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"Don't ever mark in a book!" Thousands of teachers, librarians and parents have so advised. But Mortimer Adler disagrees. He thinks so long as you own the book and needn't preserve its physical appearance, marking it properly will grant you the ownership of the book in the true sense of the word and make it a part of yourself.
HOW TO MARK A BOOK
Mortimer J. Adler
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.
You shouldn't mark up a book which isn't yours. Librarians (or your friends) who lend you books expect you to keep them clean, and you should. If you decide that I am right about the usefulness of marking books, you will have to buy them.
There are two ways in which one can own a book. The first is the property right you establish by paying for it, just as you pay for clothes and furniture. But this act of purchase is only the prelude to possession. Full ownership comes only when you have made it a part of yourself, and the best way to make yourself a part of it is by writing in it. An illustration may make the point clear. You buy a beefsteak and transfer it from the butcher's icebox to your own. But you do not own the beefsteak in the most important sense until you consume it and get it into your bloodstream. I am arguing that books, too, must be absorbed in your bloodstream to do you any good.
There are three kinds of book owners. The first has all the standard sets and best-sellers -- unread, untouched. (This individual owns wood-pulp and ink, not books.) The second has a great many books -- a few of them read through, most of them dipped into, but all of them as clean and shiny as the day they were bought. (This person would probably like to make books his own, but is restrained by a false respect for their physical appearance.) The third has a few books or many -- every one of them dog-eared and dilapidated, shaken and loosened by continual use, marked and scribbled in from front to back. (This man owns books.)
Is it false respect, you may ask, to preserve intact a beautifully printed book, an elegantly bound edition? Of course not. I'd no more scribble all over a first edition of "Paradise Lost" than I'd give my baby a set of crayons and an original Rembrandt! I wouldn't mark up a painting or a statue. Its soul, so to speak, is inseparable from its body. And the beauty of a rare edition or of a richly manufactured volume is like that of painting or a statue. If your respect for magnificent binding or printing gets in the way, buy yourself a cheap edition and pay your respects to the author.
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. Let me develop these three points.
If reading is to accomplish anything more than passing time, it must be active. you can't let your eyes glide across the lines of a book and come up with an understanding of what you have read. Now an ordinary piece of light fiction, like, say, "Gone with the Wind," doesn't require the most active kind of reading. The books you read for pleasure can be read in a state of relaxation, and nothing is lost. But a great book, rich in ideas and beauty, a book that raises and tries to answer great fundamental questions, demands the most active reading of which you are capable. You don't absorb the ideas of John Dewey the way you absorb the crooning of Mr. Vallee. You have to reach for them. That you cannot do while you're asleep.
If, when you've finished reading a book, the pages are filled with your notes, you know that you read actively. The most famous active reader of great books I know is President Hutchins, of the University of Chicago. He also has the hardest schedule of business activities of any man I know. He invariably read with pencil, and sometimes, when he picks up a book and pencil in the evening, he finds himself, instead of making intelligent notes, drawing what he calls " caviar factories" on the margins. When that happens, he puts the book down. He knows he's too tired to read, and he's just wasting time.
But, you may ask, why is writing necessary? Well, the physical act of writing, with your own hand, brings words and sentences more sharply before your mind and preserves them better in your memory. To set down your reaction to important words and sentences you have read, and the questions they have raised in your mind, is to preserve those reactions and sharpen those questions. 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. Presumably he knows more about the subject than you do; naturally you'll have the proper humility as you approach him. But don't let anybody tell you that a reader is supposed to be solely on the receiving end. Understanding is a two-way operation; learning doesn't consist in being an empty receptacle. The learner has to question himself and question the teacher. He even has to argue with the teacher, once he understands what the teacher is saying. And marking a book is literally an expression of your differences, or agreements of opinion, with the author.
There are all kinds of devices for marking a book intelligently and fruitfully. Here's the way I do it:
1. Underlining: of major points, of important or forceful statements.
2. Vertical lines at the margin: to emphasize a statement already underlined.
3. 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.
4. Numbers in the margin: to indicate the sequence of points the author makes in developing a single argument.
5. Number 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.
6. Circling of key words or phrases.
7. 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 raise in your mind; reducing a complicated discussion to a simple statement; recording the sequence of major points right through the book. 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.
