TIME Books

Sherlock Holmes’ Creator Fought Injustice with Deduction, Too

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Artist: Anonymous
Library of Congress / Heritage Images / Getty Images Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

May 22, 1859: Arthur Conan Doyle, the author and physician best known for creating the character of Sherlock Holmes, is born in Edinburgh

To fans of Sherlock Holmes, the setup feels familiar: A wealthy spinster is bludgeoned to death in her Glasgow dining room one foggy night while her maid is out buying the evening newspaper. The murderer is apparently someone she knows, since there is no sign of forced entry. And burglary is insufficient as a motive, since only one piece from the victim’s massive jewelry collection is missing: a unique, crescent-shaped diamond brooch.

The police bumble the case from the beginning, latching onto the least likable suspect, a gambling-den operator with a checkered past, and sticking with him even after the key piece of evidence — a receipt showing that he’d recently pawned a diamond brooch — turns out to be a red herring. A savvy investigator intervenes to set things straight. But the investigator is not Sherlock Holmes: It’s his real-life creator, Arthur Conan Doyle. And the tale of murder and miscarriage of justice is true.

Doyle, born on this day, May 22, in 1859, might have had more in common with Dr. Watson, at least on the surface. He had been a practicing physician, like Watson, before he took up writing. It was while studying medicine at Edinburgh University, in fact, that Doyle met the man who inspired the character of Holmes: the surgeon Joseph Bell, “whose specialty was diagnosis through observation and deduction,” per TIME’s 1924 account.

But Doyle was Holmes at heart — an enemy of injustice and a stickler for solid deductive reasoning. Like Holmes, Doyle sometimes meddled in murder cases when he believed the police had veered from the right track. One of the most famous of these was the 1908 murder of 82-year-old Marion Gilchrist, the wealthy spinster, and the wrongful arrest of Oscar Slater, the gambling-den operator.

After reading news accounts of the flimsy evidence against Slater, Doyle decided to conduct his own investigation, according to Janet Pascal, the author of Arthur Conan Doyle: Beyond Baker Street. He dug up contradictory clues and discovered that an eyewitness — the maid, who had seen a man running from the crime scene as she returned with the paper — had been coerced by police into fingering Slater. Ultimately, Slater was exonerated and released from prison.

“Sir Conan Doyle, you breaker of my shackels, you lover of truth for justice sake, I thank you from the bottom of my heart,” Slater wrote to him, according to Pascal.

While Doyle might have had the heart of Holmes, however, he didn’t quite match the fictional detective’s success rate. In his autobiography, Doyle candidly reported that his powers of deduction didn’t always trump ordinary police work. On one case he’d hoped to crack, he said, the police quickly identified the culprit “while I had got no farther than that he was a left-handed man with nails in his boots,” per Pascal.

Read more about Doyle from 1924, here in the TIME archives: An Author Tells of War, Murder, Spooks, Disease

TIME Books

J.K. Rowling Wins Court Battle Over British Tabloid’s False Claims

J.K Rowling - In Conversation
Ben A. Pruchnie—Getty Images Author J.K. Rowling attends photocall ahead of her reading from 'The Casual Vacancy' at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on September 27, 2012 in London, England.

The Harry Potter author will be donating some of the substantial damages to charity

J.K. Rowling has been “fully vindicated and her reputation restored” after the British tabloid Daily Mail‘s apologized to the author in London’s high court.

Rowling pursued a successful libel case against the Mail, saying they gave a “false picture” of a September 2013 article she had written for Gingerbread, a U.K. charity that provides support to single parents. In her article, Rowling had described her experience as a single mother in Edinburgh when writing the first Harry Potter book.

The Mail published a story ten days later alleging that Rowling’s “sob story” contained false claims about her time as a single mother and being stigmatized by churchgoers in the 1990s.

In May 2014 the tabloid printed an apology and paid damages but challenged Rowling’s right to give a statement in Court. This was dismissed before a Thursday hearing during which lawyer Keith Schilling read out a two page statement on behalf of Rowling. He noted that Rowling “did not at any point criticise or complain about her treatment at the hands of fellow churchgoers.”

