How to Mark a Book by Mortimer Adler 1940 (Edited) to Mark a Book.pdf · Mortimer Adler “How to Mark…

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  • MortimerAdler HowtoMarkaBook page1of3

    excerptfromHowtoReadaBook(1940)

    HowtoMarkaBookbyMortimerJ.Adler(adapted&editedbyRoySpeed)

    Youknowyouhavetoread"betweenthelines"togetthemostoutofanything.Iwanttopersuadeyoutodosomethingequallyimportantinthecourseofyourreading.Iwanttopersuadeyoutowritebetweenthelines.Unlessyoudo,youarenotlikelytodothemosteffectivekindofreading.

    Markingupabookisnotanactofmutilationbutoflove.Ofcourseyoushouldn'tmarkupabookwhichisn'tyours.Anyonewholendsyouabookexpectsyoutokeepitclean,andyoushould.Soifyouagreewithmeabouttheusefulnessofmarkingbooks,youmustbuythem.

    OwningbooksTherearetwowaysyoucanownabook.Thefirstisthepropertyrightyouestablishbypayingforit,justasyoupayforclothesandfurniture.Butthisactofpurchaseisonlythepreludetorealpossession.Fullownershipcomesonlywhenyouhavemadeitapartofyourself,andthebestwaytomakeyourselfapartofitisbywritinginit.Youmaybuyabeefsteakandputitinyourfreezer,butyoudonotownitinanyimportantsenseuntilyouconsumeitandgetitintoyourbloodstream.Books,too,mustbeabsorbedintoyourbloodstream.

    Confusionaboutwhatitmeansto"own"abookleadspeopletoafalsereverenceforpaper,binding,andtypethephysicalthing.Butthisisrespectforthecraftoftheprinterratherthanthegeniusoftheauthor.Havingafinelibrarydoesn'tprovethatitsownerhasamindenrichedbybooks;itprovesonlythathewasrichenoughtobuythem.

    Therearethreekindsofbookowners.Thefirsthasallthestandardsetsandbestsellersunread,untouched.(Thisdeludedindividualownswoodpulpandink,notbooks.)Thesecondhasagreatmanybooksafewofthemreadthrough,mostofthemdippedinto,butallofthemascleanandshinyasthedaytheywerebought.(Thispersonwouldprobablyliketomakebookshisown,butisrestrainedbyafalserespectfortheirphysicalappearance.)Thethirdhasafewbooksormanyeveryoneofthemdogearedanddilapidated,shakenandloosenedbycontinualuse,markedandscribbledinfromfronttoback.(Thismanownsbooks.)

    Isitfalserespect,youmayask,topreserveintactandunblemishedabeautifullyprintedbook,anelegantlyboundedition?Ofcoursenot;I'dnomorescribblealloverafirsteditionofParadiseLostthangivemybabyanoriginalRembrandtandasetofcrayons.Theresnopointinmarkingupapaintingorastatue;itssoulisinseparablefromitsbody.Andthebeautyofarareeditionorofarichlymanufacturedvolumeislikethatofapaintingorastatue.

    Butthesoulofabookcanbeseparatefromitsbody:abookismorelikeamusicalscorethanapainting.ArturoToscaninireveresBrahms,butToscanini'sscoreoftheGminorSymphonyissothoroughlymarkedupthatnoonebutthemaestrohimselfcanreadit.

    http://www.nybooks.com/contributors/stephen-greenblatt/

  • MortimerAdler HowtoMarkaBook page2of3

    Hereswhyyoushouldmarkyourbooks: ItkeepsyouawakeandIdon'tmeanmerelyconscious;Imeanawake. Reading,ifitisactive,isthinkingandthinkingtendstoexpressitselfinwords,spokenor

    written.Themarkedbookisthethoughtthroughbook. Writinghelpsyourememberrememberthethoughtsyouhad,orthethoughtsthe

    authorexpressed.

    AcloserlookIfreadingistoaccomplishanythingmorethanpassingtime,itmustbeactive.Youcan'tletyoureyesglideacrossthelinesofabookandcomeupwithanunderstandingofwhatyouhaveread.Nowanordinarypieceoflightfiction,like,say,GoneWiththeWind,doesn'trequirethemostactivekindofreading.Thebooksyoureadforpleasurecanbereadinastateofrelaxation,andnothingislost.Butagreatbook,richinideasandbeauty,abookthatraisesandtriestoanswergreatfundamentalquestions,demandsthemostactivereadingofwhichyouarecapable.

