Trevin Wax: You recommend marking up books. Why?
Tony Reinke: I certainly do. So many Christians treat books as taskmasters. Most Christians have a stack of unfinished books in their house, maybe on a desk or a bookshelf. Those unfinished books are often a source of low-grade guilt. We’ve been conditioned to think that if we buy a book, we must read it from cover to cover. That’s not true, and I’m trying to loosen Christians from this misunderstanding of what is really a subtle form of slavery to books.
Apart from Scripture, all other books are optional reading. In fact, all other books are tools for us to use in our lives as we see fit. We use books when we need them. This means that we can read books cover to cover if we wish. Or we can read one chapter, or one page. It’s our call. By writing in a book, I claim the book as a tool. I own it; it belongs to me; it was purchased to serve me, and its value to me as a tool far exceeds its resale value. This does not give me license to ignore the truth God teaches me in my reading, but it does liberate me to see books as gifts from God, not as taskmasters. And that’s a very important stage of development for Christian readers.
Of course, I mark all sorts of things in my books, but fundamentally it is a claim of ownership, a claim that reminds me that my books are my tools and that I am not enslaved to them.
Reading this made my day. When I’m reading a book, the worst thing I can do is NOT have a pen in hand. I wind up forgetting most of what I’ve read if I’m not interacting with the material—making notes, asking questions, underlining… It’s fun to have my own ongoing commentary with a book. There has even been at least one book where I’ve ended up crossing out entire pages because the content was utter nonsense.
But rather than just talk about what I do when I mark up a book, I thought I might show you (I know, it’s ridiculous, but it’s Friday!)—check it out:
So that’s what a typical book on my shelf looks like. They tend to be marked up, messed up and beat up. And if I didn’t care enough to mark up a book, then it wasn’t actually worth my time reading it.
Question: Do you mark up your books? Why or why not?