Student Samples of Reading Log Summary/Responses

Sample Student #1

Summary and Response of "How to Mark a Book"

    In his essay "How to Mark a Book," Dr. Mortimer Adler emphasizes the difference between people buying books and real book owners. Owning a book is not the simple fact of buying one; instead, owning a book happens when you have "made it a part of yourself" by writing in it, marking it (10). Adler demonstrates that marking your book not only allows you to stay awake, to be an "active reader" (11), but it also forces you to really think about what the author's messages are, and helps you remember all "the thoughts you had" while reading (11).
But how exactly can you mark your book? Adler gives his way to do it: underlining, drawing lines, using asterisks, numbering, circling, or writing in the margins. As for people still reluctant to write in a book, he advises to take a piece of paper, write on it, and then place it in the book.
Finally, as far as lending your books is concerned, Adler suggests that no one else should be allowed to read a book you marked, because it is very personal and you should not share these thoughts with other people.
    In the last part of his essay, Adler takes book ownership to a new level. He demonstrates that reading a book should not be a passive activity where the reader is only here as a spectator; rather, Adler suggests that the reader has an important role to play. In fact, a dialogue is installed between the reader and the writer, a relationship is born among them, a bond is formed between the reader and his book. The reader engraves his emotions, his thoughts in the book and this one becomes a diary that no one else should be allowed to touch, as Adler's last thought drives home: "Öyour books are as much a part of you as your head and your heart" (13).

Word count: 337

Student Example #2

Reading with a Pencil

    Adler's main contention in this article is that simply purchasing a book does not make it yours. In order to truly own and get the most out of book, one must not only "read between the lines," but also "write between the lines" ( 9). He promotes active reading in which the reader not only scans the pages but also makes notes, asks and answers questions, and is involved in an active conversation with the author.

    Adler lists a number of ways he himself marks his books, such as underlining and making notes in the margins. If one is still a staunch objector to marking a book, the author suggests making notes or an outline on a separate piece of paper and inserting it into the book when finished. The point of book marking is not to disfigure the pages, but o make your books a part of you, in whatever fashion suits you best.

    One of the most intriguing passages in this article is where Adler states that one of the reasons for marking books is to "slow up" your reading (13). Instead of speed reading, he says that one should read things in a manner that is true to their worth, and that the point is to absorb as much as possible. Being a fast reader myself, I sometimes find that I have to reread books in order to appreciate the nuances of the story. In order to get the most out of a book, even when reading for pleasure, one should approach it as one does a reading assignment for class, with purpose and the intent to learn something. Speed alone does not make one a good reader, but the ability to truly understand and "own" a book does.

Word count: 308

Student Example #3

Summary and Response of "How to Mark a Book"

    One of the main reasons Mortimer Adler wrote the essay "How to Mark a Book" was to persuade the reader to "write between the lines". (9) Adler reveals that there is nothing wrong with writing in a book, providing the book belongs to us. He explains how this procedure enhances our understanding and knowledge of what we have read. According to the process suggested by Adler, "reading a book should be a conversation between you and the author" (12). According to Adler ... "writing helps you remember the thoughts you had, or the thoughts the author expressed" (11).

    In the essay, Adler did a magnificent job in persuading the reader, that it is okay to mark your book while reading. He starts out reassuring us, that there is no disrespect in marking our books, since most of us were taught at a young age to never, ever, write or mark in a book. So I decided to use some of Adler's advice as I was reading, "She: Portrait of the Essay as a Warm Body" by Cynthia Ozick. I underlined words and wrote notes in the margin. His technique worked. When I was able to look back through the essay with the added markings, I got a clearer understanding. I came to understand her main point: a "genuine" essay is a like a poem in the sense that it is from the writer's imagination, and, as such, it has the power to "coerce assent" (4) even when the reader disagrees with the author. Ozick explains that it's the "authority of the voice" that holds us there (6). In short, Ozick compares the essay to a "character in a novel or a play" (8); she (the essay) "leads us from room to room" as she "takes us in" (8).

Word count 315

Student Example #4

Food for Thought

    One manís methodology for proper enjoyment and understanding of books, by jotting notes in the margins, provides the basis for Mortimer Adlerís "How to Mark a Book." Classifying himself as a particular kind of book owner, Adler and his type are incessant scribblers which easily separates them from those who only peruse or altogether avoid their stacks. These notes are part of a dialogue involving the reader and the writer as Adler writes " And that is exactly what reading a book should be: a conversation between you and the author" (12). His methods do not lend themselves to the quick fluttering of pages but this is part of the price of owning the book. The fewer titles read but the greater enjoyment and comprehension of each is what Adler means when he says, "A few friends are better than a thousand acquaintances" (13). The marking and notating techniques given in his essay are effective tools for any reader striving to get the most out of any book.

