Sunday, September 13, 2009

How To Use A Book

Tim Challies recently put up a post about the use of books (reading them, taking notes, etc.). It includes an often-repeated quote from Mortimer Adler, in which Adler recommends writing in your books, among other things. If anybody is interested, I posted a response in that thread explaining why I disagree with some of Adler's advice.

A lot could be said about this subject and others related to it, but I would add the following to the points I made in the thread at People can figure these things out on their own, and most readers probably have already implemented some or all of these suggestions or have better ideas than mine. But I thought I'd post these suggestions for the possible benefit of some readers, especially those who are young or new to Christianity:

- Use a piece of paper as a bookmark for any book you read, even if you don't think it's one that's likely to give you anything worth noting. There may be something in the book you didn't anticipate, and it's good to be persistent in keeping paper with you when you're reading. That makes it less likely that you'll be unprepared when you need to take notes.

- As early in life as possible, spend some time reading a large variety of online forums, or consulting some similar source, to gather information about what you should be looking for when you read. Follow some forums in which there are discussions with and/or about atheists, Mormons, Roman Catholics, Muslims, etc. Notice what issues are involved. If you spend a lot of time doing that sort of research, then you'll be better at discerning what to look for in books, what notes to take, etc. For example, it's good to know, prior to starting down the course of reading the writings of the church fathers, that some people deny that Jesus existed, deny that He died on the cross, deny that Paul wrote Ephesians, believe that Mary was sinless, etc. If you don't know about the controversies surrounding such issues as you read the fathers, then you probably won't take much notice of what the fathers say relevant to those subjects and won't write any notes about what they say. If you later want information on those subjects, you probably won't remember where you read about them in the fathers. I would advise those who are newer to Christianity to deliberately put off some types of reading until they're more familiar with the general outlines of what to look for in the books they're reading and how to take notes.

- We can't take extensive notes on every conceivable subject when we read books. We have to draw a line somewhere. Each individual has to have his own hierarchy of priorities, depending on his experience, interests, what he expects to be doing in the future, etc. Somebody who's a former Mormon and is involved in ministry to Mormons, for example, is going to be more interested than the average person in taking notes on subjects related to Mormonism when he reads a book. But even if you've never been a Mormon, have never met one, and have little interest in becoming involved in ministry to Mormons, there may be enough of a chance that you'll want information on the subject in the future to warrant taking some notes. To an extent, it's better to take too many notes than too few. You don't know how your interests will change once you meet a particular person in the future, read a particular book, etc. If X subjects in a book seem interesting to you at the moment, you probably should be taking notes on at least X + 1.

- What you remember five seconds after reading a passage usually isn't going to be what you remember five years after reading it. Even though it takes more time and effort initially, make your notes detailed enough so that they're sufficiently useful in the future. For instance, if you come across a helpful passage in a book concerning the physicality of Jesus' resurrection, don't just write "resurrection" in your notes. Write "physical nature of Jesus' resurrection" or something like that. It will save you time and effort over the long run, even though in the short term it takes more time and effort to write out a longer note.

- If you're involved much in online work (corresponding with people through email, online apologetics, etc.), you may want to organize some of your notes, or quotes from the books you read, in the form of computer files. For example, have a file titled "Resurrection" or "Papacy" containing relevant notes and/or quotations from books.

- Get a good bookstand (a stand that will hold a book up for you, has clips to keep the pages open, etc.). It's useful for typing out quotes on a computer, for example. You can get some good bookstands at

If anybody else has recommendations on these topics or related ones, you can post them in the comments section of this thread.

1 comment:

  1. If you plan to share your notes, I think that Google Docs is a good resource. It lets you upload your documents and share each one on an individual basis, to whomever you want. Makes for a good backup utility too