C.S. Lewis said that you have not really read a book unless you’ve reread it.
The older I get (almost sixty), the more I enjoy rereading books that have been most formative for me. I won’t ever do what Spurgeon did in reading The Pilgrim’s Progress 100 times, but rereading is enriching, especially when it comes to great books.
I recently reread The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis. It is a little over 120 pages, but I made over 100 marginal notes. When I first read it, all I did was underline. This second read through was more active.
Augustine said that attention is necessary for reading, and reading aids attention. Being distracted is nothing new. Augustine was writing about the distractions of life over 1500 years ago.
Christians ought to be the best of readers, so how about reading, or rereading a good book?!
No, it is not in Philadelphia! Doreen and I spent a wonderful day in Newport, RI during our time of study at Yale. Here is a terrific overview of Newport and the library:
I write down many things as I read. One of my commonplace books is pictured above. They are wonderful friends who have been with me for many years.
If you are not familiar with a commonplace book, listen to this description by Tracy McKenzie of Wheaton and consider using one yourself!:
Last week I began a new feature on this blog that I am calling “From My Commonplace Book.” A commonplace book is a journal in which you record favorite quotes from what you are reading, and sometimes the thoughts that they evoke. In the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, it was not uncommon for students to be required to keep a commonplace book, and many of the leading lights of the American revolutionary generation did so. I’ve been doing so now for more than a year, selecting quotes that help me to think through my calling as a Christian, historian, and teacher.
I could type them on my laptop, but I like the idea of writing the quotes out by hand. For one thing, it heightens the sense that I am following in the footsteps of those who have gone before me. We live in a present-tense society that dismisses 94 percent of all the human beings who have ever drawn breath on this planet simply because they are no longer living. When I sit down to my commonplace book with pen in hand, I am self-consciously engaging in a countercultural act. It’s a symbolic gesture but no less important for that. It helps me, imaginatively, to think of myself as entering into a grand conversation about enduring questions, something far bigger than the transient fads and obsessions that so easily steal the best days of our lives.
Writing the quotes out by hand also forces me to slow down, and that in itself is a countercultural act as well. By lingering over a passage and recording it with painstaking care, I am symbolically setting it apart from the ocean of information that inundates me daily. Much of that information may be valuable, but the passages that go into my commonplace book are life-changing.
In my Amazon review of John Lukacs terrific book I wrote:
If all historians wrote like Lukacs, more people would read history. Insightful and full of practical implications. I enjoyed my reread of this fine book as much as the initial time through.
So here are poignant and penetrating reflections from the author of one of my favorite books, Five Days in London: May 1940
Below Ben Myers shares his different types of reading. His are different than mine, but there is some similarity. Mine roughly fit under the acrostic GROWTH:
REVIEW (OR INTERVIEW)
OTHER (CATCHALL FOR THOSE THAT DON’T FIT IN THE OTHER CATEGORIES)
WORD (BOOKS RELATED DIRECTLY TO THE BIBLE LIKE COMMENTARIES)
TEACHING (BOOKS THAT RELATE TO SOMETHING I AM TEACHING)
I very much agree with this approach. I have used a similar method for many years. And yes, by all means, throw out your yellow highlighter! Get something more elegant. I like a red pencil along with a fine, black pen for marginal notes.
In the previous post I interviewed Dave Mahan on poetry. Dave mentioned a formative teacher in Peter Hawkins. Here is a short video where Hawkins talks about a number of things, but I want to draw your attention to “careful reading” and really falling in love with great texts.
My latest interview at Jesus Creed: