Teatime: To Annotate Or Not to Annotate?

Having grown up mostly reading library books, I never really developed a habit of marking up pages while I read; the most I might do was copy down a particularly nice quote. (I still have notebooks full of these passages, a testament to the hand cramps I suffered in pursuit of the #aesthetic and need to update my Tumblr bio weekly.)

I think the first time I had to annotate my reading — because let’s face it, I don’t like change and will avoid it unless acted upon by an outside force — was for “close reading” in high school. This may have been Cyrano de Bergerac or it may have been Shakespeare, I don’t remember anymore; the point is that once I adjusted, it would not be an exaggeration to say it totally changed the way I think about and approach reading.

Just to be clear: in this post I’ll be using the terms “annotate” and “take [reading] notes” interchangeably to mean the act of recording reactions, nice quotes, potentially triggering content, predictions, and other thoughts while reading.

                                  

The Case for Annotating

Annotating can be as detailed or quick-and-easy as you want to make it: there’s a whole scale between typing out reactions to each notable moment (potentially triggering content, character epiphanies, romantic developments, bits of worldbuilding, etc.) and just highlighting your favorite quotes. There’s no “right way” to annotate, no matter what your teacher might say; it’s definitely a process that’s highly adaptable to your preferences and needs, and even to the book you’re currently reading.

When you’re studying for a whole-book unit exam (or, more likely these days, trying to write a coherent review), you don’t want to reread and re-analyze everything. So annotating as you read definitely saves a lot of time and energy, and even helps deepen your comprehension. In addition to jogging your memory, it can also lead you to make new connections and inferences you might not have initially picked up on. Plus, if you’re a frequent rereader like me, it can be fun to look back and see what your younger/past self thought as it compares to what your current self thinks of a passage or character.

Anyone who creates has probably experienced inspiration coming from the most random places, and the most mundane lines might spark an idea — which will inevitably have vanished by the end of the book, so my future self is always super appreciative when my past (or current) self takes a few seconds to jot it down. It might be a canon-divergence fanfic, or a fanart scene or pose, or the start of a fanmix, or a discussion post … or just a specific feeling that I want to hold onto. 

                                  

The Case Against Annotating

Despite the logical part of my brain advocating for note-taking while I read, I don’t always actually do it. The main reason for this is that I forget, or just don’t feel like it: not necessarily that I’m being lazy, but either I’m so engrossed in the narrative flow that there’s no good place to pause and record my thoughts, or I’m so unimpressed and/or bored that I don’t have any thoughts to record

Plus, I have yet to find a non-awkward method for annotation. Making notes in my Kindle ebooks is convenient, but the keyboard isn’t very responsive and my device tends to slow down with the more notes I take. I’ve also tried saving my notes in Google Keep, but it’s even more awkward to have to stop and pull out my phone every time I want to make a memo. And when it comes to print books, I still don’t like writing in them; post-its are nice, but I don’t always carry them around with me.

Alternatively I might have too many notes, so that the prospect of going back through them is daunting. Even though my Kindle notes export to Goodreads and GKeep is accessible on my computer, scrolling through everything is not my idea of a fun time, and I’m even less enthusiastic to try and weave all the threads into a coherent review.

Finally, even if I found a solution to the aforementioned issues, honestly I’m a little hesitant to set things down in stone, so to speak. It’s the difference between waiting to see what’ll happen or whether the characters will change your mind about them, and saying definitively that you don’t like what just happened and/or you’re not enjoying the book. There’s probably some empirical evidence to back this up, but I feel less open-minded when I’ve been marking down all my reactions: I’m less likely to be surprised or change my mind.

Do you annotate while you read? If yes, what about the process has or hasn’t worked for you, and what level of detail do you take notes on? If not, would you ever consider it?

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20 thoughts on “Teatime: To Annotate Or Not to Annotate?

  1. I don’t normally annotate books. It’s normally just for review copies. I find that I’m always too engrossed in the story to stop and annotate. If I do, I write on sticky notes. Sometimes I find myself wanting to annotate everything which can be a problem 😂I always say I’ll annotate more, but never do 😅 Great post ❤️

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  2. This is such an interesting post! Normally, I don’t annotate books. If I find something worth noting, I’ll probably type it down on my phone or laptop or write it the nearest piece of paper at hand…and then I’ll scramble to gather all those notes when I’m writing my reviews lmao. Maybe there’s something to be had for annotating books!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ah thank you! when I do annotate (or at least sticky-note/digitally highlight key passages), I definitely find it a lot easier to gather my thoughts in a review – but doing the actual annotating is a struggle in and of itself for sure 😅

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  3. Wonderful post— and you make a lot of interesting points! I was going to say I don’t annotate, but I sort of do. I’m usually too focused on the text to pull myself away and scribble something personal down. However, I’ll often look things up while reading, so I’ll end up with several tabs open on my phone where I’ve searched for stuff I wanted to explore more in-depth later. I suppose that’s like a really unstructured way of annotating.