A judge was told that the Mail‘s publisher had now accepted the allegations were “completely false and indefensible”, published an apology and agreed to pay Rowling substantial damages.

Schilling said that the newspaper allegations left the author “understandably distressed” but she was now happy to bring the libel proceedings to a close. He added that Rowling is donating some of the damages to charity, with the rest contributing to her legal costs.


TIME Books

Brilliant and Brainy Books to Take to the Beach This Summer

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Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

World-class minds pick their favorites to pack with your sunscreen — from a grisly true-life murder investigation to the life of Willie Nelson

Summer is a time of familiar comforts: the scent of sunscreen and the feeling of sand between toes, the taste of Bomb Pops and the sight of long, late, orange sunsets. But with the multiplexes filled with sequels, reboots, and retreads, and the beginning of a long election season crowded with familiar names, don’t you think something original is in order? In the spirit of getting out of our comfort zones this summer and taking a crack at something new, we asked recent Zócalo guests for the fresh and forthcoming nonfiction books they think curious people should bring to the beach, pool, bar, and porch this summer.

Encounters at the Heart of the World: A History of the Mandan People by Elizabeth A. Fenn

This book is for all readers who think that we don’t have enough evidence to tell the histories of Native American peoples. Fenn counteracts that view with a marvelously deft history that weaves together resources as disparate as textual evidence, folkloric traditions, and climate science. The book fills long-lived holes in our collective understanding of the experience of Native American peoples on this continent. — Danielle Allen, author of Our Declaration and Institute for Advanced Study political philosopher

Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America by Jill Leovy

This is what the best nonfiction should be, and why a great true story will always trump an amazing novel. There’s savage, whip-smart, acid prose, iconic characters, and a driving narrative, but underlying that is a deeply argued, impeccably researched, gut-wrenching look at the tragic and flawed injustice at the core of violence in black America. A must read, but also a thoroughly enjoyable one. — David Sax, author of The Tastemakers

The Wright Brothers by David McCullough

As always, McCullough is terrific at describing the personal and social side of important historical events. — Robert D. Putnam, author of Our Kids and Bowling Alone and Harvard University political scientist

Everything You Ever Wanted: A Memoir by Jillian Lauren

Everything You Ever Wanted is, in brief, about an adoptee who adopts a baby herself, but like all the best memoirs, it’s both personal and universal. It expands outward to encompass so many experiences and feelings we all share: love, loyalty, struggles with the past, what it means to take a profound and longed-for risk. Lauren is fierce and funny and unsparingly frank, and this book crackles with pain, love, truth, joy, and an abundance of excellent writing. — Kate Christensen, author of Blue Plate Special

The Prize: Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools? by Dale Russakoff

Russakoff offers a rare window inside urban school reform in an age of unprecedented investment—but precarious-at-best community support. — Elizabeth Green, author of Building a Better Teacher

It’s a Long Story: My Life by Willie Nelson

As a music journalist, I’ve interviewed Willie Nelson a few times—and yes, one of those times was on his tour bus. He was a candid and captivating storyteller, a warm-hearted outlaw with a unique perspective on his life as a singer, songwriter, and activist. And so first on my list of summer beach reads is his new autobiography. We all know Willie’s music, but equally interesting are his musical journey and his boundary-pushing, from bucking the established Nashville Sound of the ’60s to his current crusade to legalize marijuana. — Denise Quan, entertainment journalist and producer

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert

This book should be required reading in schools, the U.N., the IMF, the Chinese Politburo, and everywhere else. Kolbert knows her stuff—hard-edged, data-driven science!—and she writes swimmingly well. — Ann Louise Bardach, author of Without Fidel

Even This I Get to Experience, by Norman Lear

It’s moving, funny, beautifully written, and it spans show biz, politics, history, and dysfunctional families. Bonus: If you get the audio version, Lear recorded it—and he’s a terrific performer. — Marty Kaplan, USC communications scholar and Jewish Journal columnist

