Thursday, January 26, 2006

Write (IN) Your Book!

I love it!
Mortimer Adler writes an excellent essay on why you should underline, note, star, scribble, and write an index in your books... right on those pristine pages!
An old seminary prof forced me to do this and I resisted at first... but once you jump the initial hurdle of marking a clean page, you will never stop.

HT: Justin Taylor at Between Two Worlds


  1. That is so weird!!! I just started reading a Lloyd Jones book and it is the first time I ever started really marking up my pages; not just highlighting but writing little comments in myself. I have never gotten so much out of a book. It keeps me on each page longer; I am reading a lot slower. But I get so much more out of each page and I don't just forget everything when I put the book down!!!

  2. Hey Paul,
    I agree with this post. Although some would scoff at me for 'defiling' my books, I read actively with pencil and/or highlighter in hand, depending on what I'm reading. I've even been known to write in novels, when they may provide good sermon illustrations.

    I'm commenting on this blog post because of its relation to another blog that I've been reading for about a week. Go to
    It's a conversation blog between CJ Mahaney, Al Mohler, Mark Dever, and Ligon Duncan. These guys are growing increasingly influential on my own life, and I've really appreciated their blog posts. They're funny, and insightful. They have been opening us up into their own reading scedules/habits. See especially Al Mohler's article on 'Some thoughts on the reading of books' or something to that effect, Mark Dever's 'My Canon of Theologians' and Mark Dever's 'The Unbearable lightness of blogs'. They are all amazing notes - the latter of which is a reminder to blog sparsely and read deeply more often. The main page is updated every day, so for many of these posts you will have to go into the archives.

    Dever has a 'Canon of Theologians', which is a yearly reading schedule through major historical theologians. For example, in January he reads from the early church (in addition to his personal bible reading, study for ministry, etc.) - Ignatius, et al. He devotes another month to Luther, another to Calvin, another to Sibbes, another to Owen or Bunyan, another to Martyn Lloyd-Jones, another to John Stott and JI Packer, etc. I'm certainly not there yet, but maybe when I've covered a few more of the 'must read' classics, I'll get here (in the next 50 years??).
    Al Mohler writes about his reading habits too, which are really helpful. I try not to be discouraged by Mohler's discipline and giftedness. Instead I try to let his example spur me on in my own limited capacities. . .which are way too limited for my liking.
    I need to run now so I can read more and blog less.

    By the way, keep blogging - this is one of those 'very profitable' blogs.

    In Christ, Ian.

  3. Blasphemy!! Defile the pristine? Keep nice notes on other paper but do not mark the book! And highlighters? Oh, the horror! How dare we use bright pink or yellow to adorn such rich words. What's next Paul, you gonna change yor blog to black with white text on me? ;-)

  4. Darrin, Darrin, Darrin...
    I am shocked and dismayed! How could you possibly think this was a bad thing, Mr. I-Consistently-Post-the-Secret-Thoughts-and-Jottings-of-Bonars! How would we get those if they didn't write inside Bibles and books, eh?
    You have got to get over it.
    I suggest the following.
    1. Buy an old copy of DaVinci Code.
    2. Each day open to a new page and (with pencil at first) draw a line under one sentence.
    3. Do this for 7 days, avoiding all eye contact with the actual content of the page.
    4. On the eighth day, write your name inside front cover in ink.
    5. For the next 4 days write the word "heresy" across the top of any page.
    At the end of this time you will be cured of your pristine obsession. Guaranteed!! :-)

  5. Hey... white text on black background is for the cool kids! You old guys just don't get it! :-)

  6. I just can't do it--I will make notes on other paper, and that works better for me, but a friend of mine had a sort of code for how he underlines and circles things (straightlines, wiggly, circles, thick, thin etc.)
    It was always interesting seeing what he marked when you borrowed a book. It's also a reason for buying used books from pastors who did that.

    But do it myslef? I can't...I've tried...

  7. Highlighting your books is like tattooing your children!! You wouldn't be for that now, would you?

    Hmmm....but oddly, I do highlight my Bible so maybe I'll just hide under the shame of my own hypocrisy...

    Yours truly,
    Limping Poorly

  8. Dear Limpy,

    You don't tattoo your kids?

  9. I can't imagine reading without a pen. My brains are in my pen. When I teach I have to have a pen in my hand.

    Writing in the margins is a way of conversing with the author. If you disagree with him you can let him have it and not get punched back! If you agree, you can praise him to the heights and know he will never get a swelled head. It also helps solidify your thoughts on the topic you are reading. No end to the plusses of this practise.

    When you lend a book you get to entertain your friends. Kerux - be prepared for all kinds of editorial comments when you borrow my book on the emerging church!

    One should also write in one's Bibles. I have a Bible from 1971 with derogatory comments about election written in the margins of Ephesians 1!! You get to see how you have progressed theologically over the years.

    But do not write in library books. They seem to not like that very much (ouch!)

  10. Nothing is more helpful when having to summarize a book than having written your thoughts in the margin. Underlining excellent sentences for later quotation is also a must.
    Down with the book idolator! Up with the book scribbler!
    Of course, I won't underline in certain books that are just "too" nice (ie. Calvin's Commentaries). Am I a compromiser?

  11. Do you lend or borrow books? I find borrowing helps me build my library, albeit unintentionally, really. ;-)

    I find it very difficult to read a borrowed book where the owner has scribbled notes, underlined what he thought were poignant thoughts etc.. How can I possibly approach the text objectively? Basically I'm reading it through his mind! Those who know me may think that's a good thing.

    And, if I lend a book in which I've scribbled, others will know how strange I am !!

    I vote for separate pages for notes.

  12. Odious,
    Clearly you are in la-la land.
    First, knowing you, I would never lend you a book. I like my books.
    Secondly, I would find it interesting to read a book you had read (have you read any books?) to see your frantic scribblings. I doubt it would give any insight into your cranial processes - but it would be entertaining!
    Thank you for posting.

  13. I tend to give my books away so I dont usually write in them(although I do have a couple books that I have scribbled in...a good book to read is 'how to read a book' by Mortimer Adler...I think thats where the article was taken from for those of you who wish to read more on the subject of reading well). For some strange reason its difficult for me to think when reading (or to remember what Ive read when done) and so marking up the book/making notes helps me focus on reading and thinking at the same time. Im all for it! I think the author would appreciate you taking the time to read the book thoughtfully with pencil in hand!