The front end-papers are, to me, the most important. Some people reserve them for a fancy bookplate, I reserve them for fancy thinking. After I have finished reading the book and making my personal index on the back end-papers, I turn to the front and try to outline the book, not page by page, or point by point (I've already done that at the back), but as an integrated structure, with a basic unity and an order of parts. This outline is, to me, the measure of my understanding of the work.
vt. cause (sb.) to do sth. by reasoning, arguing, etc. 说服，劝服
n. (collectively) things owned; possessions 财产
n. action, event, etc. that serves as an introduction 序幕；前奏曲
n. possessing; ownership; (pl.) property 拥有；所有权；财产
n. the possessing (of sth.); right of possessing 所有（权）
n. an example which explains the meaning of sth.; an explanatory picture, diagram, etc. 例；图例；插图
vt. had over the possession of (property, etc.); change officially from one position, etc. to another 转移；调动
n. a person who kills, cuts up and sells animals for food 屠夫
n. a box where food is kept cool with blocks of ice; (AmE) refrigerator
n. the blood as it flows through the blood vessels of the body 血流
vt. take or such in (liquids); take in (knowledge, ideas, etc.)吸收
n. book that is sold in very large numbers 畅销书
n. any one human being ( contrasted with society ) 个人
v. plunge or be plunged quickly or briefly into a liquid, esp. to wet or coat 浸；蘸
a. giving off light as if polished; bright 发亮的
vt. prevent; control; hold back 抑制；控制，约束
a. (of a book) having he corners of the pages bent down with use, like a dog's ears （书页）卷角的
a. (of things) broken and old; falling to pieces 破旧的；倾坍的
v. make or become loose or looser （使）松开
a. repeated; frequent 不断的；频繁的
v. write hastily or carelessly; write meaningless marks on paper, etc. 潦草书写；乱涂
vi. keep safe from harm of danger 保护；保存
a. untouched; undamaged 完整无损的
ad. beautifully; gracefully 优美地；雅致地
vt. tie or fasten with a rope, etc.; fasten together sheets of (a book) and enclose within a cover 捆，绑；装订（书）
n. form in which a book is published; total number of copies (of a book, newspaper, etc.) issued from the same types （书等的）版本；版
n. the Garden of Eden; Heaven 伊甸园；天堂
n. 蜡笔； 颜色笔
a. of or relating to an origin or beginning; being the first instance or source from which a cop can be made 最初的；原著的；原创作者的
n. a painted picture; picture
n. an image of a person or animal in wood, stone, bronze, etc. 雕像
a. impossible to separate from one another
vt. make, produce on a large scale by machinery 制造；（大量）生产
a. splendid; remarkable 华丽的；宏伟的
a. absolutely essential or necessary 必不可少的
a. aware; able to feel and think 有意识的；神志清醒
n. knowledge of the nature of sth., based esp. on learning or experience 理解
n. (branch of literature concerned with) stories, novels and romances 小说
vi. sing gently in a low soft voice, usu. with much feeling 低声吟唱
n. person who reads
ad. unchangeable; constantly 不变地；始终如一地
a. having or showing a high degree of powers of reasoning or understanding 聪明的
v. become or make sharp(er)
n. the fact or a case of disagreeing; lack of similarity 分歧；不一致
n. question; asking 询问
vt. go on after stopping for a time （中断后）重新开始
ad. of course; as one could have expected
n. humble condition or state of mind 谦卑
ad. not including anything else or any others; only
n. a container for keeping things in 容器
ad. actually; virtually 确实地；简直
ad. productively; with good results 富有成果地
vt. draw a line under (a word, etc.) esp. to show importance 在……下划线（表示强调）
a. strong; powerful
vt. call attention to; stress 强调
n. a starlike mark used to call attention to sth. 星号（即*）
n. (informal) a fancy, trifling ornament 小装饰物
ad. economically; frugally 节约地
n. succession; connected line of events, ideas, etc. 顺序；连续；一连串
a. connected with what is being discussed; appropriate 有关的；适宜的
n. (often pl.) a piece of blank paper stuck inside the cover at the beginning or end of a book 衬页
a. not ordinary; brightly coloured 别致的；花哨的
n. a piece of paper with the owner's name, usu. pasted to the inside front cover of a book 藏书票
vt. put or bring together (parts) into a whole 使成一整体
n. way in which sth. is put together, organized, etc.; framework or essential parts of a building 结构
a. essential; fundamental 主要的；基本的
m. an arrangement of parts to form a complete whole; the state of being united 总体布局；统一
Phrases & Expressions
read between the lines
(fig.) find more meaning than the words appear to express 体会字里行间的言外之意
help or benefit (sb.) 帮助（某人）；对（某人）有益
read or study for a short time or without much attention 浏览；稍加探究
in no greater degree……than……
a set of
a number of (thing that belong together) 一套
so to speak/ say
(used as an apology for an unusual use of a word or phrase) as one might say; if I may use this expression, etc. 可以说；容许我打个譬喻
get in the way
become a nuisance or hindrance 挡道；碍事
in the second place
as the second thing in order or importance 第二，其次
think about until one reaches an understanding or conclusion 彻底全面考虑
stretch out one's hand to grasp; make an effort to grasp 伸手去抓；努力争取
write down on paper
start again after interruption 中断后重新开始
lie in; be equivalent to 在于；存在于
connect closely; fasten with rope, etc. 系紧；捆牢
state in a more concise form; summarize as 把……归纳为