Spain: The Centre of the World 1519-1682 by Robert Goodwin

As an artist whose work is highly involved with Mexican history and culture, I have been trying to fill in my historical gaps on the history of Spain. After recently reading Dogs of God: Columbus, the Inquisition, and the Defeat of the Moors by Edward Reston, I have been searching for another book that picks up the thread. I’ve already pre-ordered Spain: The Center of the World 1519-1682 by Robert Goodwin, which will be published in July. The book picks by where Reston left off and examines the Golden Age of Spain and its supremacy in Transatlantic exploration. — Judithe Hernández, muralist

Pig Tales: An Omnivore’s Quest for Sustainable Meat by Barry Estabrook, The Chain: Farm, Factory and the Fate of Our Food by Ted Genoways, Every Twelve Seconds: Industrialized Slaughter and the Politics of Sight by Timothy Pachirat

These three books about meat/processing plants/pigs are wonderful reads (doesn’t sound like it, right?). In order of easier to take to gutsier (sorry): In Pig Tales, Estabrook takes an engaging look at the pig—its wild and domestic origins and our relationship with it on small sustainable farms—and focuses a critical eye on our large industrial “factories.” In the absorbing The Chain, Genoways focuses on five Hormel plants. It’s hard to underplay how riveting this tale of line workers, union leaders, hog farmers, local politicians, and activists is. You will never eat Spam again. And in Every Twelve Seconds, which began as a doctoral thesis, Pachirat goes undercover as an employee in a large slaughterhouse to investigate how the workers are affected by the seen and the unseen. It’s a fantastic read. — Evan Kleiman, host of KCRW’s “Good Food”

This article was written for Zocalo Public Square.


TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Books

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby Home Is On The Market for $3.8M

F. Scott Fitzgerald around 1925.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images F. Scott Fitzgerald around 1925.

The writer lived in the seven-bedroom manor just outside New York with his wife, Zelda

(GREAT NECK, N.Y.) — The suburban New York home where F. Scott Fitzgerald is believed to have written “The Great Gatsby” is up for sale.

A spokeswoman for Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage says Wednesday that the asking price for the manor home on Long Island is just over $3.8 million. She declined to identify the current owner.

The home is situated in the village of Great Neck Estates just outside New York City.

Built in 1918, the 5,000-square-foot Mediterranean style home has seven bedrooms and six and one-half baths. The house has a music room and several fireplaces.

Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda, lived in the home from 1922 through 1924. He is believed to have written “The Great Gatsby” while living among the socialites in Long Island’s “Gold Coast” region.

TIME Books

Barbra Streisand Is Writing a Memoir

42nd Chaplin Award Gala - Show
Jim Spellman—WireImage NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 27: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) Barbra Streisand speaks onstage at the 42nd Chaplin Award Gala at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center on April 27, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage)

Memories light the corners of her mind!

The iconic singer, actor, and director Barbra Streisand is tackling her own life story in a memoir that will be published in 2017, Viking announced Wednesday.

“There are over fifty unauthorized biographies about Ms. Streisand that are full of myths and inaccuracies, and she is finally going to tell her own story,” Viking’s president and publisher Brian Tart said in a statement.

Back in 2006, Streisand took to her website to combat one of those unauthorized texts, Christopher Andersen’s Barbra: The Way She Is. Per the Washington Post, she wrote in a post on her website: “Who is the person described in this book? From what has been told to me, certainly not anyone I know. This stereotypic image bears little resemblance to me or anything about me.”

News of the memoir was initially reported in the New York Times.

TIME Crime

5 Shocking Things I Learned as an Outlaw Biker

Infiltrating 3 of the biggest outlaw motorcycle clubs was dangerous — but what surprised me was what happened on the inside

I spent years infiltrating multiple gangs as an investigator for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and eventually wrote a book on my experience: Vagos, Mongols, and Outlaws: My Infiltration of America’s Deadliest Biker Gangs. There are many things that might shock you about this particular type of gang life, even after you watched news of the Waco biker shootings, but here are five surprising facts of that dangerous life.

1. Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs (OMGs) are anything but rebel nonconformists. To the contrary, they follow a strict military rank-and-file structure, implement an earned-patch system, vote in “officers” and insist their members wear uniforms (“cuts”).

