; those “mauled savagely” cost the most. (Unpacking My Library is not in the Longmont Library catalog, but there is another by Ms. Price intriguingly titled How To Do Things With Books in Victorian Britain.)
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*Written by Carol Cail — Read more from Carol at carolcail.com
*Originally published in March 2015

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