Just in case you were beginning to mistake me for a methamphetamine addict who blazes through books, I thought I’d write a post to correct that picture in your mind.
In fact, I want to convince you of one of the most important rules when it comes to reading.
I want to show you why absorbing a book into your bloodstream is a good thing.
And I want to show you that unless you do this, you’re likely missing out on the best kind of reading. Let me show you what I mean.
Mutilating the Garden
Now, what I’m about to say might make you grit your teeth. Clench your fist. Pick up a crow bar.
You might compare my idea to a suggestion we rip out the chrysanthemums from your garden. Uproot the lemongrass, lavender or tarragon. Or pluck your prize-winning cherry tree out with a winch hitched to a pick up.
But that couldn’t be further from the truth. So relax.
3 Kinds of Book Owners
There are book owners who buy and never read. They worship the bestseller. They adore the elegant binding and pristine paper of a collector’s edition set. These book lovers are marked not so much by intelligence but by wealth.
Then there’s the book owner who buys but seldom reads every page of a book. More likely flirts with a few pages before setting a volume down. Like the first, his books look brand new ten years after he bought them.
Then there’s the book owner who owns a small shelf collapsing under the weight of stained, dog-eared, loose in the binding and, most importantly, scrawled-in-from-front-to-back books.
It’s that last reader who absorbs a book into his bloodstream. And it’s that last reader who I want to convince you to become.
5 Good Reasons to Write in a Book
Writing in a book isn’t a magical act. And it isn’t like destroying a garden. But it is a symbol that you’ve crossed over from owning a book to actually absorbing a book. Mortimer J. Alder compares it to buying a steak versus eating the steak…
Until it’s in your bloodstream, you’re simply keeping it cool. And until you write in a book, you don’t own it. You’re just babysitting.
So, before I give you ideas on how to mark a book up, let me show you why writing thoughtfully in your books is a good idea.
Here are five reasons:
1. Activates your mind.
Instead of being a participant who merely sits back and tries to acknowledge everything that comes at him, the mind leans forward and starts to interrogate.
2. Marks your territory.
Disgusting, but think dog, urine, fire hydrant. Going back to a book two years later after you marked it up can be so entertaining: You get to explore your thoughts, moods and passions from the past. It’s an intellectual diary.
3. Establishes a footprint.
Your scribble marks in a book tell you what ground you’ve covered in a half-read book. And they help you recall ideas and concepts you’ve read if you’re going in for a second time.
4. Teaches you how to write.
After picking apart a chapter, you naturally start to absorb that writer’s style. Important if you’re an emerging author.
5. Exposes the intangible.
Marking up a book uncovers the writer’s patterns, styles and meaning…much like an archaeologist meticulously dusting debris away from a ceramic pot buried three thousand years ago sees the design.
How Does This Approach Differ from Speed Reading?
Are you kidding me? It’s the difference between a dog swallowing a burrito versus a caterpillar systematically nibbling away at a leaf.
One’s fast. One’s slow. And one is better.
You drill through a newspaper in 15 minutes…devour a magazine in an hour…claw your way through a Kellerman in a night because these are light, superficial readings.
On the other hand, you linger on the poems of John Donne. John Owen’s Mortification of Sin in Believers. Repeatedly grind a rut with a pencil into the first four pages of Ulysses. And laboriously fill the margins of a chapter like “April Seventh, 1928” with notes.
Why Go Through All This Trouble?
The point of writing in a good book is NOT to see how many you can get through. The point is to see how many get through to you. How many you absorb into your blood.
And one of the best ways to do that is to write in it. Let me give you some obvious and no-so-obvious tips on how to do just that.
10 Tips on How to Write in a Book
1. Circle interesting words.
2. Underline interesting sentences.
3. Write questions or comments in the margin.
4. Draw arrows from the notes in the margin to the section of book the note refers to.
5. Record the page number where an idea is repeated.
6. Summarize each chapter on the blank page in between chapters.
7. Create an outline of the book on blank pages in the front of the book.
8. Summarize the main idea of the book in the blank pages at the back.
9. Summarize some of the supporting ideas.
10. Create an index of topics, books or ideas for future exploration.
If I’ve failed to convince you of writing in a book, at least use a scrap of paper to write on. A scrap of paper you keep in the book.
Writing in books: Good or bad? Easy or hard for you? What tricks do you use to mark up your books? Anything I didn’t mention? Looking forward to your thoughts.