What are the best (worst?) annotations you've discovered in books?

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Library books are particular treasure troves for this, as whatever you borrow can usually be guaranteed to have been in the temporary possession of at least one insane person.

Recently I read an American crime thriller which mentioned someone having connections with the IRA - and in every instance some misguided soul had carefully amended the phrase 'is he IRA?' to 'is he IRAN?.

There was also a book where the protagonist's pet dog was roundly denounced in pencil scribbles every time it appeared...

Archel (Archel), Friday, 16 April 2004 07:04 (nineteen years ago) link

i) In a bookshop in San Francisco, all the way through a copy of some Richard Brautigan book I picked up in a secondhand bookshop were written comments such as: "this paragraph reminds me of that one morning we made love and you were wearing your Rod Laver tennis shoes". Why didn't I buy it?

ii) In Stevenage Library all through the 1980s the town's Trotskyite tendency would annote books about ANYTHING with comments like "and you, you pitiful lapdog, will be first against the wall when the revolution comes."

iii) Yesterday, leafing through a friend's copy of Deleuze and Guattari's 'Nomadology', on one of the final pages: "this is USELESS to me - I am a NOVELIST".

Jerry the Nipper (Jerrynipper), Friday, 16 April 2004 09:35 (nineteen years ago) link

Annotated Lolita, the annotations are very good

Franz Kafka (Franz), Friday, 16 April 2004 15:14 (nineteen years ago) link

I have a used copy of Barth's "Lost in the Funhouse" that has um penises drawn all over the place in the uh 'sea-man'story, as if the metaphor wasn't crushingly obvious enough without pictures.

bnw (bnw), Friday, 16 April 2004 19:18 (nineteen years ago) link

I have an Ed McBain 87th Precinct novel where someone has carefully crossed out all of the words of a sexual nature. I also bought a lovely Jane Austen in a charity shop, probably Northanger Abbey, where some fool has written 'IRONY!' next to about every tenth obviously ironic phrase.

Martin Skidmore (Martin Skidmore), Friday, 16 April 2004 20:44 (nineteen years ago) link

I have a copy of F. Scott Fitzgerald's short stories in which the person who previously owned it underlined every single word he didn't know. Poor guy didn't have a particularly good vocabulary, either. And he underlines the same word in different stories. Who knew Fitzgerald used "somnolent" that often? And how many times do you have to look it up before you remember it? Some words, though, have a check mark in addition to the underlining, which I assume means the word has been conquered. Whew!

SJ Lefty, Friday, 16 April 2004 21:42 (nineteen years ago) link

My annotations, in my palegreenspined vol 2 (of 3) of Proust: with each page they grow in fury and malcontent.

the bellefox, Saturday, 17 April 2004 17:39 (nineteen years ago) link

did you decide you liked it again in volume three?

tom west (thomp), Saturday, 17 April 2004 18:42 (nineteen years ago) link

An Alexi Sayle book that I got from our local library. Every time Alexi described someone as a c*nt or shit etc someone had crossed it out and written " bad person". It was hilarious, made the book very enjoyable!

kath (kath), Sunday, 18 April 2004 00:51 (nineteen years ago) link

"some fool has written 'IRONY!' next to about every tenth obviously ironic phrase"

obviously an english lit student. I borrowed A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch from someone at work and found the paragraphs he had marked greatly increased how much I liked him and felt in sympathy with him. Which made me happy.

isadora (isadora), Monday, 19 April 2004 03:05 (nineteen years ago) link

My second-hand copy of Tristram Shandy has "EGO HEAD WANK" written on the inside cover.

My girlfirend read Howards End for A-level and wrote "umbrella symbolises insecurity" in the margin.

Mikey G (Mikey G), Monday, 19 April 2004 07:46 (nineteen years ago) link

Alas, I have not yet read volume 3. Probably I will like it less.

the bellefox, Monday, 19 April 2004 10:20 (nineteen years ago) link

best annotations:

when my grandmother died last fall, I inherited many of her books. she underlined a great deal all through her reading life and wrote comments in the margins. reading through the notes she wrote in her collection of novels, history, and art, I'm learning more about her now than I knew when she was alive. none of her annotations are critical of the reader or the subject. also none of them seem to connect ideas like some people's annotations do (e.g. "aha!" or "she sounds just like smith here" etc). they are mostly questions. I think back about all my visits to her house, where we had the most polite conversation and I tried to be a perfect, untroubled granddaughter. little did I know that surrounding us all those years of talk were bookshelves stuffed with questions.

the collection I received from her includes all of her cookbooks, which are annotated in a different way but also intimate. from her notes inside the covers of these books I have learned about her parties, her husband, her insecurities, and the fact that her quest, unresolved even after 97 years, was the perfect recipe for cornbread. I wonder about the day that she had a perfect taste of cornbread, a taste she would never be able to capture again in her own kitchen. who was she with? where? when?

slow learner (slow learner), Monday, 19 April 2004 13:24 (nineteen years ago) link

That sounds wonderful. I would love to have access some day to annotations by someone I've known, rather than just random nutters.

Cookbooks and family recipes are so amazing and idiosyncratic - I hope I'll be handing down crumb-filled and grease-stained collections to my own kids and grandkids and maybe further. Although since it's my other half who's the real cook, I might be both literally and figuratively marginal...

Archel (Archel), Monday, 19 April 2004 13:52 (nineteen years ago) link

slow learner, your post reads like a wonderful short story.

Leee O'Gaddy (Leee), Tuesday, 20 April 2004 05:14 (nineteen years ago) link

would much rather muse about life and ILB than attend to the work on my desk. but thank you anyway!

slow learner (slow learner), Wednesday, 21 April 2004 00:10 (nineteen years ago) link

Last night we found 'pornographic, misogynistic bastard!' written next a Henry Miller quote in a library copy of A Shout In The Street by Peter Jukes. I won't quibble.

