To experience long-term benefit from my book reading I have discovered that I need a keen eye for what’s important on a given page and a good storage system to retain and to later find what I’ve read over the years. These are important practices for any book reader, and it’s a point that A.G. Sertillanges captures well in his book The Intellectual Life (1934). [Note: I rarely quote from the book because it makes me (a blue-collar grunt from Nebraska) appear pretentious, or more so than normal.]
If we had to trust memory to keep intact and ready for use all that we have come upon or found out in the course of our life of study, it would be perfectly disastrous. Memory is an unreliable servant; it loses things, it buries them, it does not answer at call. We refuse to overload it, to cumber the mind; we prefer liberty of soul to a wealth of unusable ideas. The notebook gets us out of the difficulty. …
To remember the right thing at the right moment would take a degree of self-mastery that no mortal possesses. Here again notebooks and pigeonholes will help us. We must organize our reserves, lodge our savings in the bank where, it is true, they will yield no interest, but where they will at any rate be safe and ready at call. We ourselves shall be the cashiers. (186–187)
Now of course there’s a place for Scripture memorization. We must not forget it! But for all other books his point is a very important one. So in Lit! I devote some ink to briefly explaining the importance of locating golden nuggets of truth on the pages of our books (pages 115–116), the importance of marking the gold (148–149), and then I explain how I use a computer database to store the gold for future use (117–118). I commend these three practices to every reader, whether you prefer printed books or ebooks, and whether you’re an intellectual or just a dufus like me.