Rhetorical Context (Who wrote it or created it? Why was it written? What is
it trying to do to or for its readers? What is it? Where does it appear? When
was it published? What is its genre?)
Summary (What does the text say? What are its main points? What did you
find most interesting or important?)
What are THREE golden lines from the text? (Quotes that stood out the most.)
Evaluation/Significance of the Quote (Why did you choose it?):
Evaluation/Significance of the Quote (Why did you choose it?):
Evaluation/Significance of the Quote (Why did you choose it?):
Evaluation (Is the text convincing? Why or why not? What new knowledge
did you get from reading this text?)
Questioning (What questions do you have about the text? What would you ask
the author if you could speak to him or her directly? Do you have any
questions to ask your fellow students or the instructor?)
Adler, Mortimer | "How to Mark a Book."
Cron, Lisa | Excerpt from Wired for Story.
Gaiman, Neil | "Why Our Future Depends on Libraries."
Chee, Alexander | "The Curse."
Lamott, Anne | Excerpts from Bird by Bird.
Noah, Trevor | Excerpts from Born A Crime.
Orwell, George | "Why I Write."
Roanhorse, Rebecca | "Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience™"
Roy, Arundhati | "Why is the Morally Appropriate Language in Which to Think and Write?"
Thurston, Baratunde | "Where Did You Get That Name?" from How To Be Black.
Block, Francesca Lia | "Bones" from The Rose & the Beast.
Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome | "Monster Culture."
El-Mohtar, Amal | "Seasons of Glass & Iron." from Uncanny Magazine
Gaiman, Neil | "Ghosts in the Machines."
Gaiman, Neil | "Snow. Glass. Apples." from Smoke & Mirrors.
Goto, Hiromi | "From Across the River" from Hopeful Monsters.
King, Stephen | "Why We Crave Horror Movies."
Link, Kelly | "The Hortlak" from Magic for Beginners.
Machado, Carmen Maria | "My Body, Herself" from Her Body and Other Parties.
How to Mark a Book
By Mortimer J. Adler, Ph.D.
From The Saturday Review of Literature, July 6, 1941
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.
I contend, quite bluntly, that marking up a book is not an act of mutilation but of love. 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. Most of the world's
great books are available today, in reprint editions.
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 blood
stream to do you any good.
Confusion about what it means to "own" a book leads people to a false reverence for paper, binding, and type
-- a respect for the physical thing -- the craft of the printer rather than the genius of the author. They forget
that it is possible for a man to acquire the idea, to possess the beauty, which a great book contains, without
staking his claim by pasting his bookplate inside the cover. Having a fine library doesn't prove that its owner
has a mind enriched by books; it proves nothing more than that he, his father, or his wife, was rich enough to
There are three kinds of book owners. The first has all the standard sets and best sellers -- unread, untouched.
(This deluded individual owns woodpulp 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 and unblemished 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 a painting or a statue.
But the soul of a book "can" be separate from its body. A book is more like the score of a piece of music than
it is like a painting. No great musician confuses a symphony with the printed sheets of music. Arturo
Toscanini reveres Brahms, but Toscanini's score of the G minor Symphony is so thoroughly marked up that
no one but the maestro himself can read it. The reason why a great conductor makes notations on his musical
scores -- marks them up again and again each time he returns to study them--is the reason why you should
mark your books. If your respect for magnificent binding or typography 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 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
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 reads with a 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.
Even if you wrote on a scratch pad, and threw the paper away when you had finished writing, your grasp of
the book would be surer. But you don't have to throw the paper away. The margins (top as bottom, and well
as side), the end-papers, the very space between the lines, are all available. They aren't sacred. And, best of
all, your marks and notes become an integral part of the book and stay there forever. 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
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 differences, or agreements of opinion, with the
There are all kinds of devices for marking a book intelligently and fruitfully. Here's the way I do it:
Underlining (or highlighting): of major points, of important or forceful statements.
Vertical lines at the margin: to emphasize a statement already underlined.
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. (You may want to fold the bottom comer of each page on which
you use such marks. It won't hurt the sturdy paper on which most modern books are printed, and you
will be able take the book off the shelf at any time and, by opening it at the folded-corner page, refresh
your recollection of the book.)
Numbers in the margin: to indicate the sequence of points the author makes in developing a single
Numbers 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.
Circling or highlighting of key words or phrases.
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 raised in your mind; reducing a complicated discussion to a
simple statement; recording the sequence of major points right through the books. 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.
If you're a die-hard anti-book-marker, you may object that the margins, the space between the lines, and the
end-papers don't give you room enough. All right. How about using a scratch pad slightly smaller than the
page-size of the book -- so that the edges of the sheets won't protrude? Make your index, outlines and even
your notes on the pad, and then insert these sheets permanently inside the front and back covers of the book.
Or, you may say that this business of marking books is going to slow up your reading. It probably will. That's
one of the reasons for doing it. Most of us have been taken in by the notion that speed of reading is a measure
of our intelligence. There is no such thing as the right speed for intelligent reading. Some things should be
read quickly and effortlessly and some should be read slowly and even laboriously. The sign of intelligence in
reading is the ability to read different things differently according to their worth. In the case of good books,
the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through you -how many you can make your own. A few friends are better than a thousand acquaintances. If this be your
aim, as it should be, you will not be impatient if it takes more time and effort to read a great book than it does
You may have one final objection to marking books. You can't lend them to your friends because nobody else
can read them without being distracted by your notes. Furthermore, you won't want to lend them because a
marked copy is kind of an intellectual diary, and lending it is almost like giving your mind away.