Archel (Archel), Thursday, 22 April 2004 09:17 (nineteen years ago) link

this is a great thread
wish i had something to add to it

robin (robin), Thursday, 22 April 2004 22:31 (nineteen years ago) link

Not really a reply to the question, but sort of on topic: If you haven't already done so, find a copy of the Billy Collins poem "Marginalia". It is about exactly these kinds of annotations, and is absolutely my favoritest poem ever.

Caenis (Caenis), Wednesday, 28 April 2004 01:47 (nineteen years ago) link

I read my roommate's copy of "On the Road", and her annotated comments show her growing frustration and annoyance with the book. One particular grievance that he called the city "San Fran", which drives her (a Bay Area native) up the wall. My frustration and annoyance with the book was about matched with hers (though "San Fran" doesn't bother me nearly as much) and eventually the only pleasure I got was reading her annotations. I put the book down about a dozen pages after she had.

Casuistry (Chris P), Thursday, 29 April 2004 17:33 (nineteen years ago) link


that was quick!

tom west (thomp), Thursday, 29 April 2004 17:36 (nineteen years ago) link

Am reading an oldish book by Sh3rry Turkl3 about constructing identity on the Internet etc, and she refers to cybersex ocurring 'sometimes with two hands on the keyboard, sometimes only one' hemhem etc. Some grave student has noted beside this: 'room to experiment'.

This made me giggle a lot for some reason.

Archel (Archel), Friday, 30 April 2004 13:15 (nineteen years ago) link

When reading "Girl with a Pearl Earring" I noticed someone had underlined the more obscure words, such as (this is off the top of my head) window sash, turpentine, bricklayer's hod, and written the translation of them very lightly in pencil in some gorgeous eastern european looking language with lots of e's and z's. It really made me wonder who the previous reader was and what language it was, the writing being too faint to make out whole words.
I loved that poem, by the way, Casuistry.

Jocelyn (Jocelyn), Friday, 30 April 2004 13:59 (nineteen years ago) link

I found this while I was the temporary caretaker of a library at a horrible little college. (This was a place where a previous librarian had Dewey Decimalled Joyce's Dubliners under "general geography".) When I came across the following, it made my day. (Not exactly an annotation, but still...)

Inscription found in a copy of E.E. Cumming's The
Enormous Room

5 March 1963,

Dearest Bootsie,

I hope that you will love some of the people in this
book as much as I did. And maybe cry a little, too.
And that you will be happy that you have read it, and
it is yours.

Love from,

mck (mck), Friday, 30 April 2004 14:11 (nineteen years ago) link

odd, rather than good. i bought Funeral In Berlin second hand to tide me over on an 11 hour plane ride and towards the end there was one word obliterated - 'Brocks' as in the (old-skool) fireworks manufacturer.

(ha, looking up the spelling i found some pictures and Brocks were based in Hemel Hempstead which is where i bought the book. http://www.cyber-heritage.co.uk/eclipse/twone.jpg )

koogs (koogs), Friday, 30 April 2004 16:19 (nineteen years ago) link

two weeks pass...
Inside my copy of T.S. Eliot's 'Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats':

I wish I had more sense
Of humour, sometimes
Keeping the sadness at bay
Throwing the lightness on
These things
Laughing it all away....
(Joni Mitchell: "People's Parties")

To Stephen,
with love, thanks & apologies
Claire / Xx .. . .

cozen (Cozen), Sunday, 16 May 2004 21:10 (nineteen years ago) link

I once got an Ellroy novel (I think it was White Jazz) that had every swear word crossed out. Inluding blasphemy. It was almost impossibel to read and left me wondering WHY anyone so easily offended would ever consider getting an Ellroy book out. Unless they were on a crusade to stop bad language. Didn't work since my language tinged the air blue after about the tenth page.

AnankeJones, Friday, 21 May 2004 08:16 (nineteen years ago) link

Maybe that reader should consider getting out the large print versions - I read a Robert B. Parker in LP recently and every swearword was replaced by a row of dashes! I am bit shocked that the publishers of LP editions are censoring in this way - it hardly follows that every visually impaired reader is also unable to handle swearing.

Archel (Archel), Friday, 21 May 2004 08:46 (nineteen years ago) link

the library copy of Philip Roth's The Facts that I read a few months ago contained a full counter-book. all along the margin of every page some previous reader had written "Come on, Phil! A little maudlin, wouldn't you say?" Or "Boring, boring, boring - where's the sex stuff?" Hard to know what impulse held the guy as he wrote...

David Elinsky (David Elinsky), Sunday, 23 May 2004 16:26 (nineteen years ago) link

A friend gave me his copy of "Writing Past Dark" with great annotations like: "Her perky lil face annoys me"..."Amazing, she can do a two page rift on peas" (sarcasm)...and on the back cover he's written "i love you just the way you are but love you too much to let you stay that way" which has nothing to do with the book.


PeanutDuck (PeanutDuck), Sunday, 23 May 2004 16:52 (nineteen years ago) link

eighteen years pass...

In a copy of The Iron Man by Ted Hughes, written in separate pages in red pen vertically upwards next to the gutters:

WWF vs. WCW and ECW. Bras + Panties Match Up at "Invasion"
(Bras spelt Bra?^es (fourth letter scribbled out, with e written above))

HARDCORe Mat^ch Jeff hardy (?) VS Bok Van dam. Winner Bod Van Dam

Tag Math Check Columbo shaun stasjock (?) Vs APA. winers APa. Farooq and Bradshaw

the man with the chili in his eyes (ledge), Friday, 26 August 2022 11:28 (one year ago) link

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