2. OMGs are highly skilled warmongers; killing can be a purpose and mission. They meet regularly in so-called “Church” to plot, share intelligence, discuss surveillance of rival gangs and study their enemy combatants. They learn details, such as where their rivals live, work and play. And they can be methodical killers.

3. They understand protocol, and respect and adhere to strict rules and regulations within their own club — yet many of them cannot function outside these structures as civilized members of society.

4. Many members of outlaw motorcycle gangs are former and active military personnel and have been reported on both U.S. and international military installations. This legitimacy helps them facilitate criminal activity such as weapons and drug trafficking, or to receive weapons and combat training that they can then introduce to their gangs.

5. The deplorable treatment of women by OMGs is well documented, but why women willingly subject themselves to such abuse by these gangs is even more disturbing. A select few proudly wear their “Property Of” shirts while so-called “pass-arounds” willingly submit to sex acts by multiple members. Within each gang is a female hierarchy (not modeled after the military). Women are first “sheep,” then “Mamas” and finally “Ole Ladies.”

Charles Falco infiltrated outlaw motorcycle gangs as an undercover agent.

TIME Executives

Here’s What’s on Bill Gates’ Summer Reading List

Bill Gates
John Keatley/Redux—John Keatley/Redux Founder and Chairman of Microsoft Bill Gates holding a copy of Business Adventures by John Brooks.

The world's richest man just assigned the world some summer homework

The richest man in the world still makes time to squeeze in a good book now and then.

Bill Gates—he of the $79 billion net worth, per Forbes—released his annual summer reading list on Tuesday. In between running one of the world’s largest charities and serving as technological advisor to the company he co-founded, Microsoft [fortune-stock symbol=”MSFT”], Gates has made a habit in recent years of letting the world know what he’s reading.

Gates unveiled his new 7-book summer reading list in a post titled “Beach Reading (and more)” on his personal blog, Gates Notes. Included in this year’s list is The Magic of Reality, by Oxford University evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. There’s also On Immunity, by Eula Biss, which fits in well with one of the goals of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation by tackling the issue of childhood vaccinations.

The billionaire techie also noted that he’s trying to lighten the mood a little bit this year. “This year I tried to pick a few more things that are on the lighter side. Each of these books made me think or laugh or, in some cases, do both,” Gates wrote in the blog post.

In that vein, Gates includes a book adapted from Allie Brosh’s popular comic blog, Hyperbole and a Half, which Gates calls “funny and smart as hell.” Another item with a more graphic option is Randall Munroe’s XKCD, which draws from Munroe’s webcomic of the same name, which features a lot of mathematical and scientific humor. “It’s that kind of humor, which not everybody loves, but I do,” Gates writes.

The rest of the books Gates recommends reading this summer are: What If?, also by Munroe; How to Lie With Statistics, by Darrell Huff; and, Should We Eat Meat?, by Vaclav Smil.

TIME Religion

Losing My Religion: America’s ‘Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome’

Reba Riley is the author of the forthcoming Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome: A Memoir of Humor and Healing.

I’d been given a religion that was built like a Jenga tower—when I took a few blocks out, it all tumbled to the ground

When I read the Pew Research Center’s report on America’s changing religious landscape, I don’t see statistics. I see Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome.

Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome

[n. pohst-truhmat-ik church sin-drohm]

  1. A condition of spiritual injury that occurs as a result of religion, faith, and/or the leaving, losing, or breaking thereof
  2. The vile, noxious, icky, and otherwise foul aftermath of said spiritual injury
  3. A serious term intended to aid serious spiritual healing—without tak­ing itself too seriously in the process

Where the data shows five million fewer Protestants, three million fewer Catholics, and nineteen million more “nones” who do not identity with any religion, I see Sarah the bartender who isn’t allowed to love Jesus because she loves women, Sam who adores the new Pope but hates the things the church has done in the name of Jesus, and David the minister who just can’t believe in hell.

I see thousands of stories of brokenness. I see the millions of people who crash into religion when they go looking for God. I see people so tired of being spiritually bruised that they give up on faith altogether.

And I ought to know: I used to be one of them.

