Book Behavior

Here’s a thread to discuss anything related to your reading habits. I’m going to suggest some questions to explore, but please feel to explore different issues regarding your reading habits.

  • How do you go about choosing the books to read?
  • What attracts you to some books and not to others?
  • Is there a favorite time or place you like to read?
  • What are some of your favorite types of books to read?

I’m also interested in learning about the kinds active things you don’t when you read a book. For example, I often write little descriptions or titles in the book for sections that I feel are important. Another example is a system for marking passages in the book you’re reading. I have a system (which I always don’t follow) of marks that move up in importance. I use checks next to passages that I may want to refer to, but are not that significant. Lines next to passages indicate passages that are more significant. Finally, underlining passages indicates the passages that are most meaningful or significant to me.

What kinds of tricks do you employ when reading?

14 Responses to “Book Behavior”

  1. Tony

    At least once a month I pick up a book because the book club I attend recommends it for the next meeting. From there it’s all about catchy covers, recommendations from friends, and cover blurbs from writers I love. And then sometimes it just comes down to a hunch.

  2. Reid

    Can you (or anyone else) articulate what covers attract you and what covers turn you off? Covers can have an impact on my selection, but I’ve never really thought about the specifics.

    Cover blurbs are important. I also try to read the first couple of paragraphs. If it sounds interesting–and usually the book has to match a kind of “mood” I”m in–then I’ll read it. I’m not such a lover of books that I can read just about anything. I can only enjoy reading books that I’m in the mood for. It’s sort of like that with food. The food that I enjoy are the food that I’m in the mood for at that moment.

  3. Tony

    When it comes to covers, I like simple and slightly abstract. One interesting thing about the books that the group I attend reads is that we mostly read paperbacks, but someone always checks a hardcover out from the library. The two are often very different. Most of the times, the hardcover covers don’t attract me at all: they’re too froo-froo and pretty. yeah, something like that. Anyone else?

  4. Reid

    I’m not aware of what makes covers attractive to me. I just know they do have an impact on my selection, especially on books that I know nothing about. In a way, being influenced by covers is mildly annoying. Rationally and the practical side of me says covers shouldn’t matter at all. Cover art also influences my music purchasing as well. Sorry, that’s not much of an answer.

    Anyone else?

    I’m also interested in hearing more about people’s reading habits.

    I like to read in bed or lying on my stomach with a pillow on my chest in the living room. A good lazy-boy type chair is good, too. In college I used to sit sideways on the lazy-boy in my apartment. Since then I’ve seen a chair designed for people to sit sideways.

    I also like reading late at night when everything is really quiet. *(This is also my favorite time of watching movies by myself.) Reading in bed in the afternoon on a breezy or cold day is nice as well.

  5. pen

    I read mostly at night and usually while lying down on my bed. If it’s very engrossing, I’ve been known to go to sleep at 4 or 5 a.m. (you know you’re in bad shape when the sky lightens and you have to be at work in a couple of hours). If I’m reading for school or work, then I try to read at a desk or on my dining room table so I can write and take notes; but I also do that reading and my Sunday School lesson plans in bed while lying on my stomach or sitting against the headboard.

  6. Reid

    What kind of things do you write down? I’m interesting in hearing about your approach to that. Is there a way you organize your notes or specific things you look for when reading?

  7. pen

    Reid, I generally write things when it’s for school or work, and not for my “pleasure reading.” I used to be very anti-writing in books. I would hate it when people would highlight, underline and write in the margins. I felt like they were telling me what was important or that I would miss something that may have otherwise stood out for me.

    In law school that all went out the window. I began book briefing (especially cases), simply because of the sheer volume of reading matter (coupled with my procrastination tendencies). That sort of broke the barrier for me, and now I occasionally do highlight and write in margins…but I don’t do it often.

    I jot down main ideas. Connections between ideas in the book with something else I may have heard about or read. Inconsistencies that I want to check later, since I don’t want to interrupt the flow of my reading at that time. Sometimes I make an outline…kind of like taking notes in class. It’s really a combination of note-taking and a standard outline, because I draw arrorws and little boxes in the margins, etc.

