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Analysis of Adler Mortimer’s Essay "How to Mark a Book"

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In the essay “How to Mark a Book” written by Mortimer Adler, he wants to convince readers to truly appreciate the work of a book by reading and writing “between the lines to get the most out of anything” in the first paragraph. He criticizes readers who have misplaced respect to “the craft of the printer rather than the genius of the author” in the fifth paragraph. At the end of the essay, he wants readers to be enlightened with the tips and benefits of truly owning a book.

In Mortimer Adler’s essay “How to Mark a Book,” the time and place seems to be “from The Saturday Review of Literature, July 6, 1941.” However, in the writing it can be inferred that this takes place in the 1940s because Adler states, “The most famous ‘active’ reader of great books I know is President Hutchins, of the University of Chicago.” With outside information, Hutchins was the President until the year 1945. Adler’s ideas are influenced by other works of literature, and his examples help readers understand why they should “mark a book.”

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Written by Mortimer Adler, his essay “How to Mark a Book” seems to be directed towards an audience of readers who do not properly read a book. This is clear in the first sentences when he wants readers to write between the lines, but draws in a broader audience by saying “unless you do, you are not likely to do the most efficient kind of reading.” The author connects to these readers by using metaphors to further his argument or referencing other works like “Gone with the Wind” or “‘Paradise Lost.’”

In his essay “How to Mark a Book,” Mortimer Adler’s purpose is to teach and convince readers how they can read more efficiently to understand all parts by simply “writing in it.” He describes common misconceptions of owning a book to prevent readers from these stereotypes. Adler educates about benefits of actively reading, as “a great book…demands the most active reading.” He then teaches the difference devices for marking a novel and addresses many counter arguments.

The various subjects of Mortimer Adler’s essay, “How to Mark a Book,” include “ways in which one can own a book,” kinds of book owners, benefits of actively reading, “devices for marking a book” and responding to counter arguments. Adler reveals these different subjects by referring to them in an organized manner throughout his essay. His writing style begins by generally stating a topic and slowly going into more detail in the paragraphs that follow, developing his main points.

Mortimer Adler’s tone throughout his essay “How to Mark a Book” seems to be straight forward and critical. He uses truthful explanations like how “you may say that this business of marking books is going to slow up your reading. It probably will.” When criticizing types of book owners, Adler says, “this deluded individual owns wood pulp and ink, not books” or how owning books “proves nothing more than that he…was rich enough to buy them.” The writer gets his point across in a realistic, concise way while honestly saying what it means to not mark a book.

The central idea, or theme, in Mortimer Adler’s essay “How to Mark a Book” is that readers should truly appreciate an author’s work by reading between the lines, valuing the ideas rather than “the craft of the printer.” He states that “if reading is to accomplish anything more than passing time, it must be active,” as a known book requires reaching for the deeper meanings. Adler wants the audience to be active readers so that they can engage to the author’s ideas and maximize its full potential, rather than skimming across the words without annotations or markings.

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