That’s the question and of course I would like to hear your answer.
So you’re reading a book (for the sake of this conversation it’s a book you own) and you come across a quote or passage you love.
- a) underline or highlight it and write notes in your book
- b) write it down in a notebook (maybe a book journal) or piece of paper
- c) use a post it note or page flag
- d) take a picture on your phone
- e) use an electronic app (goodreads or something else)
- f) none of these (because you remember everything you read or you don’t take notes while reading)
- g) a combination of your own making from items A-E
This topic of annotating books (or not) has surfaced time and time again. I’ve discussed it recently and even had someone recommend some YouTube videos on this topic. Before I decided to write this blog post, I asked a few of the ladies I’m reading Middlemarch with about this topic because I’m at a point where I’m giving SERIOUS thought to writing (in pencil) in my copy of the book (a quick update, Middlemarch convinced to annotate so please keep reading). So I asked and was met with a resounding NO! (One said she’s a DIVA about her books, yes I can relate). However, I was surprised because she majored in English and I thought for sure she’d say yes. The lovely lady behind Spunky Reads said she takes notes but has no organized method.
Hence the reason for this post. As a person who loves reading (and typically participates in group book discussions see link here) I need to be able to keep track of notable passages, quotes, characters and events along with my random thoughts because I usually read several books at the same time. In 2016 I started a book journal and it’s improved my ability to keep my book thoughts organized and has been a fun way to look back over my reading year. It took some time to work out a system that worked for me but its like a well oiled machine now, it works and is effective. I came up with a hashtag over on Bookstagram #ShowMeYourBookNotes endeavoring to see how others would record their notes on what they’re reading. (Here’s a link to my first book journal)
But annotating directly in the book? After about a year of book journaling and reading more classics, I decided to try annotating at least ONE my book this reading year; Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell.
Annotating Mary Barton
As you can see I still have my essentials, post it flags, several pieces of paper with some notes along the way while reading, my book journal, pen, and pencil. I was very nervous about WRITING in my book so I used a pencil (in case I decided I would become physically ill doing this and change my mind). But I made it through the whole book and feel a different connection with this book (this is a great book by the way, read it). I have my book journal notes too but needless to say I tried it.
Was I convinced after that experience to continue annotating my books? No I wasn’t. Perhaps because my brain is hard wired to what I’ve been doing for over a year with my book journal and because I can’t possibly fit all my thoughts about a great book inside the (HELLO THOSE MARGINS ARE SMALL). But I can’t say with full conviction that annotating is not beneficial.
When I read Mary Barton and decided to annotate it was scary because I never write in books. But after a while it was easier and neat (I like straight lines it was visibly satisfying when annotating). Looking back 2 months after reading the book and my first annotating experience here are a few benefits:
- Quickly find and identify passages of importance
- Less paper stuck inside book (notes that I didn’t record in my journal)
- A hardwired connection from making more notes directly on the page (especially helpful during discussions)
So I’ve been using my typical method and I’m back to the conversation about annotating; reading and discussing Middlemarch prompted this post. Its almost like Middlemarch is telling me, “You NEED to write here, here and right there at the end of this chapter.” I’ve made my way through a good bit of Middlemarch (a brief post on it soon) and YES, I’ve been annotating my book without reservation! See pictures below.
My typical book note method with Middlemarch, book journal and pages of notes tucked inside during reading (above)
Middlemarch, annotations full steam ahead (above)
So maybe the question could also be, if you do decide to annotate your books, what type of books would that be?
Criteria for annotating (in my limited experience)
- Classics – I think classics have more to reflect on promoting me to underline or flag key passages (ones I find memorable)
- Let the book dictate if it’s annotation worthy – I’ve read a few other classics since Mary Barton but haven’t had the same urge to annotate until Middlemarch (and it’s amazing so far)
I wouldn’t write in my hardcover collectibles (Penguin Clothbounds, Knickerbocker Classics or Canterbury Classics Editons). But a classic in paperback, if I’m going to annotate, that would be my preference. Even my lovely Oxford World’s Classics (but not 100% sure yet).
So I ask, to annotate or not to annotate? How do you keep track of your book notes? Does it include any of the options listed above? I’d love to discuss this more. Leave your thoughts and comments below.