“I find that poetry helps. You can’t zoom through poetry; it forces you to slow down, think, concentrate, relish words and phrases. I now try to begin each day with a selection from George Herbert, Gerard Manley Hopkins, or R. S. Thomas.”
The rest is below (HT: Thomas Kidd’s email letter)
I came up with “Moore’s Law of Literature” about a year ago.
It is quite simple, and so far, always accurate.
Here’s how it works. I take the total number of pages a book has, so in the case of The Last Days of Socrates by Plato, we have 183. I divide this by 2 so 91.5. If the total of my marginal notes exceeds 91.5 then it is a formative book. In the case of The Last Days of Socrates I made 102 marginal notes.
Fortunately, even the modern books I’ve read this past year have all passed the test. If I went back over a lifetime of reading there would be many books that would not.
For me, the answer has come from a simple mathematical equation. I take the total number of pages in a book and divide by two. If my total marginal notes exceeds that number then most likely the book was invaluable to read.
This does not mean, of course, that I agree with everything in the book. It does mean the book provoked much fruitful interaction.
The photo above is my copy of the terrific, Flannery O’Connor and the Christ-Haunted South by Ralph Woods.
I regularly get asked to recommend books which is a privilege and delight. Less frequently, I am asked what process/strategies I use for reading. When I do, I mention the following. Books are not created equally so lesser lights don’t get the following treatment, but many do.
Here is my copy of the wonderful Melville: His World and Work by Andrew Delbanco. I am very interested in the challenges to the Christian faith that arose in the nineteenth century America.
For years, I’ve used a red pencil to highlight and either a black pen or pencil for marginal notes. I don’t always make an index as in the second photo, but it is not uncommon.
Libraries are a treasure for many reasons, not the least of which are great sales. Our first purchase at a library occurred in Menlo Park, California during the 1980s. We bought a nineteenth century edition of The Saints’ Everlasting Rest by Richard Baxter. It cost 50 cents! Sure, it was a bit beat up, but such a deal.
Since then, I’ve always tried to visit libraries, especially when I’m traveling. The picture below shows five great books I recently bought in Florida for $1 each. All are unmarked and ready for my own system of note taking.