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[Immersion] Reading Tip: Tear Up The Book If You Love Your Mind

Tommy, a handsome AJATTeer, shares this reading tip:

Hi [Khatz you are the most handsome being in the Galaxy. How do you stay so young, thin and pretty? Your hair has so much volume and shine, and your skin, omigosh, so soft! You have the skin of a virgin! What’s that? You…oh. Anyway!].

Just a quick tip, you’ve probs heard it before.

In case you haven’t, here it is:

  • Cut or rip pages from a book and stick them in your pocket, read more.
  • ALWAYS have in your pocket. (Can’t do that with a book, we ain’t all got manbags, bro!)


  1. Logistically makes reading easier “between the gaps”
  2. Psychologically takes books “off the pedestal”
  3. I’ve got a “favourites pile”. A physical stack of tiny scraps to be reviewed as I fancy, without the effort of typing them into the SRS.

Fun fact: I did the entire 3000 Hanzi of Heisig while working as a waiter, in front of posh customers and my bosses. Can’t do that with a book.

Now I do it with novels — you wouldn’t believe where I get them out…

Thanks for everything. [You really are handsome, you know.]

~ Tommy

Of course, as I crazy as I am, even I’ve developed an inhibition to “defacing” books, so Tommy’s suggestion comes is pleasantly shocking to me (yeah, a pleasant shock, a sort of “oh snap, nice one!” feeling). And I’m reminded of this famous little quote by Harmon Killebrew:

“My father used to play with my brother and me in the yard. Mother would come out and say, “You’re tearing up the grass.” “We’re not raising grass,” my dad would reply, “we’re raising boys.”

And you’re not raising or collecting books, you’re reading them, you’re consuming them. Not wanting to tear up books even if it helps you actually read them more is like not wanting to salivate on food because the food will stop looking pretty — missing the point. Missing what matters. You can always get a clean copy again some other time. But if you don’t use the heck out the book now, you’re getting less than nothing out of it.

In Tommy’s courageous attitude toward book management, I’m also fondly reminded that my original copy of Chinese Characters: A Genealogy and Dictionary, the book from which I SRSed Sino-Japanese characters into my memory, literally fell apart. Tatters. That’s how ratty it got; that’s how hard I used it. And this was after multiple attempts at rescue with all manner of tapes and adhesives. It would no longer hold together 1.

But what of it? Would that little guy have been happier sitting pristine and untouched on a shelf somewhere, or getting used and read and thumbed and annotated and carried and skimmed and loved to pieces? Your books want you to use them. They don’t want to be neat and untouched. They want to be read until they can’t be read any longer. Like a meal, their honor is in being eaten and enjoyed, in being consumed. Yeah, we’re pretending books are sentient now 😀 …and it’s getting a little weird.

Seriously, though, ultimately, the only point of a library is to read it 2. The only point of all that ownership is use. Books are beautiful; my friend Racquel calls them “the best interior decorating”. Personally, I buy them with the same joy as some people do jewelry; by weight alone, they’re more valuable than shiny metal and stones. But they’re not for show.

You’re not raising books, you’re raising a reader. Let the books take one for team.


  1. I wish I could be bothered to find the picture I believe I may have taken of it; it’s quite the sight to behold.
  2. Nick Taleb would also say that it’s to remind you of what you don’t know. That counts, though, because there’s still latent intent to read, right? LoL 😀

  13 comments for “[Immersion] Reading Tip: Tear Up The Book If You Love Your Mind

  1. ijp
    October 31, 2013 at 07:28

    If you can’t bear to tear up a book, you can always bits out. Working through heisig (1,2,& 3) I would have lots of postit sized bits of paper in my pockets. Keywords/kanji/compounds/whatever.

    • ijp
      October 31, 2013 at 07:28

      er, you can always *copy* bits out

  2. Ivy
    October 31, 2013 at 13:05

    I just bought a non-fiction book from Kinokuniya the other day. I try to read it in between commutes, so I bring it everywhere with me. Since it’s quite a bit above my level, I had to draw all over it, highlight words I don’t know, and post-it the hell of it.

    I felt really bad after looking at how ratty it’s become in just 2 weeks. I don’t usually treat my English books this way. But this post made me feel so much better. Thanks, Khatz.

  3. Greg
    October 31, 2013 at 15:11

    Poppycock. Just write out the page, probably better for memory anyway, plus I lose scraps of paper, so this knowledge, my “favourite parts” will end up being lost forever because I’m a bumbling litterbug. At least until I buy a new copy. In short: Plagiarism good, denudation bad.

  4. 魔法少女☆かなたん
    October 31, 2013 at 22:03

    Well, I think the reason pages are bound together in order to begin with is so you can find them again, in the original. There are advantages to keeping them inside the original cover, as long as you actually open it.

  5. Tom P
    November 1, 2013 at 03:48

    I photocopy pages and carry those with me.

  6. November 1, 2013 at 10:09

    Ha, nice conversation. I myself get free Chinese study aids from …. wait for it … wait…. Free small business flyers! When people at crowded intersections hand out advertisements it doesn’t hurt to take one. It helped with my cell phone vocab! It’s also funny when people are amazed you even stopped!

  7. Petra
    November 7, 2013 at 23:48

    Funny article 🙂

  8. hongchang
    November 15, 2013 at 14:04

    this reminds me of a ancient chinese saying


    literally means “studying so hard until 10000 volumes are torn up, will be able to write very well”

  9. Just passing by
    November 20, 2013 at 23:46

    Photocopiers, guys. That’s what they’re there for.
    If you have a good camera phone, you can also photograph some pages and take them along with you.

  10. kimera
    November 26, 2013 at 05:36

    I was brought up to respect my books. And by “respect” I mean: underline, highlight, annotate, and write comments in the margins. (And then pick them up years later and be able to actually find that quote I was looking for.) It makes me sad when I see students NOT doing this to their own textbooks.

    One possible compromise is to find stories/articles online and print them out. Then you have both the “pretty” digital original and the useful annotated printout.

    ( IMO, though, the main down side of actually tearing up a book is that if you need to flip to a previous chapter or the index you won’t have it with you. But it’s a good idea for short stories or essay collections which can be broken into independent sections.)

  11. Chris
    June 1, 2014 at 13:17

    Interesting read. I do have one complaint though. Why in the hell do people try to copy Khatz’s style of writing? I enjoy Khatz’s style but for me, it is unique to him. For Tommy to take on that kind of style it just seems kind of lame. And while I think that Tommy’s advice was interesting and innovative, it was almost ruined by his “Khatzness.”

    Just a tip from a fellow lover of this site. You may have something useful to say and it is absolutley your right to do this, but know that if you lame it up by copying Khatz’s style, then your message will be diminished (at least in my eyes, for whatever that’s worth). Yeah I know that was a run-on sentence like a mother fucker.

  12. December 6, 2017 at 00:17

    I just took a picture of a book page on my phone, I have it with me anyway and it’s easier without ruining the book so I can still re-read it later.

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