If your friend wishes to read your Plutarch's Lives, Shakespeare, or The Federalist Papers, tell him gently
but firmly, to buy a copy. You will lend him your car or your coat -- but your books are as much a part of you
as your head or your heart.
Once upon a time really smart people were completely convinced the
world was flat. Then they learned that it wasn’t. But they were still
pretty sure the sun revolved around the Earth … until that theory went
bust, too. For an even longer period of time, smart people have believed
story is just a form of entertainment. They’ve thought that beyond the
immense pleasure it bestows—the ephemeral joy and deep sense of
satisfaction a good story leaves us with—story itself serves no necessary
purpose. Sure, our lives from time immemorial would have been far
drabber without it, but we’d have survived just fine.
Story, as it turns out, was crucial to our evolution—more so than
opposable thumbs. Opposable thumbs let us hang on; story told us what
to hang on to. Story is what enabled us to imagine what might happen in
the future, and so prepare for it—a feat no other species can lay claim
to, opposable thumbs or not.1 Story is what makes us human, not just
metaphorically but literally. Recent breakthroughs in neuroscience
reveal that our brain is hardwired to respond to story; the pleasure we
derive from a tale well told is nature’s way of seducing us into paying
attention to it.2
In other words, we’re wired to turn to story to teach us the way of the
world. So if your eyes glazed over back in high school when your history
teacher painstakingly recited the entire succession of German monarchs,
beginning with Charles the Fat, Son of Louis the German, who ruled
from 881 to 887, who could blame you? Turns out you’re only,
Thus it’s no surprise that when given a choice, people prefer fiction to
nonfiction—they’d rather read a historical novel than a history book,
watch a movie than a dry documentary.3 It’s not because we’re lazy sots
but because our neural circuitry is designed to crave story. The rush of
intoxication a good story triggers doesn’t make us closet hedonists—it
makes us willing pupils, primed to absorb the myriad lessons each story
This information is a game changer for writers. Research has helped
decode the secret blueprint for story that’s hardwired in the reader’s
brain, thereby lifting the veil on what, specifically, the brain is hungry
for in every story it encounters. Even more exciting, it turns out that a
powerful story can have a hand in rewiring the reader’s brain—helping
instill empathy, for instance5—which is why writers are, and have
always been, among the most powerful people in the world.
Writers can change the way people think simply by giving them a
glimpse of life through their characters’ eyes. They can transport readers
to places they’ve never been, catapult them into situations they’ve only
dreamed of, and reveal subtle universal truths that just might alter their
entire perception of reality. In ways large and small, writers help people
make it through the night. And that’s not too shabby.
But there’s a catch. For a story to captivate a reader, it must
continually meet his or her hardwired expectations. This is no doubt
what prompted Jorge Luis Borges to note, “Art is fire plus algebra.”6 Let
Fire is absolutely crucial to writing; it’s the very first ingredient of
every story. Passion is what drives us to write, filling us with the
exhilarating sense that we have something to say, something that will
make a difference.
But to write a story capable of instantly engaging readers, passion
alone isn’t enough. Writers often mistakenly believe that all they need to
craft a successful story is the fire—the burning desire, the creative spark,
the killer idea that startles you awake in the middle of the night. They
dive into their story with gusto, not realizing that every word they write
is most likely doomed to failure because they forgot to factor in the
second half of the equation: the algebra.
In this, Borges intuitively knew what cognitive psychology and
neuroscience has since revealed: there is an implicit framework that
must underlie a story in order for that passion, that fire, to ignite the
reader’s brain. Stories without it go unread; stories with it are capable of
knocking the socks off someone who’s barefoot.
Why do writers often have trouble embracing the notion that there is
more to creating a story than having a good idea and a way with words?
Because the ease with which we surrender to the stories we read tends to
cloud our understanding of stories we write. We have an innate belief
that we know what makes a good story—after all, we can quickly
recognize a bad one. When we do, we scoff and slip the book back onto
the shelf. We roll our eyes and walk out of the movie theater. We take a
deep breath and pray for Uncle Albert to stop nattering on about his
Civil War reenactment. We won’t put up with a bad story for three
We recognize a good story just as quickly. It’s something we’ve been
able to do since we were about three, and we’ve been addicted to stories
in one form or another ever since. So if we’re hardwired to spot a good
story from the very first sentence, how is it possible that we don’t know
how to write one?
Once again, evolutionary history provides the answer. Story originated
as a method of bringing us together to share specific information that
might be lifesaving. Hey bud, don’t eat those shiny red berries unless you
wanna croak like the Neanderthal next door; here’s what happened.…
Stories were simple, relevant, and not so different from a little thing we
like to call gossip. When written language evolved eons later, story was
free to expand beyond the local news and immediate concerns of the
community. That meant readers—with hardwired expectations in place
—had to be drawn to the story on its own merits. While no doubt there
were always masterful storytellers, there’s a huge difference between
sharing a juicy bit of gossip about crazy Cousin Rachel and pounding out
the Great American Novel.
Fair enough, but since most aspiring writers love to read, wouldn’t all
those fabulous books they wolf down give them a first-class lesson in
what hooks a reader?
Evolution dictates that the first job of any good story is to completely
anesthetize the part of our brain that questions how it is creating such a
compelling illusion of reality. After all, a good story doesn’t feel like an
illusion. What it feels like is life. Literally. A recent brain-imaging study
reported in Psychological Science reveals that the regions of the brain that
process the sights, sounds, tastes, and movement of real ...
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