One of the most insightful and useful books I’ve ever read is a small volume by Harold Kushner called Living a Life That Matters.
Today, I want to suggest ways of getting the most out of books, at least nonfiction books, which is about all I read.
Reading shouldn’t be a passive experience. If you allow yourself to be absorbed in the interaction of the author’s thoughts and your reactions, it’s like a great conversation. I know lots of people think it’s a sin to mark up a book; I think it’s a waste to leave it untouched.
I reread complex, clever, and profound passages several times. I underline them, make notes in the margin, fold back pages, do whatever I can to highlight the parts I found useful or inspirational so I can find them again.
When a passage stimulates thoughts, I immediately write them in the margins or on the blank pages in the front or back of the book. A really good book has me thinking as much as reading, and I never read a book in one sitting. When I restart the book, I revisit my notes like they were old friends.
Both during and after the book I try to communicate what I’ve learned or the new ideas generated in conversations, letters, and even these commentaries. New insights are a great gift, and I think we should share them. I liked Kushner’s book so much that I bought 30 copies and gave them as gifts.
While writing this piece, I realized that the way I approach books is also a decent way to approach life: Live it fully and completely at the time, and live it by remembering it and sharing it.
This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.