Do you read with a highlighter, pen, or pencil?

So, I am reading this book right now, called, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction, and it is just amazing.  Allan Jacobs is the name of the author.  He is an English Professor at Wheaton College in Illinois, and he has written extensively on one of my heroes—C.S. Lewis.

I came across this passage the other day that just made me laugh out loud.

Warning, there is a profane word in what follows:

Those of us who were trained as scholars may tend to over annotate, but I think it’s fair to say that most other readers suffer the opposite temptation.  Reading with a writing instrument in hand is an unnatural acts for many readers, yet I think in most cases it is necessary to attentive response.  You may be able to tell from what I’ve said so far that I am not a fan of the highlighter.  Highlighters allow you very quickly and easily to mark a text, but only by covering it with a bright color; and the very quickness and easiness of the process are inimical to the kind of responsiveness I’m recommending.  (There’s something to Simic’s preference for the stub of a pencil and the intimacy with the page it enforces.)  With a highlighter you can have a text marked before you’ve even had time to ask yourself why you’re marking it; and while you might be able to add a question mark or exclamation point in the margin, that will be the limit of your interaction.  And such marks are often quite hard to see after they dry.

I tend to use a mechanical pencil myself, because its line is precise and sharp enough that my marginal annotations are legible, but thick enough to make underlining reliably linear.  When I try underlining with a fine-point pen I invariably produce lines that look like paths meandering through a forest—and then of course I can’t erase the damned things.

I laughed at this for 2 reasons:

1) I am a huge nerd.

2) I was reading with a highlighter in hand.


About Greg Gibson
Greg is a husband, dad, church planter, and social entrepreneur. He is the founder and Lead Pastor of Veritas City Church in Washington, DC. He resides in Georgetown with his wife, Grace, and two children.

2 Responses to Do you read with a highlighter, pen, or pencil?

  1. FB Message says:

    TYLER: I abandoned the highlighter years ago, tried a red erasermate pen for quite a while, and have finally settled inti using a mechanical pencil. I happen to agree with everything in the quote. There’s nothing like a mechanical pencil for active readership.

  2. Greg Gibson says:

    Since being put in my place by Jacobs, I have now transitioned to the mechanical pencil.

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