“In getting my books,” Edgar Allan Poe wrote in 1844, “I have always been solicitous of an ample margin; this is not so much through any love of the thing in itself, however agreeable, as for the facility it affords me of penciling in suggested thoughts, agreements, and differences of opinion, or brief critical comments in general.”
A certain Mr. Wallace, of literary fame, apparently had reason to write in the spaces of whatever was at hand. But that is a matter of quite trivial pursuit compared to Kerouac’s marginalia while reading Thoreau.
For a 2010 Talk of the Town piece, Ian Frazier wrote about a trip he took to the New York Public Library to view the annotated former possessions of various literary luminaries. He took particular note of a copy of Thoreau’s “A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers,” which had been borrowed by Jack Kerouac from a local library in 1949, never to be returned. On page 227, Frazier noted a short sentence Kerouac had underlined in pencil, putting a “small, neat check mark beside it.”
The sentence: “The traveler must be born again on the road.”