Want to read well? Write in your books.

I don't know who it was who came up with the rule "you must never write in books," but that person should go down in history as a great enemy of learning.

Writing well is a crucial skill for success in college. And in order to write well, you need to read well.

In order to read well, you've got to write in books.

Maybe you're a great student who never has trouble concentrating. But most of us have experienced reading 10 pages of some book only to realize that it has all gone in one eyeball and out the other. So when you know you'll have to write an essay about a book, approach it differently than you would a pleasure read.

A key rule is to read actively; force yourself to react to what you read. A pencil or pen should never be far away. Writing in books keeps you more alert and helps you to record your thoughts as they come to you. Then you can refer back to them when you are writing your essay.

Now, I know what you're going to say: "We can't write in our books. They're the school's and we'll get fined if we turn them back in with writing in them!"

You're absolutely right. So bite the bullet, ask Mom or Dad for help on this one, and buy the books.

Most of the stuff assigned in high school English classes falls under the loosely defined category of "literary classics," and in many cases there will be several cheap paperback versions to choose from. Online bookstores are a good place to compare prices on these. Alternatively, you can check a local used book shop (try a college campus bookstore if there's one nearby,) where you can often find old copies of books for under $1.

After all, Shakespeare hasn't changed much in the last four centuries, so the 1952 version of "Romeo and Juliet" should do just fine. Shop around and you should be able to get the entire term's reading list for under $25.

Once you own the books, leave your cryptic graffiti on every page. In addition to helping you process what you're reading, this will make finding key passages for that essay much easier.

Not only that, the practice is good training for later on. In college, you will be expected to read hundreds of pages a week, and you will probably have to write about what you read on a pretty regular basis. Even science and math majors in college find themselves in a smattering of paper-laden humanities courses. For history or English majors, of course, writing papers becomes a way of life.

So start building your own library - and don't forget to stock up on pens.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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