How do you read books? If this sounds like a stupid question, I’ll explain why I ask.

Are you the kind of person who underlines passages or makes a lot of notes in the margins or composes erudite footnotes?  The modern equivalent of this would be to use the highlighter and note making options on your tablet of choice.

The old-fashioned way can be seen in well-thumbed library books. I like watching students in libraries diligently working through some set reading material. They will often underline or highlight huge sections of the text. Sometimes they even mark it all as if to remind themselves what they have read. This is the academic equivalent of marking dates off a calendar. Whether or not they remember the content is another matter!

My Mom borrows about half a dozen titles every couple of weeks and reads very quickly. She likes historical romances best. She never makes a note of what she’s read so will often be half way through a novel before realising that she’s read it before.

By contrast, I’m quite a slow reader but, while I do remember authors and titles, I’m frequently irritated by how rapidly I forget plot details and character names. Keeping this blog helps, as I make a point of writing a short review of every book I read.

Over the years, I’ve developed a way of annotating the text to find parts of the novel I want to go back to. This is the marking system I use:

  • X = noteworthy
  • ** = fundamental
  • !! = surprising
  • √ = me like;
  • ?? = WTF

In addition to the above, I circle words or expressions I want to drop in casual conversation to impress friends.

If someone read a book after me they would know what caught my attention but wouldn’t necessarily appreciate that I am a man of taste, intelligence and wisdom! If I wanted to guarantee this effect I’d have to seek out a modern-day equivalent of the book handling service as outlined by Flann O’Brien which you can read here.

O’Brien wrote this for the Irish Times in a column called Cruiskeen Lawn under the pseudonym Myles na Gopaleen. Material from this column was collected in The Best of Myles and first published by Picador in 1968.

I would invest in the advance fourth level – Le Traitement Superbe.Here, the volume is “well and truly handled, first by a qualified handler……and suitable passages in not less than fifty per cent of the books to be underlined in good-quality red ink and an appropriate phrase from the following list inserted in the margin, viz:

  • Rubbish!
  • Yes, indeedl
  • How true, how true!
  • I don’t agree at all.
  • Why?
  • Yes, but cf. Homer, Od., iii, 151.
  • Well, well, well.
  • Quite, but Boussuet in his Discours sur l’histoire Universelle has already established the same point and given much more forceful explanations.
  • Nonsense, nonsense!
  • A point well taken!
  • But why in heaven’s name?
  • I remember poor Joyce saying the very same thing to me.

Techno-geeks who could provide an e-book equivalent of this service could make a small fortune!