I myself have the odd conviction of running only one bookmark at a time, (excepting devotionals, or the Bible,) which in practice is both a mercy and a madness. I appreciate the discipline and thoroughness of the approach, but it does cause you to sometimes treat the book as an obstruction: an irritating inconvenience that is preventing you from moving on. This can be somewhat unhealthy. (Of course, if the book is just plain daft, I will put it down (sometimes the putting is more violent) and move on.)
I don't know if it is the quantity of my reading, or the rapidity, but I find it difficult to absorb and retain much real substance. So, to this end, I employ a number of strategies.
The first and most useful of these strategies is a fifty cent highlighter. The advantage is twofold: it helps me remain (relatively) alert, and also performs an invaluable service in making the exceptional portions of the book immediately available for later reference.
Of course, there are practical difficulties. In the car, you wind up with lines that look more like sloshing soap suds than something drawn by a serious scholar. And certain books have such a pronounced crest in the pages that it is difficult to keep the highlighter from dashing down into the crease at the end of the line.
The first streaking scar in a crisp new book is never easy. But by the time I reach the end I am humming along in a nice rhythm, patches of yellow or blue or pink appearing across the pages in chaotic choreography.
There remains, of course, the vexing question of what to highlight and what to leave alone, and certain passages present quite the dilemma. Because really, that "worth highlighting" quality is not necessarily based on any definitive standard and often proves extraordinarily elusive. Which brings us to the next strategy: the good old-fashioned dog-ear.
Dog-ears are somewhat less useful, but they have their place, as when confronted with such a quantity of spectacular material that the prospect of highlighting the mass is enough to make your palms sweaty. A dog-ear does the almost-same thing much more economically. Fold the corner of the page at a 45 degree angle, to the width of about three-quarters of an inch. Not the same as a bold splash of pink, but it works, in a pinch.
It is sometimes helpful to have a pen available; for adding appropriate scripture references, or squiggling a quick question mark. (Actually, I am afraid lest the question mark in the margin will become a trademark notation. The legacy of a cynic is rarely a positive one.)
The only remaining task, after the Afterword, is one you are all familiar with by now: the infamous blog review. Boil down the sap, bottle the syrup, and hang the pail back in the woodshed. Another spring, another preface, is arriving.
Image courtesy of cancergroup.com