Renaissance readers were trained to encounter books with a pen in hand in order to mark them up and take notes. Simply reading a book was not enough: a proper reader should actively use the book, taking the time and expending the effort to fully comprehend its meaning. This form of reading was aimed at a practical or intellectual goal: a used book should be incorporated into one’s own writing. The image of the “book wheel” presents an idealized scene of reading in which the diligent scholar consults multiple books at the same time.
However, readers did not always use books for their intended purposes. These three items present examples of books that demonstrate the variety of unexpected and striking ways in which Renaissance books were used.