    Adlerís essay "How to Mark a Book" could have been called "How to Eat a Book" because he gives details on how to consume, ruminate upon, and then completely digest any volume. Using many of these techniques myself I must also vow to their effectiveness. However his outlining of the entire book in the end pages might be a bit too much for most books. I come away with a new appreciation for the discourse between writer and author because "understanding is a two-way operation" (12).

Word count: 271

Student Example #5

Summary and Response of "How to Mark a Book"

    In his essay "How to Mark a Book," Mortimer Adler expresses his guidelines for notation. Adler believes that refusal to "write between the lines" results in inefficient reading and prohibits true ownership (10). He categorizes book owners as those nonreaders who merely "own wood pulp and ink" (10), those who read some but keep all books in a new condition, and lastly, those readers who mark through and dog-ear every book they own. According to the author, the final group is the true owners of books for they have allowed the work to become part of themselves.
The essay proceeds to give several supporting reasons that marking is indispensable to reading. "First, it keeps one awake" (11), and causes a slower pace which in turn induces more attention and thought. A great book only spurns deep questions and ponderings to an alert and active mind, and marking these inquiries allows the reader to return to them at any later time. Alder feels that as reading becomes a conversation with "the learner questioning himself and the teacher" (12), the readerís notes function as colorful dialogue. He ends with seven guidelines of markings he uses and their significance.

    Whether to mark or not, as queer as it may seem, has been a reoccurring discussion in my family. Though both parents agree marks are permissible, one minutely notes in the utmost important places, while the other exhibits the extreme of covering every page with highlighted notes. Reading Mortimer Adlerís essay offered innovative insight and guidelines for "writing between the lines" of a book (10). His comparison of a book being more a like a symphony score than a painting, in which the conductorís markings are prevalent clarifies his approach to the existence of the Ďsoulí of a book (10). Following his simple suggestions for writing in a book can transform reading into active conversation and an enthralling learning experience.

Word count: 335

Student #1

The Right Word

        In William Zinsser's "The Act of Writing: One Man's Method' he explains how his word processor transformed his writing process. Once he bid farewell to this old rituals and habits, he was ready. The visual aspect of writing is important to Zinsser, so the word processor became "the perfect new toy" (28). It allowed him to edit, revise and cut, while eliminating the tedium of scribbling and retyping. He particularly enjoyed being able to cut out all of the unneeded words, phrases and sentences. He did encounter some disadvantages, though. It was more difficult to see what had already been written, and in one instance one of his beloved paragraphs was cut in two by a new page. He overcame these hardships by adapting his writing style, which in turn encouraged his growth as a writer.

        While explaining his own writing technique, Zinsser manages to incorporate a great deal of advice for other writers. He goes into great detail on the process of cutting out superfluous words so that the piece is "harmonious from beginning to end" (30). This is the theme also touched upon by Paul Roberts in "How to Say Nothing in 500 Words," where he tells us that the goal of a writer is to put the "right word in the right place" (43). Both authors stress that using one perfect word is better than using more that are merely good. Zinsser himself admits that in writing this piece he cut out more than he left in. It is obvious from reading his book that every word is exactly where he wanted it to be, none are wasted, and there are no extras.

Word count: 290

Student #2

The Modern Author

        "The Act of Writing: One Man's Method," by William Zinsser, offers a revealing look into the everyday struggles of the modern author, and discusses the impact of the word processor on writing. In his opening insights, Zinsser describes the process of writing as painful, due to the fact that it "requires thinking" (27). He also expresses how much more difficult it was for him to write before the advent of "science's gift to the tinkerers and the refiners" (28), the word processor. Writing used to entail countless hours of editing, cutting, and manual revising, while all of these functions in a word processor allow the author to "see . . . sentences growing in strength" (29). In addition to personal experiences, Zinsser offers many useful tips on reducing the "muddy" (31) quality that is common in more technical pieces, in order to increase reader comprehension of complex topics.

        While reviewing Zinsser's piece, I was amazed at his ability to cover a wide range of topics in a focused, yet intimate essay. He explained his struggles with writing in a manner that allowed me to feel his frustration, understand the psychological impact of the word processor on his efforts, and even improve my own writing through a few helpful hints on maintaining clarity. After meditating on Zinsser's ideas, I feel indulged and privileged to have a new and deeper understanding of a modern author's plight. His ability to provoke desired thoughts and feelings in the reader is the ultimate measure of his effectiveness. My own experience is evidence of Zinsser's capacity to purvey a message with insight and meaning.

