On active reading (aka highlighting books religiously)

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On active reading (aka highlighting books religiously)

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Apr 21, 2007, 1:25 pm

As I'm sure a lot of us know, it is common practice for English teachers to require their students to look for certain elements in their required reading, ie. characters, theme, conflicts, imagery, etc. But for most teachers, it's not enough to instruct the students to merely make notice of these elements; we are required to mark up our books in our search for these elements.

And so I ask you: who finds this helpful and who hates it? And how many books have been ruined for you because of all that highlighting?

I've managed to enjoy some of the books we've read in my English classes (Lord of the Flies, Fahrenheit 451, and Les Miserables, to name a few), but somehow, I don't think the active reading had anything to do with it. So...anyone want to comment further?

Apr 21, 2007, 3:11 pm

I stuck with a few hundred sticky notes to serve this purpose when I bought a book (The Mosquito Coast) that I needed for english class last semester. My friends laughed at how colourful my book looked with flags of every colour sticking out all over, a different colour for each different element I had to analyse.

On the other hand, when we were given a school copy of Macbeth to read, I was actually fine to see people had marked up those books, because it was clearly things a past teacher had mentioned to them as important, that my teacher hadn't bothered to point out... those notes helped me find a few extra good quotations, full of symbolism and all that.

So while I can't bear to mark up my own books, I can see how people could mark up school books or text books that are solely used for classes. However, in library books I wouldn't mark them up because they aren't mine, but I am often amused to see little pencilled in underlining of 'key' lines if I come across them in borrowed books, they don't bother me really unless they are highlighted or very glaring notes. If they are in pencil I figure they can just be erased for the most part.

Apr 21, 2007, 7:51 pm

My nonfiction of all kinds is covered in highlighter and notes. However I don't write or highlight in fiction.

Apr 22, 2007, 2:11 am

You guys should try erasable highlighters and see-through posts. They're wonderful! I use them in my textbooks all the time.

I feel that reading with the purpose of analyzing as a class versus reading on my own can make my reading experience etc better for some books yet worse for others. For instance, I loved the ideas expressed in Fahrenheit 451. However, reading it for a class provided to be a better experience for me that reading it for pleasure. At the same time, there have been times when I've felt I could do better with a book if I just simply read it, without all the extra analyzing and finding use of those literary terms as well as reading without having the pressure of to write a paper on it. I love writing papers for English classes, but sometimes I just want to just read and do nothing more.

Apr 22, 2007, 5:19 am

#4, I agree with you on this, class analyzation and discussion can improve a book for me, particularly one that I feel I can't get the full potential of on my own. I think I love Russian literature so much because I've studied it and Russian and Russia and so have a deeper understanding of the motives and what is actually going on the novel. I've never actually disliked a book just because I was studying it though, or even thought that I would enjoy it more without studying it. Generally, if I write a paper on a novel that I like, I wind up liking it even more because I can understand it better than if I had just read it.

Regarding the original topic, I never write in books. A sin according to my professors, but I can't help it. I don't want to deface them. I prefer to take notes elsewhere. I do generally write on poetry actually, but generally only with a very light pencil, and only because I feel that poetry is made to be analyzed more closely than most prose. I've never been required to mark up a book. I think that I never started because in high school we weren't allowed to write in our books since they were owned by the school, and now that I buy my own books I am even less inclined to fill them with notes.

Apr 22, 2007, 11:27 am

With see-through post-its, books are completely safe from damage. They come in the same colors as highlighters do as well as colorless, and you write on those after inserting them into your book. When you no longer want them in your book, you simply remove them and the sticky part leaves no damage behind on the page. You should see me in line at my college bookstore as I wait to sell my books back - I can be seen pulling the see-through post-its all out of my books. I end up with a clump of plastic sheets of 'paper' to throw away.

Apr 22, 2007, 11:49 am

You know, that might be something to invest in for my English classes next year, because it's really hard for me to reread a book that I've already marked up...makes it too distracting and it reminds me of the horrors of trying to finish the book on time for class!

Apr 26, 2007, 1:20 pm

I hate it, but you probably knew that already. What's really funny and hypocritical is that I have some books that I don't have to actively read that I do manage to actively read... Mostly, because I'll find something interesting Nothing Feels Good: Punk Rock, Teenagers, and Emo by Andy Greenwald is one that I've found myself underlining things in. The whole book is interesting (except when it gets to all that stuff about Chris Caberra or whoever... the 30 something year old man who still thinks he's in freaking high school) so I underline key points and quotes I like. That's what I'm doing with A Prayer for Owen Meany as well, because it's so funny and there's so much I feel I could talk about if given a really cool essay about how amazing Owen was if I had some interesting quotes.

But you already knew that.

Apr 26, 2007, 3:14 pm

7: I totally agree. There have been several books I've picked up again only to be annoyed with the mark-up. And I buy used books all the time, but hate hate hate it when I find writing in them. In college I occasionally wrote in books, especially if I was writing a paper on them. Otherwise, a clean slate for me to enjoy in the future.

Apr 26, 2007, 4:10 pm

I love finding books with notes already in them, and I'm slowly building a habit of adding to them.

My best friend graduated high school the year before me, and she gave me all her books from senior English. So we started a tradition of handing the books down, always adding notes to them. I have no idea who has them now, but I like that we did that.

Apr 26, 2007, 6:08 pm

I often find notes from previous owners to be useful. A few times, they irritate me, but not as much as it would irritate others.

May 25, 2007, 10:34 am

I LOVE highlighting and underlining passages and things like that. For English, I use different colored highlighters for distinguish characters. For example, I'm currently reading The Great Gatsby. Gatsby, Blue; Daisy, Yellow; Jordan, Pink; and Tom, Green. I use my pencil for other things like alliteration, themes, things like that. I find it EXTREMELY helpful.

Jun 6, 2007, 8:27 am

I am definitely an active reader, but it takes on different forms in the different types of books I read. If I am reading a library book or someone else's book, I use sticky notes or flags--sometimes I'll even write notes on the notes then transfer them to my comments on LT or other book journal. If it is a non-fiction book that I own I use flags, pencil underlining and highlighting depending on the mood that I am in. I do, however, find it very distracting if I have someone else's book with it marked-up.

Jun 9, 2007, 10:24 am

I don't write notes in books, or even highlight. The most I do is turn down the corner of a page that has a passage I like. But I like seeing thenotes other people have put in books.