I usually read with a pen in my right hand. It has to be a good pen, one with ink that doesn’t bleed through the page. A purple pen inspires me to make more marks on the page and keep them neater, but any color will do.
My marginalia are nothing to write home about. I make squiggly lines and faces with different expressions and use an ample number of exclamation and question marks. With my students, I call this active reading. In my own mind, I call this reading to remember.
And the remarkable thing is that I really do. I can flip to the right page in Bleak House, a book I read 15 years ago, because I essentially wrote notes to my future self in the interstices of Dickens’ marvelous story.
My students and I have had many conversations over the years about whether or not they should have to annotate their texts. It’s the rare teenager who fully embraces the extra work of annotation or feels that it is fair for a teacher to assess the number of marks made on a page.
But despite all of this, and a growing movement away from required annotations that may have something to do with the fact that texts have gone digital and digital tools are inferior to the simple pen or pencil, I still believe that marking up a text is the best way to process what it really says.