COMMENTARY 983.5: Living and Reading

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.

Comments 4

  1. Great advise Michael! Summer is nearing and it’s a great time to pick up a few books and “meet new people” take your mind to foreign lands learn new things and a new language!

  2. I agree whole heartedly about your desire to write in the books, highlight and note pages. I love to be able to go back to things I read and reread them as my perspective changes.
    Although I adore my ereaders for many reasons- I find much more comfort and thoughtfulness when I have a book in my hands!
    Thanks for supporting me! ha!

  3. I do the very same thing when I read non-fiction books that inspire me but I have a color code system. I will highlight in yellow the really great thoughts but I use “post it flags” – red means it had impact on my thoughts or actions; green inspires me to be a better person on a really rough day; and yellow is a thought that I don’t entirely agree with and will need to explore more! My books and I have “conversations” all the time! Glad to know that I’m not entirely nuts!

    Thanks for your thoughts.

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