I love books. LOVE them. I love them as a reader, leaping into other worlds, being entertained and moved. I also love them as a writer–appreciating good writing, and learning from it as I read. I often can’t seem to turn off the writer/editor part of me when I read.
One thing that helps me learn from a book–as a writer, editor, and reviewer–as I read, is to have a pad of post-it notes next to me, and to mark passages in books that move me, that are well-written, or that are particularly not well-written, using post-it notes. Some of my writer friends joke with me that my books like they have raggedy yellow haircuts, with all the post-it notes sticking out from the edges of the pages. When I particularly love a book, there are a TON of post-it notes–so many, that I should probably buy stock in a post-it note company. 🙂 My books probably look peculiar to my fellow passengers on the subway and bus. But I love what I’m reading–and what I’m learning–too much to stop.
Sometimes I’m so into a book that I just quickly paste the post-it note next to the paragraph (in the margin), and decide I’ll go back later and fill in comments. But other times, I might jot down a few thoughts on the post-it note first. This keeps what is working, and what isn’t, in the writing, fresh in my mind when I finish the book and go back over it (as a reviewer), and, I think, keeps me analyzing the book (as a writer).
But when I just want to read a book without noticing what’s working and what doesn’t, I try not to use any post-it notes at all. It doesn’t always work; when a passage is particularly badly written, it throws me out of the book, and I itch to pick up a post-it note. The same thing happens when something is particularly beautifully written; I want to hold onto the language, how it moved me, the rhythm and cadence, and I guess I’m afraid I won’t if I don’t mark it somehow. I believe that just through reading, we absorb how to write, how to tell a story–but that by making it a conscious act to notice what works (and what doesn’t) in writing, we may absorb it even more.
I’m never going to stop reading for pleasure. But I also want my writing to keep getting better. So I use post-it notes.