If you highlight everything, you highlight nothing. If you highlight nothing, you highlight everything. If we are too far on either end of the spectrum, we are not generating subjective take home lessons, which is one of the most valuable aspects of reading. When a photographer takes a photo, they are providing a point of view in a certain way that is unique to their own personal characteristics and biases. The great thing about art is that it is a creative reflection of a person's lived experience. Everything in their life leading up to their latest image contributed in someway to how they captured their photo.
I think that our synopsis of all types of art is generated in a similar way. Whether you are making art or observing the art of someone else, the way you see it is a biography. I think that there is value in sharing how you see, what you see, and why you see it this way. The value is twofold. First, through engaging in self-reflection it forces you to generate an opinion and notice things in the world. Second, your opinion can help another person in ways that are unfathomable. For these reasons, highlighting, note taking, and building a personal dialogue on how you view art and or the world, is praiseworthy in itself.
When we highlight something we try and emphasize, that for whatever reason, the text is speaking to us. It is our was of saying, “this is more important than that, and I must revisit this”. When we revisit highlights, it instantly takes us back in space and time, to where we were and who you were when you made the highlight.
This time travelling technique is similar to what people feel with certain images, scents, and tastes. In a moment, we are taken from the present to the past, and before we know it we are back in the present. It’s an incredible exercise, to observe yourself when you are experiencing these micro time travels. What is interesting about notes or highlights is these are personally generated time capsules. You say, “this is important, this is meaningful to me, I want to revisit this so I can wrestle with what it means to me”. This internal dialogue is different than other types of time travel, as a scent, image, and taste are generated through the presence of an external stimulus. There is something proactive and more intentional about a note, journal or personal highlight.
We read to gain enhanced insight and awareness in our life. This is based on the notion that the person that is more enlightened can live a happier and more fulfilling life. We seek and track knowledge we gain from others, through highlighting and note taking. When we revisit our highlights and notes we travel back in time to the moment when we were first ingesting the knowledge. After engaging in a few time capsules (personal highlights & notes), we are put in a position to generate a discussion and synopsis on what this insight we highlighted means to us, through our own personal lens. Again, through this process, we can help others and ourselves in ways that are not always quantifiable.
Anything worth reading once is worth reading a second and third time. So, if you are going to highlight something make sure it is noteworthy (make a note of it), and be sure to make time in your life to go back and reread your highlights. A technique I use for this is as follows, the first time I read something noteworthy I underline it and put #1, the second time I read the piece if the highlight is still speaking to me I’ll put #2, and the third time I read something if it is still meaningful I’ll put #3. This is a pretty telling method, as you can go through various texts and when you see the number 2 or 3, you know that these are invaluable personal pieces of information.
I find it especially beneficial to make notes during conversations with other people. Other people have a great way of stating truths that they believe are universal, which you may not have even considered. Taking in the opinions of others is a great way to dispel your beliefs on various matters. Through dialogue with another person, it becomes binary, “yes that is true and I believe that for the following reasons… Or, no that is untrue and here is why”.
I am writing this to highlight the importance of making your books your own. I want to encourage self-awareness and internal dialogue. Your personal books should have notes everywhere, highlights throughout, and a certain patina that is only generated through hours of engagement, reflection and page turning. I believe in having a notepad at all times, as you don’t have to read a 500-page book to be enlightened. Often those around us can be a potent source of inspiration and insight, we just have to be tuned in so we can hear it. People will travel half way across the world to notice things that were right in front of their face at home. I think this notion is somewhat true, with regards to knowledge; people will search far and wide for simple knowledge that often rests right in front of them.
First, I say read lots and engage in great conversation whenever you get the chance. Secondly, make highlights and notes, and never leave home without your note pad. Third, time travel often.