Word count: 282

Student #3

Writing--as an Experience

        In the essay entitled "Writing," William Stafford describes his process for creative writing. Unlike many authors who know their subject before they sit down, Stafford's purpose is one he has to find. After blocking out a time for writing, He begins by writing anything that comes to mind. The more he writes, the more "things will occur to [him] that were not at all in [his] mind when [he] started" 923). Stafford can only hope that what he is putting down on paper will somehow be connected. Disregarding mechanical correctness allows Stafford to discover and appreciate the new thing he is creating. This writing freedom will sometimes lead Stafford to a "strange bonus" (23), having connection where he had not intended. Though some may call these trends skill, the author more readily addresses it as "luck" (24). Through his creative process, not only is Stafford proud of his completed work, but also of his casual writing that may never be seen by anyone else.

        Stafford's creative writing process makes it easier for those not experienced in creative writing to begin a piece of their own. The way he wrote his essay allows his audience to understand his idea of a writer's skill being in association with luck. What is most interesting is how Stafford admits failure with writing and accepts it. He considers his failures just as important as his successes. This shows his audience that not even a professional writer knows what they want to say and exactly how to say it. In his essay, Stafford puts himself at the same level as his audience by not only recognizing his luck with some of his writing, but by also describing it as freedom. Stafford and his easy-going style of creative writing illustrates how it is not just the final product that makes a piece successful, but it is its process that makes it a successful experience.

Word count: 333

Student #4

Summary and Response of "Writing"

        In his essay, "Writing," William Stafford explains to the reader his writing process. Stafford stresses the importance of receptivity in his writing. Stafford says that "To get started I will accept anything that occurs to me" even if it is just "an immediate impression" (23). He then goes on to explain that as he is writing he must not be concerned with the quality of the work. Stafford insists that he "must be willing to fail" (23). With receptivity and no concern of failure Stafford is able to "spin out things on the page" (23). Stafford compares writing to a conversation with a friend in that there is no need to "plan what we are going to say" because like a chat we are "never stalled for long" (24). Stafford expresses that another important attitude he has is not taking his writing so seriously. Stafford compares most of his work to "casual conversation" that "will not amount to much" (24).

            Stafford's overall tone is one of comfort and inspiration, particularly for the new writer. Stafford's thesis is that writers do not have an innate well of ideas, but instead they participate in an actice process, which reveals ideas. Stafford's essay encourages me to write just for the practice of doing so. The comfort of not having to create the prefect paper, with the idea that it is acceptable to fail, was relaxing for me the inexperienced writer. Stafford inspires the reader to "[follow] with trust and forgiveness what occurs to him" (24). The essay helped me surrender to my own voice while forgiving my own inadequacy. So therefore, Stafford's words work as a success by the fact that an inexperienced writer was able to adapt his ideas and use them to help her own writing process.

Word count: 312

Student #5


        "How to Say Nothing in Five hundred Words" by Paul Roberts offers burgeoning writers a do and donít list for writing essays. He emphasizes the importance of abundant ideas rather than flowery language to fill the void of a paper due. "Lean and tough" sentences are strived for by removing unnecessary words (40). Cliché and colorless speech is panned for colorful words whose connotations best fit the ideas being conveyed. Changes in points of view and avoiding the obvious indicate to the reader that you are going to be neither trite nor conventional (37). With the running example of an essay about the cons of college football, Roberts shows that even the most banal premise can be twisted and honed into an engaging readable work. Roberts touts the concrete examples he uses and teaches as a mark of a professional writer (39). While weaving wit throughout, his essay uses proven methods to teach new writers the art of crafting ideas into an essay.

        Writing as a process of distillation underlies "How to Say Nothing in Five Hundred Words." The process removes all of the empty words and ideas we come up with when we first write on a topic. Current audiences favor more active and stripped down writing as it suits their attention span. Works by Hemingway and Steinbeck are archetypes of this fast moving style of writing, and they are two of my favorite authors for this reason. It is immeasurably better to tear through two hundred pages that leave you breathless than to crawl through a thousand. Roberts understands this and it is exactly that thought he teaches in his essay. Writing must engage the reader. Why write if not to engage? Without that connection, any points one seeks to make or lesson one wants to relate will never be heard, as the reader will never read them.

Word count: 322