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  4. I started taking notes on things as I read last year before the slump whacked me, something I noticed was that taking notes was making the whole reading experience less enjoyable. I was thinking about writing notes instead so I could remember it later for a review usually. I switched from sticking page flags in to using a notebook to jot down my notes in bullet point form. Now though I got rid of that system entirely, though I may have to bring it back in some form when I find a particular quote/passage that I want to remember.

    As for annotating on the actual book I’ve only done that in school and it was through being forced to xD I’m all for people writing in their books if they want to, it’s their book, their choice after all. However I was brought up to keep things pristine and treat them with care…thinking about it, it may be why I have such a hard time buying books which are slightly marked. (I am getting better at that though!)

    Anyhoo love this post Izzy, I think annotating is useful but it’s also the main way for me to disengage with a story because I’m more concerned with writing notes than enjoying the story.

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    1. I absolutely agree re: writing in books! in theory I love the aesthetic of a well-loved, marked-up book, but I personally just can’t do it.

      the whole process sometimes makes me wonder if the issue is actually the (mostly internal) pressure to write coherent reviews, because at this point it’s second nature for me to digitally highlight or stick a page flag by interesting quotes – often to the point where I have too many to scroll through so in the end it’s not actually that helpful 😅 but when I’m in the mood to look through quotes, they’re certainly nice to have at hand!

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  5. I never annotated my books, until I started my blog. I then decided to put tabs in my books, for parts I liked or didn’t, or that was funny. But at some point it started to feel like I had to put in tabs if I hadn’t for a while. I also never looked back at my tabs. I the decided to stop again since for me it took the fun out of reading, since I would keep thinking ‘don’t forget to tab’
    I do still occasionally take photos of quotes that I like!
    Great post!

    (www.evelynreads.com)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I usually don’t like annotating, because I feel like it takes me away from what I’m reading! However, I tend to forget whatever I don’t annotate, so… I guess I should try it sometime.

    Recently, I have been thinking about starting, because I like to use quotes or scenes in my reviews. Annotating can be done in different ways, and I think it would be easier for me to just mark a page or keep tabs on certain parts, rather than writing down my thoughts. 🙂 Awesome discussion!

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    1. thanks Xandra! it’s definitely a tricky balance between remembering what you read (and what you thought about it) and the actual reading experience; currently I just highlight/sticky-note key passages, as you mention, and that’s been working pretty well as a compromise! hope it works for you too 💕

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  7. I don’t annotate IN the book, but I have these amazing sticky tabs that actually have almost a post-it size space that is lined, and it’s only got a little tab sticking out of the actual book. They’re really convenient!!

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    1. ooooh those sound awesome! I have something kind of similar, but they’re buried somewhere in one of the stationery boxes I haven’t unpacked yet 😅

      what I really want are the “ghost it notes” I’ve seen around – they’re translucent so you can underline and annotate without actually writing in the book (and they’re shaped like adorable ghosts, as a bonus)!

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  8. I’m really torn on annotation, primarily for reasons of practicality. In an ideal world, I’d love to be able to take notes in my bullet journal… but, unfortunately, a good amount of my reading is done on the go when I’m on the train, which makes note taking nigh impossible. I could take notes on my Kindle in such a case, but I need to have one hand free to stabilize myself if I’m standing (which I usually am). Even if I’m sitting, my Kindle’s keyboard is way too big to comfortably type on. I usually just highlight interesting passages I’d like to use in my reviews instead.

    For physical books, I like to dog-ear if it’s not a copy I’m worried about keeping nice. Otherwise, I’ll usually use whatever is on hand to mark interesting passages – whether that be a post it, a business card, or other option.

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    1. I used to have a Kindle keyboard and the digital keyboard of my current one is pretty awkward so I totally feel the struggle; highlighting definitely helps as a quick & easy way to refer back for reviews and post-reading discussion!

      Like

  9. I annotate in a little notebook purely for reading notes. I tend to write down notes every time I end up putting down the book, but there are times where I just won’t for hundreds of pages because like you said I don’t want to interrupt the flow. I’m 239 pages into this one book, halfway done, and I’ve written no notes, but I’ll get around to it eventually lol

    Liked by 1 person

    1. see, “I’ll get around to it eventually” is what I say when I finish a book and don’t want to write the review 😜

      but then again, you always seem to be more on top of it than I do, your reviews are always so detailed and awesome whereas half of mine are “yeah I liked these characters and the plot was cool” 😅 well, if it works it works!

      Liked by 1 person

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