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The New York Society Library Announces a New Exhibition: Readers Make Their Mark

New York, New York ̶ The New York Society Library is pleased to present the exhibition Readers Make Their Mark: Annotated Books at the New York Society Library.

Readers Make Their Mark explores the practice of reading through the many handwritten notes left in the margins of books from the New York Society Library’s Special Collections. As modern-day readers of annotated books, we peer over the shoulders of readers past and watch them work to comprehend, analyze, or even correct printed texts. The Society Library’s Special Collections contain a rich variety of marked-up books, their blank pages and margins rife with notes from readers known and unknown over five centuries. Highlights include two books annotated by one of Queen Elizabeth’s advisers, the 16th-century alchemist John Dee; an unidentified contemporary reader’s responses to the first American edition of Emma in one of three known copies worldwide; and George Bernard Shaw’s handwritten corrections to a proof copy of his surreal comedy Too True to Be Good.

Many annotators on exhibit are unknown or obscure, but their engagement with a text tells just as much as the notes penned by more famous readers. When we read annotations, voices speak from the margins that would otherwise be silent. Sometimes we meet readers and collectors who wrote so extensively in their books that they transformed them into everything from records of their thinking to autobiographical albums. Annotators from the Library’s Winthrop and Sharaff-Sze Collections are a special focus of this exhibition, providing case studies of three individuals’ reading tastes and habits. Inky trails left in books read by Adam Winthrop (1548-1623) and then by his grandson John Winthrop Jr. (1606-1676) show how tastes in religious, political, and esoteric literature (and modes of reading) passed from one generation to another. In Mai-mai Sze’s (1909-1992) books, heavy annotations reflect her devoted study of similar topics in the eastern tradition, in addition to keen interests in translation and poetry.

This exhibition is among the first of its kind to focus explicitly on annotated books. As evidenced by recent pieces in the New York Times and the New Yorker, interest in annotations has grown substantially in recent years. Digital projects to track readers’ responses to texts, such as Annotated Books Online, Book Traces, and The Archaeology of Reading in Early Modern Europe, have all drawn attention to the ways that annotations assist scholars in their efforts to better understand the reading practices of the past.

This exhibition was co-curated by Frederic Clark, Madeline McMahon, and Erin Schreiner. Erin Schreiner is the Library's Special Collections Librarian; Frederic Clark is a post-doctoral fellow and lecturer at Stanford University; Madeline McMahon is a Gates Cambridge Scholar at the University of Cambridge.

The exhibition will be open February 5-August 15, 2015 in the Peluso Family Exhibition Gallery at the New York Society Library, 53 E. 79th Street, New York City.

For more information about the exhibition and the Library’s annotated book collections, visit www.nysoclib.org/events/annotated-books.

About The New York Society Library
The New York Society Library, the oldest in the city, was founded in 1754 by a civic‐minded group formed in the belief that the availability of books would help the city prosper. A subscription library, it now contains more than 300,000 volumes, reflecting the reading and scholarly interests of its members over the last 260 years. For more information, visit www.nysoclib.org.