The first time I wrote down the term “Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome” was sometime in the early 2000s. It didn’t matter that the phrase was written in blue eyeliner on the back of a cocktail napkin or that much wine was involved. In vino veritas!

Strung together, the four little words framed pain I couldn’t express, said what I couldn’t. They identified the reason I couldn’t pray, or darken the door of a church, or say the word “God.”

Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome was the reason I was a “none.”

People who leave or are left by their faith lose a lot more than a place to go on Sunday morning. They lose relationships with family and friends, social status, tribal approval, self-esteem. They lose their God, their identity, their certainty, their gravity. I know because I lost all those things.

I left my faith and ministry training program in my early twenties after my questions became much bigger than the answers provided by my evangelical subculture. Or maybe it is more truthful to say, my faith left me. I’d been given a religion that was built like a Jenga tower—when I took a few blocks out, it all tumbled to the ground, destroying me in the wake of the fall.

I am not an isolated case. I know this because once I started writing about “Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome,” many people had the same reaction I did. “That’s me,” they responded, telling story after story, in person and via email, of the same struggle, the same yearning to have faith of their own without being bound by dogma.

I didn’t know that naming “Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome” was the first step on a very long journey of spiritual recovery. I didn’t know that I’d spend the majority of my twenties rebuilding my life without God (and doing a pretty good job, I might add), right up until I became very ill, or that my illness would force me to face PTCS after nearly a decade of avoidance. I didn’t know that I’d face it the most reasonable way a really sick person could: visiting thirty religions before my thirtieth birthday. And I sure as hell didn’t know I would chronicle my experiences in a book by the same name, or that the journey would transform me from a person who couldn’t even talk about faith to a person whose life work is talking about faith.

I only knew that when I first said “Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome” the words clicked—a key in the lock of my injured spirit. I knew that when I talked about it with others I found out I wasn’t alone. I knew it was a place to start.

PTCS is real, pervasive, and quite possibly one of the reasons why the percentage of adults who describe themselves as Christians has dropped by nearly eight percentage points since 2007. It’s part of the “why” behind the “what” of Pew’s findings, but, as my experience shows, it can be much more than that. Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome is a place to begin a conversation about the reality of spiritual injury and the many, many paths to healing.

Reba Riley is the author of the forthcoming Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome: A Memoir of Humor and Healing.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Books

Dadbod, Mombod and Our Pretty Bad Bod Prob

Brittany Gibbons writes at Brittany. Herself. and is the author of the new book Fat Girl Walking: Sex, Food, Love, and Being Comfortable in Your Skin…Every Inch of It.

Is it possible that one male body type could help us appreciate all women?

Many female body acceptance movements have made headlines over the past few years, my own included–“What I Learned About Life While Standing in the Middle of Times Square in My Bathing Suit was my TED Talk. Women owning their bodies in bikinis or showing off the scars of motherhood have been met with a mixed reaction of praise and disgust.

Then, Dadbod came on to the scene with an unexpectedly high level of enthusiasm and acceptance. What’s not to love about the friendly, approachable dadbod and his easygoing lifestyle? The dadbod isn’t caught up in endless hours at the gym or crazy diets. He is just happy to spend time doing the things he loves, wearing the same jeans he wore in college. The downside to dadbod, however, is the glaring double standard.

Seth Rogen could plausibly knock up Katherine Heigl on film, but if Rebel Wilson had a cinematic one-night stand with Ryan Gosling, the script would probably call for them to raise the baby together as friends until her kindness and personality eventually eclipsed her BMI or she got the gastric sleeve. The dadbod is a perfectly acceptable and attractive body standard, but it’s available to only one gender. Spoiler alert, ladies: not ours.

Women aren’t afforded the luxury of something attractively, lovingly nicknamed mombod, even though we’re the ones who actually carry and birth the babies. While dadbod is a transitional step in the male aging process, mombod should be a temporary stop on the road back to pre-mombod. Our sexiness comes not from the evolution of our breasts and curves, but in our ability to erase the fact that any of it happened in the first place.

