What I’m about to say might make you grit your teeth. Clench your fist. Or even pick up a crow bar …
I want to show you why marking in a book 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.
The point of reading 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. Marking in it helps you do that.
Now, you might compare the idea of writing in a book to a suggestion that we should rip out the chrysanthemums from your garden. Uproot the lemongrass and lavender. Or pluck your prize-winning cherry tree out with a winch hitched to a dually.
But that couldn’t be further from the truth. So relax.
In this roughly 6-minute episode you’ll discover:
- Five good reasons to write in a book
- The number one reason you should go to the trouble of writing in a book
- Ten simple ways to write in a book
- The kind of books you never mark
- The three kinds of readers (and the two you should never be)
The Show Notes
The Shocking Way to Master Any Book
Demian Farnworth: Howdy friend, you are listening to Rough Draft, your daily dose of essential web writing advice. I am Demian Farnworth, your host, your muse, your digital recluse, and the Chief Content Writer for Copyblogger Media.
Welcome. And thank you for spending the next few minutes of your life with me.
The Three Kinds of Readers (and the Two You Should Never Be)
There are three kinds of book owners in the world.
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.
Now, what I’m about to say might make you grit your teeth. Clench your fist. Or even pick up a crow bar.
You might compare the idea of writing in a book to a suggestion that we should rip out the chrysanthemums from your garden. Uproot the lemongrass and lavender. Or pluck your prize-winning cherry tree out with a winch hitched to a dualy baby!
But that couldn’t be further from the truth. So relax.
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.
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.
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. Plus, these marks help you recall ideas and concepts you’ve already read, but probably forgotten, if you’re going in for a second time.
4. Writing in books 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.
How Does This Approach Differ from Speed Reading?
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 Patterson in a night because these are light, superficial readings.
On the other hand, you linger on the poems of John Donne. Repeatedly grind a rut with a pencil into the first four pages of Ulysses. And laboriously fill the margins of a chapter like “No More Room in the Box” from Rosser Reeve’s Reality in Advertising with notes.
The Number One Reason You Should Go to the Trouble of Writing in a Book
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. So let me give you some obvious and not-so-obvious tips on how to do just that.
10 Simple Ways to Write in a Book
1. Circle interesting words.
2. Underline interesting sentences.
3. Write questions or comments in the margins.
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 or back of the book.
8. Summarize the main idea of the book in the blank pages at the back.
9. Or you can summarize some of the supporting ideas.
10. And finally you can create an index of topics, books or ideas for future exploration.
And don’t forget about your sticky notes. Apply liberally.
The Kind of Books You Never Mark
And let me close with this. If the idea of writing in a book is just too much for you to handle … if it seems to violate an entrenched principle your family established before the Civil War … then at least use a blank sheet of paper — one folded fold longwise in a trifold to use as a bookmark — and take liberal notes.
The principle is to take notes. To pay attention. To master the book. But I must tell you. Not every book deserves this treatment. There are some books you can blaze through.
But that’s for the next episode.
Until then. Take care.