I’ve just established my first blog category called “Closing the Book.”
In the last few years, I’ve developed a semi-neurotic way of reading that has multiple steps and ends with a celebratory (but always temporary) shelving of a book. Depending on the genre and difficulty of the reading, it can take me anywhere from a day to two weeks to actually close the book down once I’ve finished it. I’m not suggesting these steps to people as practical advice; just thought some might find it interesting, and I wonder if anyone else has practices in this vein?
I read How To Read a Book by Mortimer Adler and learned about Andrew Kern’s highlighting technique during the same summer. This brought my reading speed from rapid to…tortoise…paced, and also made my books neon. That highlighting technique seems to be something each person must make their own. I started out trying to closely follow the guidelines and realized that my brain was working against that rhythm. I use pink for proper names, phrases in other languages and words I don’t know. I use green to mark out the basic structure of the prose. I use blue for passages I like, as directed. The main difference is that I highlight in pink and green as I go, not during a pre-scan. For fiction, I still only underline in pencil, which has always been my way. (I’m pretty sure that same summer I indexed Gilead like a total freak).
Around that time, I also started commonplacing again. I have had a commonplace book since 2002, but I didn’t know that’s what it’s called until I started homeschooling. It had been years since I had made an entry, and it has since become one of my favorite and most refreshing activities. I’ve noticed that a lot of people commonplace as they read, stopping to add a quote just when they find it. I prefer to finish the whole book and then go back to find the passages that I feel most exemplify what I learned from the book or enjoyed about it. (That’s where the blue highlighter comes in handy). With a non-fiction book, I usually have absolutely TONS of stuff highlighted, and sometimes I take the time to type all of those passages into Evernote for future reference. Only the most important passages actually make it into my handwritten commonplace book. This, as you can see, is why it can take a ridiculously long time for me to “close the book”!
I have also been known to reach the last page of a book and then promptly start back over, because I didn’t think I understood it well enough the first time. Sometimes I think I’m pretty crazy, but every time I officially shelve a book, I feel that it has been my companion and has taught me much and that I have listened to it and interacted with it to the fullest. And every time I read through my commonplace, the connections between one quote and another are extraordinary.
In terms of quantity, I ingest probably 50% less content than I used to. I can guarantee, though, that I’m digesting far more of it than I ever have!