Why and How You Should Mark Up Your Books

“Marking up a book is not an act of mutilation but of love.” That’s Mortimer Adler’s claim from his article “How to Mark a Book.” I second his sentiment. I love to engage an author’s thoughts by marking up a book with my agreements, rebuttals, and personal thoughts that spring to my mind when I chew on the material. I get more out of the book by having interacted with it in that way.

I find three obvious benefits when I mark up a book (Adler, of course, provides more).

  1. It keeps me focused on the author’s thoughts. I tend not to tune out when I’m looking for ways to interact with the material. I pay closer attention to the points and arguments made, looking for opportunities to agree or disagree.
  2. It keeps me focused on my thoughts. I’m more mindful of my own ideas and assessment of the content when I’m writing them down.
  3. It helps me remember the book better when I pick it up years later. I’ll often take a book from my bookshelf to see what it says. When I find my underlines, highlights, stars, and notes, I’m quickly brought back to the thoughts and interactions I had with the author from years ago. I’m able to readily get reacquainted with the ideas of the book as well as my thoughts about those ideas.

For some people, they’ll find they have (some, maybe a little) extra time this Christmas break, and it’s a great time to catch up on some well-needed reading. When you do, consider marking up the book. Adler’s ideas in this article are extremely valuable. He shows the powerful benefits of the practice and responds to several objections raised against it.

And don’t forget to consider Greg Koukl’s thoughts on how to read a book, too!

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Alan Shlemon

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