"You can learn something about your fellow human beings from what they write in the margin."
—from Smilla's Sense of Snow by Peter Høeg
Marginal Notes on Books and Reading
by Mary Daniels Brown, Ph. D.
What You'll Find Here
I have always read a lot. There are few activities I enjoy more than getting together with other people to discuss books. That modern convocation known as the book group is one of the highest achievements of humankind, in my book. Over the years I have participated in many book groups, both face-to-face and online. I started Notes in the Margin to share my love of books and reading.
For information (more than you probably want to know) about me, see the FAQ page.
In my reviews I'll try not to include information that might spoil a book for someone who hasn't read it yet, and when I do include such information I'll try to label it with a spoiler alert. However, I make no promises, so if you're worried about spoilers you might want to avoid looking at my comments until after you've read the book yourself.
There's also a Glossary of Literary Terms that, over the years, has been one of the most popular features of Notes in the Margin.
And I've recently added a literary calendar.
I have also recently started curating, through ScoopIt, Literature & Psychology, a broad, interdisciplinary collection of items that address the many areas in which the studies of literature and psychology intersect.
Finally, you might find the Best Books Lists helpful in choosing the next book for yourself or your book group.
What You Won't Find Here
I am not a particular fan of fantasy, science fiction, romance, or horror, so you won't find many books from those genres reviewed here. I'm not saying you won't find ANY, but if those are the main kinds of books you're interested in, you might prefer to look elsewhere.
You also won't find much information about the great classic authors such as Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy, Henry James, Nathaniel Hawthorne, or William Faulkner. The reason is not that I don't think such writers are important. They are. And it's not that I don't read and reread works by these authors. I do. However, these authors have been studied and written about so extensively, both on and off the Internet, that there are already many good sources of information available about them.
How to Use This Site
You can either look for reviews of specific books or browse the reviews to look for something that will interest you.
Fiction is listed alphabetically by author's last name on the Fiction Notes page.
Nonfiction is listed by category on the Nonfiction Notes page. Each category then has a list, alphabetical by author's last name, of the books in that category. Books that fit more than one nonfiction category are linked from each category's page.
An alternative way to locate items is to click on Site Map in the navigation bar near the top of each page. That will take you to a giant listing of everything on Notes in the Margin. The list is broken down into categories, as described in the two paragraphs above, but you can see the author's name and the book's title more easily.
If you visit Notes in the Margin periodically and want to see what new material has been added since the last time you were here, you can go directly to the What's New page.
You can always return to the major sections of this site by using the navigation bar near the top of every page.
About Rating Scales
Many people like to rate books and movies with some type of scale, such as numbers from 1 (very bad) to 5 (very good). But I always have a problem using such scales. If a novel deals with some important issues but is poorly crafted, how do I rate it? Do I give it a 5 for theme and a 2.5 for craftsmanship, then average the two to determine the book's final score? I just don't feel comfortable with that. I'd rather explain in detail that the book deals with timely issues but is not well written. Most books have both good and bad points, and I try to discuss both.
However, I have labeled some books as either Recommended or Highly Recommended. If I were using a 1-5 scale, these books would be the 4s and 5s. This is just a way of pointing out what I consider to be the truly outstanding books among all the books I read.
But remember that reading is a highly individual activity. Therefore, please don't base your decision about reading a particular book on whether I've labeled it Recommended or Highly Recommended. You might absolutely love a book that I didn't much care for. This is why I try to include reasons for what I like and don't like about a particular book. Finally, keep in mind that we can learn a lot from reading even bad books. If we can explain WHY we think it's bad, we'll discover at the same time what makes a book good, and we'll appreciate the good ones more when we come across them.
About Book Formats
I listen to a lot of audiobooks. In most cases I have indicated whether I read the book or listened to it. Because I only listen to unabridged audiobooks, I consider listening to a book the same as reading it.
I have also recently starting reading some books on Amazon's e-book device, the Kindle. If I'm reviewing a Kindle edition, I'll indicate that in the book's publication information. (And no, I'm not getting any kind of kickback from Amazon for saying this. Santa brought me my Kindle for Christmas in 2007, and I upgraded to a newer version in May 2011. See "Disclosure" pane in sidebar.)