How do you read your books? When you read the Bible, do you scribble notes on the side margins? When you read your textbooks, do you highlight important details? Do you underline things you have questions about? Do you dog-ear the pages you find most interesting when you’re engaged in a novel or personal growth book?
Mortimer Adler (in his passage How to Mark a Book) states that readers aren’t owners of their books simply because they made the purchase. He says that most people believe that a book is sacred and shouldn’t be damaged with writing. And I agree because, before reading his essay, I also did not write in books I own thinking that it would devalue its pages. As kids, we are raised this way – don’t write in books you check out from the library and don’t write in the textbooks that your teachers distribute at the beginning of the school year.
But we aren’t in grade school anymore. And most of the textbooks we buy in college, we own. (Unless we won’t use them after we graduate, we have the option of selling them back to the bookstore or passing them to an underclassman). And the books we buy for leisure or personal learning, we own as well. So why not make them ours? Adler states that we are “restrained by a false respect for their physical appearance.”
Adler encourages us to pay respect to the author by really connecting with the book and says that the only way to do this is not only to read between the lines, but to “write between the lines.” He says there are three types of book owners. The first type owns all the best-selling books and they are all in perfect condition, barely touched. The second owns books that he or she has started but each of them most likely has not been thoroughly read all the way through. The third type of book owner has only a few books or even tons of them, and “every one of them dog-eared and dilapidated…marked and scribbled in from front to back.” He goes on to say that circling, underlining, highlighting, and making notes in the books we own keeps us awake mentally while we read, slows us down instead of rushing through, helps us understand and retain, and most importantly, helps us connect more with the author’s thoughts as well as our own.
Adler believed that writing in books is like a conversation. Without making these marks, the “conversation” doesn’t really exist; we are only hearing what is being said. But with writing and being an active reader by doing so, we have the ability to actually listen, reflect, and respond. This passage gave me a new insight on reading. And since I’m only in chapter one of the most recent book I bought, I’m going to start over at the beginning and really engage in my book with a pencil, keeping what Adler has said in mind.
After I read How to Mark a Book and thinking all these thoughts concerning books, my mind went a little deeper. I realized, Hey, I’ve not only been reading my books in a skimming type of fashion. I have also been living my life this way for the past several years! **gasp** I’ve just been going on living word for word and line for line. Page for page. When am I going to start living and not just existing? When am I going to start connecting, digging, and pursuing? Life is much like a book in the sense that we can either treat it like it’s just a page or actually engage in its bottomless wonders.
You might be able to change overnight the ways in which you read books. But you can’t change the way you live that quickly. Over the past several months I have been doing plenty reflecting – on where my life has been going since I began college and how different that is compared to where my life is going now. I am a totally different person mentally than I was one year ago. And that’s how life should be, right? One year, you’re “this way” and the next year, you’re slightly more mature and accomplished than you were previously. Well this is NOT one of those moments. This is bigger. I have, for a few months or so been thinking about teenage and younger-twenties Jasmine, as well as today’s soon-to-be 24-year-old Jasmine. It’s scary, these thoughts. Why was I acting like I didn’t have priorities? Why was I treating life like a breeze? Like fun and games? Did I not realize that no one can take me seriously until I start taking myself seriously??? Why was I searching for love and laughter in all the wrong places? Why did I allow myself to be surrounded by such nonsense? Why was I friends with these so-and-so’s and why was I ever even in “love” with those Mr. Such-and-Such’s? Why was I so naïve and letting people disrespect me, in turn disrespecting my own self? Why wasn’t I learning lessons, making the same mistakes over and over? Why was I treating my relationship with God like a book that can be picked up whenever I decide that I have time? WHAT the heck was I doing???!
I was skimming through life, wasting time; that’s what that was. I wish I could burn those pages and start over, being an active reader like I was raised to be. That’s who I thought I still was. Boy, was I wrong. At times, I wanted to change. I might have told myself and my friends that I was going to change. But those “changes” were, sadly, only temporary. Each of the times that I “changed,” I didn’t even feel any different. But lately, I’ve been feeling…well, “different.” I’ve been thinking thoughts I never even thought of and asking myself questions I’d never asked. It feels something like a…coming of age? Like a slap in the face even. I can’t stand who I was, all the wondering at times why I had low self-esteem. I have ALL of the answers right now, finally. And there is nothing left for me to do but to move on with my life carrying the lessons I have learned with me and hopefully inspiring others who are also drowned by the mind-frame of a young-minded, sheltered, naive individual. Or even the mind-frame of those who have no home training at all. But I’m afraid that most of these are things one must learn on their own. You can’t tell a young person a thing! That’s how I was. I was on top of the world with this false sense of confidence and no one could tell me anything. Well I am on a different plane of thinking and living now (and it damn sure didn’t happen overnight). And I also know now that no matter how old you get, you can always learn from someone or something, whether it’s a family member or mentor or even just a book. We have to stop comparing our pages to the pages of other people’s lives. Our time will come when God sees that the time is right.
You can judge me and talk about me all you want. That’s fine. It’s life. But you don’t know me. Even I didn’t know who I was. So you’re going to be talking about a stranger, an individual who no longer exists but in photographs and in our memories. But that’s what college is for; it’s not just for going to class or joining clubs on campus or partying. It’s for you to discover yourself or at least discover things about yourself you did not think possible before. Now that I have finally come to this realization and ripeness, it is FINALLY time for me to move on to my life’s next chapter: life after graduation this May. I am equipped now with the self-esteem and the readiness I need to truly succeed and hopefully inspire. I took my baby steps but I am IN the building, people!
(See Jasmine, everything happens for a reason and according only to God’s timeline for my life.) Thank you, God, for finally giving me the answers to all the questions that have gone unanswered for years. This gives me the opportunity to reflect and restore. To the friends who have been patient throughout my childish ways – procrastination, indiscretion, uncensored, and inconsistency – I thank you as well. You all are lifelong friends I will cherish even after college, for realizing my true potential even when I didn’t. To the rest of you, I hope you one day grow up and move on as well.
Wishing everyone success, love, and happiness,