I have always valued owning books over borrowing them from libraries. The most significant reason for this otherwise terrible financial decision is that learning is worth the cost, and I learn much better by making notes and highlights in my own books and occasionally reading back through those than I do from merely reading a book and returning it. But despite highlights, underlines, notes, and comments all over my books, I have rarely taken the time to write out summaries of chapters and I have never endeavored to use a writing journal. Until now. The irony of it all is almost too much, but I’ll risk the reader thinking I’m a bit thick-headed and stubborn (I am) in order to share what I’ve learned about the value of reading journals. Whether I’ll take my own advice and continue in this discipline remains to be seen, but I’m convinced it would be worth it.
Recently I began reading Susan Wise Bauer’s The Well-Educated Mind, and I read through page 70 before I had to take a break and work on some other projects. I had highlighted and noted some key passages, but I had steadfastly refused to take the time to write my thoughts in a reading journal, despite the fact that chapter 3 tells the reader to keep a reading journal. I’m stubborn, remember. Anyway, I sat down with this book again on June 28 and determined that I would try the reading journal thing instead of reading further. To tell it plainly, it was enlightening. Below is the transcript of what I wrote in my reading journal (pictured below left) on June 28, 2017.
Bauer begins chapter 3 with a story about reading Agatha Christie novels to help her sleep well. Despite the enjoyment of the book and good sleep, however, she says that this “same half-attentive method of reading dogs me when I turn to serious literature” (35). I can relate. I, too, read fiction before bed, and of much the same as Bauer: Father Brown, Sherlock Holmes, Peter Wimsey, and fantasy novels. When I approach more difficult books, I often think I should be able to read at the same pace. i may even highlight key words or phrases, but I don’t really digest the work. I’m reminded of this reality presently in two ways. First, as I began writing summaries and reflections on this book, I had a STRONG temptation to move forward in reading and skip writing. Obviously, I have thus far resisted that temptation. Second, i recently returned from the 2017 ACCS Repairing the Ruins Conference where I heard and excellent presentation by George Grant in which he shared ten habits of the mind espoused by Isaac Watts in his largely forgotten work, The Improvement of the Mind. I left excited, and I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard of this work. Then I opened this book tonight. I had read through page 70 2-3 weeks ago but neglected to follow Bauer’s advice to journal. I have too man books on my reading list and journaling takes so long! But as I looked back through the text, I was dumbfounded. Highlighted by my own hand less than three weeks ago were the words: “Impress your mind with a deep and painful sense of the low and imperfect degrees of your present knowledge” (16). AS a glanced above, I read in utter disbelief, “in his self-education treatise Improvement of the Mind.” DEEP. PAINFUL. LOW. IMPERFECT. indeed! And to deepen the wound to my pride, the opening quote to chapter 3 reads: “Once a day…call yourselves to an account what new ideas, what new propositions or truth you have gained, what further confirmation of known truths, and what advances you have made in any part of knowledge.”–Isaac Watts, Improvement of the Mind (35). Obviously, I now have a conviction to make journaling about my reading more frequent and consistent. Lord, grant me that patience that I lack that I may learn as I ought.