Thursday, December 28, 2006

How to Mark a Book

I found this interesting article by Mortimer Adler on Maureen Wittmann's blog. I have definitely become a "book-marker" myself over the years (especially helpful in preparing reviews). I used to limit it only to paperback books, but I discovered while reading The Everlasting Man (we have an old hardcover edition, though not particularly fancy) that with some books, underlining and marking key phrases is essential to my comprehension (particularly when the frequent distractions present in my home).

When I do mark a book, I do most of the following (quoted from the above-linked article):

  • Underlining (or highlighting): of major points, of important or forceful statements.
  • Vertical lines at the margin: to emphasize a statement already underlined.
  • Star, asterisk, or other doo-dad at the margin: to be used sparingly, to emphasize the ten or twenty most important statements in the book. (You may want to fold the bottom comer of each page on which you use such marks. It won't hurt the sturdy paper on which most modern books are printed, and you will be able take the book off the shelf at any time and, by opening it at the folded-corner page, refresh your recollection of the book.)
  • Numbers in the margin: to indicate the sequence of points the author makes in developing a single argument.
  • Numbers of other pages in the margin: to indicate where else in the book the author made points relevant to the point marked; to tie up the ideas in a book, which, though they may be separated by many pages, belong together.
  • Circling or highlighting of key words or phrases.
  • Writing in the margin, or at the top or bottom of the page, for the sake of: recording questions (and perhaps answers) which a passage raised in your mind; reducing a complicated discussion to a simple statement; recording the sequence of major points right through the books. I use the end-papers at the back of the book to make a personal index of the author's points in the order of their appearance.

I tend to lend my books out even when I've marked them up. The marking that seems to be the most appreciated is when something doesn't make sense to me and I write my question, or express my frustration in the margin.


clairity said...

It's cool to read that piece from Adler because I feel wasteful when I write in nice books. I destroy some books with my marks (particularly anything I study or teach), and others I just breeze through intentionally leaving my pencil down to enjoy the experience rather than working it over.

Love2Learn Mom said...

Yes, me too (both feeling guilty and enjoying not marking them sometimes)! Although I do lend my books out anyway and my friends don't seem to mind. :)

WJFR said...

I remember getting a book that had been yours (a copy to review) and finding a couple of notes on the margins that still make me LOL when I think of them. They seemed just the perfect comment on something that I might just have skimmed over without really putting into words my own similar reactions!

Love2Learn Mom said...

That is so funny! I don't even remember what book that might have been. :)