Using a Book

Digital Technology & Culture 101

Yesterday the Los Angeles Review of Books posted a book review by Dustin Illingworth that speaks to how readers annotate books. With a nod to one of my favorite book historians, Carla Mazzio, Illingworth points to the late-sixteenth century to make a distinction between reading and using books. Quoting from the first ever English emblem book, Illingworth explains that we must not simply read books, but also mark them to ensure we retain their lessons. Or, as Geoffrey Whitney put it in 1586:

First reade, then marke, then practise that is good,
For without vse, we drink but LETHE flood.

The river Lethe comes from Greek mythology. One of five rivers in Hades, it symbolizes forgetfulness and oblivion. It might also stand in opposition to truth. In other words, annotating what we read contributes to our ability to remember it and, thus, approach the truths contained in…

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