Active Reading in the Margins

Austin Kleon is my favorite. I don’t hide this very well.

He has produced several books that have changed my life as an artist and creator for the better. Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work are really why I talk at all about my craft to begin with. It gave me license to stand up and start talking about the things I do. So you can blame him or thank him for that.

In fact, his books have inspired me to work on my “Hello and Good Day” blogs as a sort of artistic conversational book about culture, theology, and religious intersection of it all.

He’s also working on a new book, so I’m excited to read it.

Okay… so, uh, that was not really the point of this post. It just felt like it needed some initial context before I dove into it with y’all. Austin has a really great blog (as my tweet professed), and he’s always pulling me in to see things in new ways. I love to read, but it has become a somewhat selfish thing for me, I guess. I don’t necessarily appreciate the book as much as the feeling of finishing the book and that I accomplished that feat. But Austin’s last post about Marginalia “Reading with a Pencil” really caught me off guard.

In his post, Austin writes:

I believe that the first step towards becoming a writer is becoming a reader, but the next step is becoming a reader with a pencil.

Oliver Sacks’ writing in a Noam Chomsky book

Taking notes in the margins is how we ‘read with a pencil’, and it’s how good readers cross over into becoming good writers. Use the margins to ask questions, provide your own answers, argue with the writer, pass on notes to someone you want to share the book with, WHATEVER! It is a way to take an active interest in what you read, instead of just devouring content and moving on with little effect on who you are afterward.

This post from Austin forced me to realize that I used to read with a pencil, but I stopped somewhere along the way. I became a devourer of content, rather than a participant in it, and that was harming my ability to write as well. Playing with ideas is one of the greatest gifts we have as the human race, and when we put aside the pencil and just take a book at face value, we lose that playful part of ourselves.

So thanks, Austin. I’m going to tear into my next read with tenacity, and share my thoughts with others.

Go read Austin’s original post “Reading with a Pencil”.

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