Chewing on books

I like Mortimer Adley’s concept of ownership. His example: You can’t possibly understand the full meaning of owning a 12 oz. T-bone until you’ve made it a part of your bloodstream.

Take it from a Texas native: Steak should be EATEN. Having a steak in your freezer–or walking around your 20-acre backyard–misses the mark entirely.

Mortimus (the poor kid must have suffered terribly from such a name) advocates the thorough chewing of books. In his essay “How to Mark a Book,” Mort argues that writing in a book and dog-earring its pages “is not an act of mutilation, but of love.”

Joy! Joy! Now I’ll have someone with a doctorate to back me the next time another student gasps in horror at my pencilled thoughts and questions in Stephen Crane’s margins.

Margins aren’t sacred. Neither is the space in between the lines. I might not actually write in every book I read, but I can’t argue with Mort: the well-chewed library is the only kind worth having.

I think Morty may be writing about more than just literature. His philosophy works on life, too.

If reading is to accomplish anything more than passing time, it must be active. You can’t let your eyes glide across the lines of a book and come up with an understanding of what you have read… A great book, rich in ideas and beauty, demands the most active reading of which you are capable.

And yet… there’s more to life than a well-chewed library. Is it possible that the greatest kind of life demands the most active living of which we’re capable?

Well. If we lived like that, we’d all be infinitely more exhausted, sleep-deprived, and hopelessly buried in responsibilities than we already are. Or would we? Maybe we’d find promises a whole lot bigger than our schedules–or our margins.

The LORD will give strength unto his people; the LORD will bless his people with peace.

Psalm 29:11

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