Thursday, December 29, 2011

Writing in a Book

Writing in a Book
Tony Reinke, in his book Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading, presents the reader with a term that I cannot believe many would be familiar with; marginalia. Though I originally thought this was a made-up term, it does occur in the dictionary and is defined as marginal notes. Reinke is a proponent of marking up a book, in the margins and otherwise, and I must say that I concur with him on this point. I'd like to discuss why I mark up a book and how I do so with the hope that you will be helped in your reading. For this first post in this series, let's start with the "why" question.

In his chapter entitled Marginalia, Reinke lists ten reasons why he writes in his books. I think they are worth listing. Reinke writes in his books to,
  1. Claim them
  2. Acknowledge their temporary value
  3. Highlight what he appreciates
  4. Trace the skeleton of the book
  5. Mark what is initially disagreeable
  6. Weave them into his library
  7. Express emotion
  8. Capture thoughts
  9. Archive personal notes
  10. Have a conversation.
It would be well worth your while to get your hands on Reinke's book and read through his reasons for a better understanding of each point. I have focused in on a few reasons why I write in books that are mirrored in some of Reinke's.


The Three R's of Writing in a Book
Reflection – Reflection is the fixing of the thoughts on something and/or careful consideration. I find that I think and concentrate better with a pen in my hand. Pastor Garry Milley, lead pastor of Church in the Oaks, puts it succinctly, "I need ink to think!" I find that the simple act of holding a writing utensil in my hand is enough to cause me to be more engaged with the book I am reading. The act of writing in that book further solidifies the process. Reinke supports this idea stating "the markings in a book's margins are the evidence of a thinking reader" (148). This is important, if you believe as Reinke and I do, that we "don't read to read; we read to think" (148). The highlighting and denoting of important, memorable or even forgettable passages in a book are stimuli for thoughtful reflection that otherwise wouldn't occur. John Piper has said, "I do not remember 99% of what I read, but if the one percent of each book or article I do remember is a life-changing insight, then I don't begrudge the 99%." I probably remember less than that. But having a pen in hand and writing in the margins of a book helps me fight the forgetfulness and hopefully remember more of the life-changing insights.


Refraction – Light is refracted when it changes direction due to passing through one medium to another. In the case of reading, I want the light that comes to me through reading to pass from me to others. This exchange of light, or in this case the exchange of knowledge from things I read, occurs most efficiently when I mark up a book. If I am to share what I read with others-others being friends family, small group participants, work colleagues, etc.-I need to be able to access the information I have read. Highlighting, underlining, circling, and generally marking up a book will help you disperse some of the gold you have mined in the pages of a book to those around you. It will help you share the wealth. Writing in a book allows you to access that significant information and share it with others. Two of the main ways I do this are tweeting through a book and blogging through a book. Those will be topics I will deal with separately in other posts. Interestingly, as the definition suggests, light changes direction when it is refracted. Your viewpoint and interpretation will have an effect on the knowledge you share and I think that is a good thing. Limiting what you receive from the writing of others to yourself would be an unfortunate end to that information.


Reference – As well as reflecting on what I have read, and beyond refracting the light from books to others, I want to be able to access and re-access the information from good books indefinitely. For books that I own and am going to keep in my library, the simplest way of being able to store and reach that book's instruction, illumination, and ideas is to mark in the book where those things can be found. One can go to extensive lengths or archiving info in a book, but I can usually find tidbits I'm looking for by flipping through a book and skimming the excerpts I have emphasized through writing in the margins.


Writing in a book, or performing marginalia if you will, offers me the opportunity to reflect on what I'm reading by causing me to interact with written material as I read it. It helps me to refract the light I receive from books to those around me. And finally, it helps me to reference significant material in the future when it is desired or necessary. For these reasons, and many others, I encourage you to mark up your books.

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