How and Why to Mark a Book

Why would we want to mark in our books?

“You know you have to read “between the lines” to get the most out of anything. I want to persuade you to do something equally important in the course of your reading. I want to persuade you to “write between the lines.” Unless you do, you are not likely to do the most efficient kind of reading.  I contend, quite bluntly, that marking up a book is not an act of mutilation but of love.  

Why is marking up a book indispensable to reading? First, it keeps you awake. (And I don’t mean merely conscious; I mean wide awake.) In the second place, reading, if it is active, is thinking, and thinking tends to express itself in words, spoken or written. The marked book is usually the thought-through book. Finally, writing helps you remember the thoughts you had, or the thoughts the author expressed. 

Even if you wrote on a scratch pad, and threw the paper away when you had finished writing, your grasp of the book would be surer. But you don’t have to throw the paper away. The margins (top and bottom, as well as side), the end-papers, the very space between the lines, are all available. They aren’t sacred. And, best of all, your marks and notes become an integral part of the book and stay there forever. You can pick up the book the following week or year, and there are all your points of agreement, disagreement, doubt, and inquiry. It’s like resuming an interrupted conversation with the advantage of being able to pick up where you left off.

And that is exactly what reading a book should be: a conversation between you and the author.” 

— Mortimer Adler

There are many ways to mark and things to mark as you read a book.  We teach the youth to begin by marking a few specific things:

  • Characters – to track the characters and be able to find physical characteristics and character traits later.  We can go back later and get a full picture of the character.
  • Themes – When we mark the themes, we can find the principles.
  • Quotes – It’s always great when you find a great quote to be able to find it again later!
  • Definitions – for better understanding, we can go back and find definitions to words we don’t know.

How to read and mark a book:

  • Read with a pencil or pen in hand.  Make marks in the margins.  
  • When you have finished a chapter, go back and annotate the things you marked on the blank pages at the front or back of the book.

It’s as simple as that!  And every time you go back to the book after the first reading, you will have your notes and can quickly skim them if you need to, or track more themes and characters every time you read the complete book again!

What if I don’t own the book?

Use the folded page method and store your pages in a binder for reference later.

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