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Part of the nature of a used book store is that the books are, well, used. While we only buy books that are in good condition, we often take in books that people have highlighted, underlined, taken notes in, doodled in, etc.

There are a lot of you out there who really love buying those books! We’ve had people tell us that they love to see what the previous owner highlighted. It feels like you’re getting to know someone, and it gives you a whole new way of looking at the book.

Well love it or hate it, it turns out these notes and doodles actually have a name, and they’re part of a rich historical context.

It would seem that for nearly as long as people have been writing things down, other people have been writing in their margins. Early bible manuscripts have marginalia that helped priests with their homilies. And tons of famous writers have crammed the books that they own with marginalia. David Foster Wallace, for example, seems to virtually “carry on a conversation" with the authors of his books.

And maybe next time, you’ll look differently at the notes scrawled in the margins of a book.

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