Like many of my bookish friends, I rarely read only one book at a time. Right now, for example, I am reading a collection of short works by P. G. Wodehouse (The Man with Two Left Feet and Other Stories), a novel by Iraj Pezeshkzad (My Uncle Napoleon), a book about libraries by Matthew Battles (Library: An Unquiet History) a book about the making of “Imagine” by John and Yoko Ono Lennon (Imagine: John Yoko), and a book of essays about food mostly by Mark Kurlansky (Choice Cuts). I am also listening to an audio version of Homer’s Iliad.
I’ve read this way for as long as I can remember. There are so many things I’m interested in, and so many times a book that is fine on one day is not something that suits my mood the following day. It may be a weird way of approaching books, but it has always worked for me.
Another bookish habit — one that was schooled out of me early on — is not marking up books as a rule. There are one or two books that I have marked up over the years (always feeling guilty about doing so), but those books I have always bought an extra copy of — just for the purpose. I’ve been thinking about this lately because Benjamin McEvoy notes in his YouTube lectures about reading notes that marking up a book with comments, indices, and other marginalia is one of the best ways to make a book “yours” and to tie your thoughts about the book to other books you’ve read, ideas you’ve had, and how the book relates to your world views and general values and beliefs. I have to admit that the idea is scary — and when I discussed it with one of my most well-read friends last night, he noted that he had also been taught that marking up books was a sin. (His parents were both educators; my mom was a bookkeeper and my dad was a construction worker.)
A bookish friend of mine, the late Velma Bowen, had a system for marking up books, and I did use it once or twice to note ideas in books on journal-keeping (I was teaching online courses in journal-keeping at the time, so being able to find the info was useful. I also developed a system for noting things in my own journals (which I still use when I journal by hand). I number the notebook’s pages and then I create a Table of Contents (ToC) going from back to front in the last three pages of the journal. Working from back to front with the ToC means that if I need more pages, it’s easy enough to do, I just rule off a page or two more. I have three columns in my ToC: the date of the entry, the page number(s), and a column for a brief description of the information I’m noting. I’ve used this system since 1979 or so (way. before Ryder Carroll and Bullet Journalling became A THING, and it has never failed me yet.
Another bookish habit I developed early on is maxing out my library cards. These days, that’s easier than ever, what with e-readers; apps like Glose, Audible, and Libby (my current favorite); inter-library loans; Project Gutenberg, the Internet Archive, and — of course — the good, old neighborhood library. (We won’t mention that I have maxed out my Kindle at least three times, and I am currently at maximum borrowing and holds at two of the three libraries I have access to through Libby.) Yes, I do love “real” books (now often referred to as “dead-tree editions”, but I can carry thousands of books an an electronic device (as opposed to maybe three physical books), which has become more important as my health has declined over the years
The other bookish habit I have, and I suspect that it is the most important one of the lot, is that I read every day. I found out long ago that if I do not do that, the ability atrophies, just like what happens when you don’t use any other muscle, talent, or ability. What I do not do is set up a formal schedule for reading — life throws too many curve balls at adults to be able to say I will read for “x” amount of time every day. Some days, I will barely get half a short story read; other days, I will finish one or two novels. The point is not that I turn reading into a job that must be done; I keep it a pleasure that I can fit into whatever time my day allows.
So, above are peeks at some of the habits (good and bad) that I have acquired around reading over the years. I’d love to hear what yours are, so please feel free to tell me what works (or doesn’t) for you.