Annotating Manifold Texts

When I was younger I used to keep my books perfectly clean. I’d certainly never write in them.

Maybe it was because many of my books were loaned from school. Library books, sure, but also the ones where you’d be told to put a paper cover on it and write your name in the front so you could be found if your textbook was revealed to teachers as defaced. Even when I was in college and had to buy my own books I didn’t like to write in them — even when others had because I’d bought used copies.

That’s not true anymore. I annotate the heck out of my books. Seriously. Sometimes I have more notes than there is text on the page! Sometimes they’re dumb comments (you’d be surprised how often I write “this is dumb” in a margin or “WTF???”. Sometimes though I make interesting connections or predictions.

Usually, I forget about these in-the-moment notes until I have to go back and write about a work. Then I find it filled with my notes, thoughts, and ideas that I’d forgotten about. The passages I thought were the most important? Marked! And with my thoughts. It’s incredibly helpful (and occasionally funny) to see annotations I’ve made.

That’s why I’d like you to get in the habit of annotating your texts. You don’t have to continue the practice outside of this class, but for now try it. We’re using Manifold for (most) of our texts, an app that makes highlighting and writing notes very easy to do. On each assignment for a new text you’ll be asked to “READ AND ANNOTATE,” which means read and make notes as you go along. You’ll see the notes from your fellow classmates (and sometimes other classes) as well. These notes are helpful to the person who made them but there’s no reason you should ignore them. Your notes might help someone else, too.

So what should you annotate? The easy answer is anything. Seriously. Whatever strikes your fancy. If there’s a line that just rolls off the tongue and sounds good in your ears, you might highlight it. Or you might make a note: “!!!” or “Great line!” If a line confuses you, you might write in a note what you think is happening and hope another reader will help clarify the situation for you, after reading your question. You might fill in definitions of words (you may not know, for instance, that ague is the 19th-century word for malaria, or that consumption is tuberculosis, or (not move away from diseases) that a phaeton is a type of two-wheeled horse-drawn carriage. You might also write in theories or brief notes about symbols or predictions of what will happen.

Follow this link for specific instructions on how to annotate a Manifold text:

The benefit of annotation is that you don’t have to remember everything you’re thinking as your reading. That’s a big deal. How many phone numbers do you remember? Probably not many because you trust you phone to remember them. This is the same principle. Let your book, in this case a digital one, be your memory. The best part about collaborating on annotation, as we’ll be doing in this class is that everyone’s notes can be a benefit.

If your shy, don’t sweat it. Hopefully your username is something anonymous, so no one will know who you are. I won’t be grading you on your annotations, although if I see some that really blow my socks off, it’s hard to imagine I won’t reach out to that person an say “right on!”

There’s no right or wrong way to annotate. These are notes primarily for you. If you like complete sentences, go for it. If you dash off key words, go for it. If links to Wiki articles or other online resources are helpful, post them. You’ll always have access to these works and notes, so you can do whatever you want.

I’ll end with this poem about annotation:


By Billy Collins

Collins. Billy. “Marginalia.” Poetry, (Jan. 1996), pp. 249-251.

Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.
If I could just get my hands on you,
Kierkegaard, or Conor Cruise O’Brien,
they seem to say,
I would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head.

Other comments are more offhand, dismissive –
‘Nonsense.’ ‘Please! ‘ ‘HA! ! ‘ –
that kind of thing.
I remember once looking up from my reading,
my thumb as a bookmark,
trying to imagine what the person must look like
why wrote ‘Don’t be a ninny’
alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.

Students are more modest
needing to leave only their splayed footprints
along the shore of the page.
One scrawls ‘Metaphor’ next to a stanza of Eliot’s.
Another notes the presence of ‘Irony’
fifty times outside the paragraphs of A Modest Proposal.

Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers,
Hands cupped around their mouths.
‘Absolutely,’ they shout
to Duns Scotus and James Baldwin.
‘Yes.’ ‘Bull’s-eye.’ ‘My man! ‘
Check marks, asterisks, and exclamation points
rain down along the sidelines.

And if you have managed to graduate from college
without ever having written ‘Man vs. Nature’
in a margin, perhaps now
is the time to take one step forward.

We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
and reached for a pen if only to show
we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
we pressed a thought into the wayside,
planted an impression along the verge.

Even Irish monks in their cold scriptoria
jotted along the borders of the Gospels
brief asides about the pains of copying,
a bird signing near their window,
or the sunlight that illuminated their page-
anonymous men catching a ride into the future
on a vessel more lasting than themselves.

And you have not read Joshua Reynolds,
they say, until you have read him
enwreathed with Blake’s furious scribbling.

Yet the one I think of most often,
the one that dangles from me like a locket,
was written in the copy of Catcher in the Rye
I borrowed from the local library
one slow, hot summer.
I was just beginning high school then,
reading books on a davenport in my parents’ living room,
and I cannot tell you
how vastly my loneliness was deepened,
how poignant and amplified the world before me seemed,
when I found on one page

A few greasy looking smears
and next to them, written in soft pencil-
by a beautiful girl, I could tell,
whom I would never meet-
‘Pardon the egg salad stains, but I’m in love.’

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