    Another “book behavior” of mine is that I tend to read more than one book at a time (which is something I think Mitchell also does). For example, currently, I am reading The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud, How to be alone : essays by Jonathan Franzen, In our humble opinion : Car talk’s Click and Clack rant and rave by Tom and Ray Magliozzi, and Me talk pretty one day by David Sedaris. I don’t usually read this many books at once, but the essays are particularly easy to pick up and put down.

  8. Reid

    Nice post.

    Re: writing in books. Yeah, I don’t like reading other people’s markings and notes in books, but you’re writing in the book for yourself.

    I think note taking is essential to fully digesting the book. It’s a big part of what Mortimer Adler would call “active reading.” Reading is an active activity, and note taking (either in or outside of the book). This is the kind of thing you pick up if you really want to learn from books, but it should be discussed and talked about more in school, I think.

    You’re description sounds a lot like the approach I take. It would be interesting to see how you construct outlines. I don’t usually construct outlines, unless I really want to grasp and remember the points in the book. Constructing an outline is taking reading to another level for me.

    I sometimes write about passages in a separate notebook, just to play around with the idea and work on where the idea takes me. That can often be a fruitful process.

    I used to circle words I didn’t know, but I don’t do that much–mostly out of laziness.

    Re: reading more than one book.

    I usually do that, too. There’s just too many books to read. Plus, I like to have different options to suit the specific mood I may be in.

  9. Tony

    We must talk Franzen one day! I read How To Be Alone first and totally loved it (in an extremely melancholy kind of way). Then I read The Corrections and loved it as well. The two really inform each other.

    I like to make check marks in the books I read beside well-said things. The rule, though, is not hard and fast; sometimes I underline or bracket as well. If there’s a passage I REALLY love, I’ll write it in my journal. If it’s really good, it makes the first page of the next journal that I write in.

  10. pen

    Since the main ideas and themes or a well-phrased point generally remains the same, I feel I can mark up my own books without distracting myself the next time I read them. I even enjoy reading some margin notes, since it reminds me what I was thinking at the time.

    Tony, I’m enjoying Franzen (I’m only about 1/4 of the way through). He expresses an amusing turn of phrase and an interesting almost irreverent perspective…even about himself and his writing. I’m interested in reading more of his work.

  11. Reid

    You get distracted by your own markings? Unless, I went crazy with a highligther (which I normally don’t use), my markings don’t bother me.

    Shifting gears a bit, I don’t know if this happens to other people or not, but right after I buy a book, I have an excitement for reading that book. I feel like I should read the book right when I buy it to tap into this enthusiasm. Sometimes when I put aside a book to read later, when I finally get to it, I may not feel like reading the book.

  12. Reid

    I need to by a bookshelf, and I’ve been thinking about the way I’m going to organize these books. How do you organize your bookshelves?

    For me, I organize them by topics, and not alphabetically by author. I don’t even alphabetize in the topics. I guess it’s because I have so few books that it’s not very difficult to find any of the books I have. How about others?

  13. pen

    Perhaps I am more easily distracted than most, but even my own markings in my own book can distract me. It’s because I have this fragile hope that I will be able to pull something totally new and fresh out of the second or third reading (especially if it has been awhile since I last read the book), that I’m probably unduly afraid that any previous markings will hinder that.

    But as I type this, I realize that the book I have marked up the most is my Bible and I am certainly able to glean new insights or different perspectives there, in fact the highlights and notes help me. So I guess my worries are really unfounded. I think I may be overly cautious because I feel I am inclined to have a “sheep” mentality . . . meaning if I see it highlighted or a note in the margin, I automatically give too much credence to it and don’t think much further. Not saying much for my intellectual prowess, huh?

    Regarding bookshelves, I believe you’ve seen mine. Loosely divided by categories and I try to clump the same authors together. The bookshelves in the second bedroom have all my legal junk, the one in my bedroom have the fiction books I tend to re-read (my “comfort” books), and the living room bookshelf has reference and books I don’t go to as often.

  14. Reid


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