By David L. Ulin.
(From: The Lost Art of Reading: Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time)
I decided I would help my son Noah with The Great Gatsby. He didn’t ask, not exactly, but neither did he say no. First, I showed him some of my annotations: a galley of a novel I was reviewing, the marked-up copy of a text I was preparing to teach. He stood just inside the door of my home office, thumbing through the pages, smiling closely to himself. “You’d fail if you were in my class,” he said.
Noah was right, of course, for I am a minimalist when it comes to marginalia … or maybe, it’s just that, at this point, I know what works for me. Either way, I’ve developed my own shorthand for note-taking, a system of slashes and asterisks and underlinings that take the place of language, that serve more as memory triggers — cite this — than as the component parts of any intellectual or critical frame. It’s not that I mind highlighting passages that move me; in fact, I’ve grown so used to reading with a pen in my hand that I miss it, an almost physical ache, when I read for pleasure, as if in the act of annotation, I can’t help but take a deeper plunge. And yet, like Noah, I don’t want to be distracted, don’t want to be pulled out of the flow. The sample annotations that he showed me, a series of page spreads covered with small, precise loops of writing, made my head hurt, not so much because of the denseness of the commentary as because of how it cluttered up the page. Too many notes and it can get overwhelming, interposing the reader’s sensibility on top of the writer’s until it is obscured. To me, this is antithetical to the nature of the process, which is (or should be) porous, an interweaving rather than a dissemination, a blending, not an imposition, of sensibilities. Continue Reading…