This is the fourth installment in our little practical series on how to read good Christian books. Today I’ll share my simple way to enhance the value of reading through marking up a book. We’ll jump from last week’s final point.
Mark It Up: Books aren’t like baseball cards, they increase in value when you write in them. Unless you’re very famous, your marked up book won’t sell well on eBay, but a marked up book is something that you can return to for inspiration and insight again and again. I value my marked up books also because they serve kind of like a journal, I can read what I marked and remember back to what God was doing in my life at the time.
Here’s what I’ve developed as my ‘mark-up strategy’.
- Put your name and telephone number in the front of the book – its really frustrating to lose a well-marked book
- Highlighters can be very useful, but I don’t use them because they kind of say to me, ‘only what is highlighted is any good’. I don’t underline for the same reason, plus, I can’t draw straight lines so my underlines can look like I’m trying to cross something out.
- I put little asterisk/stars (or checkmarks if you prefer) in the margins of the book next to things that really stick out to me or speak to me in some special way when I’m reading. This will direct me in the future to a section on the page but will make me read the full context to get the idea. It also allows me to add more marks if I re-read the book because there is room on the page. The actual type of the book doesn’t get cluttered up with underlines, etc.
- If there is a particular sentence or paragraph that stands out, I’ll put brackets around it to emphasize it.
- If the author defines a term I’ll underline the term and write ‘DEF’ (for definition) beside it, because I’ve found I often go back to a book to see how an author understands a certain word or theological concept. I may also put other simple words or phrases in margins if the page addresses a theme that is particularly relevant in my life (for example, wherever an author mentions sloth or unbelief you’ll see a note in MY margins).
- I use the empty back pages of the book like a journal, making personal notes I can pray over in the future.
- After I’m done, I’ll go back through the book and look at all my little stars. If in a second look the section still really hits me, I’ll put a circle around the star. This is for the stuff that really defines the experience of reading that book for me. I can go back to those points in particular years later and say, ‘that was God speaking to me!” Sometimes I’ll even type up the section as a quote.
- The last marking I do is to put the month and year that I completed the book inside the front cover. This is just a personal quirk, but it helps me associate a book forever with a season of my life. I love opening a book and seeing something like, ‘10/92’ and then remembering where I was in my walk with God as I read that book.
This is just what works for me. You may have something else. The point is, the real value in a book is in how we make it our own.
Next week we’ll talk about jumping into the deep end of the pool – how to read a Puritan book. It can be done!