On How to Mark a Book.  Half of slow reads’s traffic comes from this post, so it is with a dollop of trepidation that I’m revising it.  Annotation is a traditional skill taught in Advanced Placement Language and Literature, and the traffic comes from teachers and students of those college-level courses.  I reread my essay with a teacher’s eye last month since I’ll be using it in a couple of Lang sections this fall.

I got more specific about ways to annotate.  Readers could find each of my eight means in the outline the original post linked to, but each means was described in the outline with little detail and with little reference to which purpose the means served.

Speaking of purposes of annotating, I went from three to four.  Instead of to establish territory, to create trails, and to learn to write, I’m doing to create trails, to interact with the author, to learn what the book teaches, and to learn to write (or at least learn how a book was written).  I included interaction with the author thanks to my reading of Ong, Calvino, and Rosenblatt. who redirected my thinking toward the author-reader relationship that was starving under my essentially New-Critical approach.

Of course, the best advice is ultimately that of Virginia Woolf, who, in her essay “How Should One Read a Book?” wrote:

The only advice, indeed, that one person can give another about reading is to take no advice, to follow your own instincts, to use your own reason, to come to your own conclusions.

By Peter

After stints as a trial lawyer and a church worker, Peter Stephens has settled in as a Virginia high school English teacher. Peter has read several books and poems. He wrote none of the posts below filed under "Passages." Click the link at the end of each post to see it in the context of the author's original post.


  1. My father taught us a very simple method: underlining in three colours – blue, red and green in that order. He learned it from a self-help book where some learned person, a professor or something, had said that a book hadn’t been studied unless it had been underlined in four colours (he also used black). I’ve tried adding black but I rarely find a single paragraph with more than three main points and if I do then I just start again with blue. I’ve never taken to highlighters – they’re not neat enough for my tastes.

  2. Hm! I used to use a box of sixteen crayons. Back in the Charismatic Movement (the Chromatic Movement?), many of my circle tried to outdo each other marking up our “King James Coloring Books.” I think that’s where it all started for me. I kind of brought that mentality into college.

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