To society, mombod has given up. She eats cold leftovers from her children’s plates and prefers yoga pants for comfort because she’s lazy, not because she’s run out of hours in the day or frustrated dressing a body completely foreign to herself.

But mombod should be appreciated for what it represents.

She is selfless. Mombod isn’t born from a complete disregard for physical fitness or dietary need, mombod puts others before herself. First, offering up her own body to grow and nurture another human being, and then sidelining her own immediate needs to care for those around her.

She is compassionate. There is nothing more humbling than to be cast as a failure or unattractive boil on the face of society. Mombod is used to being told she isn’t good enough, so as a result, she is empathetic to those struggling with beauty and confidence around her.

She is uncommon. Every mombod is a virtual unicorn in terms of shape and size. Each new fold and curve specific to only her and her experiences. While this may not lend itself to clothes shopping, it makes loving a mombod a singular, one-in-a-million experience.

She is driven. Balancing motherhood with anything else is nearly impossible. Work, home, and everything in between is a feat of sheer determination while also balancing a family. She may not have time to spend every free moment at the gym. Or, maybe she does and you shouldn’t make assumptions about people based on their weight.

She wears her love on her sleeve, literally. Mombod’s scars and curves read like a scrapbook of her life. Moments she displayed superhuman strength or endured unparalleled pain are forever etched across her thin skin. Looking at her shouldn’t make you cringe, but instead, genuflect.

She is beautiful. Mombod’s beauty isn’t limited to her perseverance or familiarity, it comes from simply being a woman.

So, should we welcome the acceptance of dadbod as a possible solution to the body hate epidemic facing girls and women in this country? Maybe. As the rise of the average man takes over, perhaps his appreciation and acceptance of the average woman will follow suit. That would be a monumental evolution in body acceptance.

Brittany Gibbons writes at Brittany. Herself. and is the author of the new book Fat Girl Walking: Sex, Food, Love, and Being Comfortable in Your Skin…Every Inch of It.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Books

The Necessity of Marginalia in the Age of the Ebook

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Shane Parrish writes Farnam Street

"Full ownership of a book only comes when you have made it a part of yourself"

Francis Bacon once remarked “some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.”

Reading and writing often go hand in hand. Reading is not a passive skill but rather an active one.

One of the ways we chew and digest what we’re reading is to comment on something someone else has written. We do this through Marginalia — the broken fragments of thought that appear scribbled in the margins of books. These fragments help us connect ideas, translate jargon, and spur critical thinking. (One notable downside though, giving away books becomes harder because often these fragments are intimate arrows into my thinking.)

In the world of ebooks the future of marginalia and reading looks different. With electronic reading devices, the ease of inserting these thought fragments has diminished. I have Kindle and while I’m trying to use it more, there are issues. By the time I’ve highlighted a section, clicked on make a note, and laboured intensively at the keyboard, I’ve often lost the very thought I was trying to capture. (Ebooks, however, make certain things easier, like searching.)

This excerpt from How to Read a Book, written in the 40s, captures the necessity of marginalia to reading.

When you buy a book, you establish a property right in it, just as you do in clothes or furniture when you buy and pay for them. But the act of purchase is actually only the prelude to possession in the case of a book. Full ownership of a book only comes when you have made it a part of yourself, and the best way to make yourself a part of it— which comes to the same thing— is by writing in it.

Why is marking a book indispensable to reading it? First, it keeps you awake— not merely conscious, but wide awake. Second, reading, if it is active , is thinking, and thinking tends to express itself in words, spoken or written. The person who says he knows what he thinks but cannot express it usually does not know what he thinks. Third, writing your reactions down helps you to remember the thoughts of the author.

Reading a book should be a conversation between you and the author. Presumably he knows more about the subject than you do; if not, you probably should not be bothering with his book. But understanding is a two-way operation; the learner has to question himself and question the teacher. He even has to be willing to argue with the teacher, once he understands what the teacher is saying. Marking a book is literally an expression of your differences or your agreements with the author. It is the highest respect you can pay him.

Follow your curiosity to the pleasures of reading in an age of distraction, how to read a book, and a process for taking notes while reading.

This piece originally appeared on Farnam Street.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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