Reading Briefs

An E-book Convert
Charlie Brooker reports he’s an e-book convert mostly because “…no one can see what you're reading. You can mourn the loss of book covers all you want, but once again I say to you: no one can see what you're reading. This is a giant leap forward, one that frees you up to read whatever you want without being judged by the person sitting opposite you on the tube. OK, so right now they'll judge you simply for using an ebook – because you will look like a showoff early-adopter techno-nob if you use one on public transport until at least some time circa 2012 – but at least they're not sneering at you for enjoying The Rats by James Herbert.”

Dictating Notable Passages
Dan Greco may be unique in the way he collect passages for his commonplace book. “When I find particularly memorable passages in the book that I'm reading I dictate those passages (and my comments relating to them) into a Microsoft Word file utilizing Dragon NaturallySpeaking voice recognition software, with a separate Microsoft Word file for each book. Then later I use word indexing software to create word searchable index of the database of all those Microsoft Word files. I can then at a later date with a word or phrase search quickly identify all of the books for which I prepared abstracts and comments pertaining to the words or subjects that I'm searching for.”

Comparing Paper and On-Line Reading
Kenton O’Hara and Abigail Sellen report a laboratory study that compares reading from paper to reading the same document on-line. “Critical differences have to do with the major advantages paper offers in supporting annotation while reading, quick navigation, and flexibility of spatial layout. These, in turn, allow readers to deepen their understanding of the text, extract a sense of its structure, create a plan for writing, cross-refer to other documents, and interleave reading and writing.” Case closed.

Hero of American Justice
In reviewing Melvin Urofsky’s Louis D, Brandeis: A Life, Anthony Lewis writes that “We see him now as a great mind, perhaps the most brilliant of all Supreme Court justices; as a crusader against oversized institutions; and as a luminously eloquent exponent of free speech and privacy—the right to be let alone.”

He concludes by quoting Dean Acheson’s remarks following Brandeis’ death in 1941: “Truth was less than truth to him unless it was expounded so that the people could understand and believe. During these years of retreat from reason, his faith in the human mind and in the will and capacity of people to understand and grasp the truth never waivered or tired….He handed on the great tradition of faith in the mind and spirit of man which is the faith of the prophets and poets, of Socrates, of Lincoln.”

Commonplace Books in the Classroom
From the very beginning commonplace books were conceived as an essential educational tool to collect and organize knowledge. Even today they can be used in guiding students to a more disciplined method of reading and as an aid in recalling more of what they have read. In her blog, Self Made Scholar Jamie Littlefield outlines a plan for creating a commonplace book in classroom settings. She cites Susan Wise Bauer on the process of using commonplace books while reading:

“The journal used for self-education should model itself after this extended type of commonplace book. It is neither an unadorned collection of facts, nor an entirely inward account of what’s going on in your heart and soul. Rather, the journal is the place where the reader takes external information and records it (through the use of quotes, as in the commonplace book); appropriates it through a summary, written in the reader’s own words; and then evaluates it through reflection and personal thought. As you read, you should follow this three-part process: jot own specific phrases, sentences, an paragraphs as you come across them; when you’ve finished your reading, go back and write a brief summary of what you’ve learned; and then write your own reflections, questions, and thoughts.”


Stefanie said...

In response to the O'Hara and Sellen report, much of my reading for school is from online documents. I turn them into pdfs or take a screen shot using Zotero in Firefox. Then I can annotate them, underline, make notes etc to my heart's content. Then I get to save the trees and don't end up with paper piling up in the corner (you know how I don't like paper piling up!)

And Bauer's commonplace book description sounds a lot like blogging in many ways :)

Richard Katzev said...


I am grateful for your comment. Zotero is unknown to me. You are an excellent teacher. I like saving trees too!

I do think we need to consider carefully the application of commonplace procedures in the classroom. To my knowledge this is rarely done. Yet, I think it has considerable, but unrecognized, educational potential.

Mr. Marksinthemargin.com

Stefanie said...

I agree with you on the educational potential of common place books. From reading I've done on the subject, weren't they originally used for educational purposes? I've also read that fathers would pass them on to their sons who were expected to add to them and pass it on likewise.

Oh and zotero is great. It is an add-in to the Firefox browser and therefore free if you are interested in checking it out http://zotero.com

Richard Katzev said...

Good Morning Stephanie:

Yes, commonplace books were originally used for educational purposes. This was long before the age of encyclopedias or the World Wide Web. They were also used in political and legal contexts as sources for argument and debate.

However, I am not familiar with the practice of handing them down father to son, and I hope, mother to daughter, too.

Zotero has been duly downloaded to my zippy Firefox browser, although I haven't the vaguest idea what to do with it now or how it might improve or benefit my current electronic organizational scheme.

BFN, Richard