How Cal Newport marks up the books he reads

Defacing a book always felt wrong. I tried to keep books pristine, free of pencil marks or dog ears. But more recently, as I’ve been trying to become a better reader and extract more from the books I consume, I’ve embraced reading physical books with a pen in hand.

“Marking a book is literally an experience of your differences or agreements with the author. It is the highest respect you can pay him.”

— Edgar Allan Poe

I recently stumbled on a recent episode of Cal Newport’s podcast where he talks through his process of marking up the books he reads. He calls it the “corner marking method”.

I like the process because of how low friction it is. It barely slows you down as you read.

Here’s the technique:

  • As you come across something interesting, mark the corner of the page
  • Use a few simple marks in the margins to indicate what’s important
  • Use a checkmark to indicate an interesting line or phrase
  • Put a box around anything that is important
  • Use curly braces to highlight an interesting paragraph
  • Scribble a note to self in the margins if required

That’s it. Now when you pick up the book months or years down the line, just look for the pages that have a mark on the corner. Within 10 minutes you’ll be able to refamiliarise yourself with the important ideas in the book.

1 responses to "How Cal Newport marks up the books he reads"

  1. Peter 3 weeks ago

    What is meant by marking the corner. Do you mean to make dog ears so you can find it flicking back🐩Or do you mean just with a written mark. 📝How can you retrieve it a long time later if it’s just a mark with pen or pencil, you easily will skim past or miss the marked page with the interesting things?🤔


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