Sunday, May 6, 2007

Underlining in books

David Weinberger asks a great question in his most recent newsletter:
"Is there a wrong way to underline a book?"

That got me to thinking about a book I read recently that had been underlined by someone else. I don't think I've ever had such a weird experience. This person didn't underline anything that I would have underlined.

It didn't take me long to determine a pattern to the underlining. I learned very quickly that the salient point could almost always be found 2-3 paragraphs after the underlining. I was so not enjoying this that I started looking for the underlinings, and then I would skip ahead three paragraphs to start reading. At first, I would occasionally backup to the underlining to try to determine the context. After a while, however, I realized that my strategy was right on target and I finished the whole book reading it this way.

Anyone else had a similar experience? Read a book underlined by someone else? Seems to me that underlining, like tagging, is a highly personal thing. We don't all see the world through the same lens. Which is one of the reasons that taxonomies constructed by committees will always be less than satisfactory. Imagine underlining by committee? (Hehe, just the thought evoked a hearty LOL.)

So to answer David's question directly - no you can't underline a book wrong as long as you are doing it for yourself. I will never again, however, read a book underlined by someone else. From here on out all my books will be virgins.

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