For years, I hated to write in books. I would always carefully flip through texts at the used book store and find books that were untouched, and I made sure to keep them that way. Writing in a book was not only something I didn’t do . . . its something that I despised. Bookmarkers were the graffiti artists of the reading world, and I wanted no part of it.
A few years ago, a good friend recommended that I read How To Read A Book, and it changed my bookmarking habits forever. Mortimer Adler’s classic text on reading includes a section that teaches you both how and why to mark books. I now carry at least two different colored highlighters, a pen, and a pencil everywhere I go in case I need to mark a book. I have found that it has greatly increased my reading comprehension and retention and made my books more valuable in the future.
So how do you go about marking up books . . . First, the basics.
Buy The Right Materials: Get a good highlighter. You need one that is not too thick, not too thin, and one that won’t bleed through. I prefer the common yellow highlighter that Sharpie makes. Also, pick up a good mechanical pencil – you can never find pencil sharpeners anymore. In addition to a highlighter and pencil, you should have at least one color of pen, preferably two. These tools will help you mark up your book properly.
Basic Highlighting Skills: As you read, highlight the material that stands out to you. Bert Webb points out that using the Pareto Principle here (the 80/20 principle) is a good rule of thumb. Don’t highlight any more than 20% of the text – it will often be much less than that.
Basic Pen/Pencil Work: When you come across something that really strikes you and you want to remember it, put a star next to the section or highlighted quote. You can also star entire chapters in books if they are particularly interesting. On any two page spread where you have something starred, put another star in the lower right part of the right page. This will make it easy to find.
Building Your Personal Table of Contents: Once you star a particular passage, then you can work on adding the information to the table of contents. For instance, I starred a particular passage in a The Violent Bear It Away, then I flipped back to the Table of Contents. Under the appropriate chapter I added \”grace, 82\” to indicate that there is a great quote about grace on page 82. Using this method, you are able to quickly find relevant information about the book that was important to you in the future.
This is a basic overview of bookmarking, most of which is covered in How To Read A Book. Other resources on bookmarking are listed below.
How To Read A Book – A classic, well worth the read. The more avidly you read, the more valuable this book is.
How To Mark A Book – Online essay by Mortimer Adler covering much of the same material on bookmarking. Easy way to preview the book.
Twelve Ways To Mark Up A Book – Some points aren’t helpful, some I disagree with. You may find some ideas to help you though.
How To Take Notes Like An Alpha Geek – Great post on note-taking from the author of The Four-Hour Workweek
Mindhacker – Great book with a ton of useful information. Hack 7 gives three ways to take advanced notes including building your own index, annotating in two colors, and using your book as a notebook.
Marginalia – Have not read this one yet, but looks like a great text on historic note taking. Definitely picking it up soon.
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you have about bookmarking in the comments section below.