    If,whenyoufinishreadingabook,thepagesarefilledwithyournotes,youknowthatyoureadactively.Themostfamous"active"readerofgreatbooksIknowistheUniversityofChicagosPresidentHutchins.HehasthehardestscheduleofbusinessactivitiesofanymanIknow,butwhenhereads,heinvariablydoessowithapencil.

    Andwhyiswritingnecessary?Becausethephysicalactofwriting,withyourownhand,bringswordsandsentencesmoresharplybeforeyourmindandpreservesthembetterinyourmemory.Tosetdownyourreactionstowhatyouhavereadandthequestionsraisedinyourmindistopreservethosereactionsandsharpenthosequestions.

    Evenifyouwroteonascratchpad,andthrewthepaperawaywhenyouhadfinishedwriting,yourgraspofthebookwouldbesurer.Butyoudon'thavetothrowthepaperaway.Themargins(topandbottom,aswellasthesidemargins),eventheendpapers,theveryspacebetweenthelines,areallavailable.Theyaren'tsacred.Bestofall,yourmarksandnotesbecomeanintegralpartofthebookandstaythereforever:youcanpickupthebookthefollowingweekoryear,andthereareallyourpointsofagreement,disagreement,doubt,andinquiry.It'slikeresuminganinterruptedconversation;youpickuprightwhereyouleftoff.

    Whenyourereadingtoacquireinformationandunderstanding,noteinthemarginsyourunderstandingofthepointsbeingmadeorthetopicsbeingcovered.Captureinjustafewwordstheessentialidea.Uponareturnvisit,youcanflipthroughthebookand,byskimmingyournotes,quicklyreviewthebookssubstance,quicklylocateaparticularpointortopic.Anddon'tletanybodytellyouthatareaderissupposedtobeapassiverecipient:yourjobistoseizetheinformation,savorit,digestitthesamewayyouwouldthatjuicysteak.Atthesametime,youmustquestionyourselfandquestionthewriterevenarguewiththewriter,onceheunderstandswhatheorsheissaying.Andmarkingabookisliterallyanexpressionofyourunderstanding,youragreementwith,oryourdifferenceswiththeauthor.

    UsefulmarkingdevicesThereareallkindsofdevicesformarkingabookintelligentlyandfruitfully.Here'showIdoit: Underlining,circling,orhighlightingkeywordsorphrasesformajorpointsorimportant

    orforcefulstatements.

  • MortimerAdler HowtoMarkaBook page3of3

    Verticallinesatthemargintoemphasizeanimportantpassage. Star,asterisk,orotherdoodadatthemargintobeusedsparingly,toemphasizetheten

    ortwentymostimportantstatementsinthebook.Youmaywanttofoldthebottomortopcomerofeverypageonwhichyouusesuchmarks.

    Writinginthemargin,oratthetoporbottomofthepageforsummarizingkeypointsorrecordingquestionsapassageraisesinyourmind;reducingacomplicateddiscussiontoasimplestatement;recordingthesequenceofmajorpointsrightthroughthebooks.Iusetheendpapersatthebackofthebooktomakeapersonalindexoftheauthor'spointsintheorderoftheirappearance.

    Numbersinthemarginorwithinthetexttoindicateasequenceofpointstheauthormakesindevelopingasingleargument.

    Numbersofotherpagesinthemargintoindicatewhereelseinthebooktheauthormadepointsrelevanttothepointmarked;totieuptheideasinabook,which,thoughtheymaybeseparatedbymanypages,belongtogether.

    Thefrontendpapersaretomethemostimportant.Somepeoplereservethemforafancybookplate.Ireservethemforfancythinking.AfterIhavefinishedreadingthebookandmakingmypersonalindexonthebackendpapers,Iturntothefrontandtrytooutlinethebook,notpagebypageorpointbypoint(I'vealreadydonethatattheback),butasanintegratedstructure,withabasicunityandanorderofparts.Thisoutlineis,tome,themeasureofmyunderstandingofthework.

    Youmaysaythatthisbusinessofmarkingbooksisgoingtoslowupyourreading.Yes,exactlythat'soneofthereasonsfordoingit.Mostofushavebeentakeninbythenotionthatspeedofreadingisameasureofourintelligence.Butforintelligentreading,thereisnosuchthingastherightspeed.Somethingsshouldbereadquicklyandeffortlessly;someshouldbereadslowly,evenlaboriously.Thesignofintelligenceinreadingistheabilitytoreaddifferentthingsdifferentlyaccordingtotheirworth.Inthecaseofgoodbooks,thepointisnottoseehowmanyofthemyoucangetthrough,butratherhowmanycangetthroughyouhowmanyyoucanmakeyourown.

    Withbooks,afewfriendsarebetterthanathousandacquaintances.