How should you take and write notes in books?

Hey Tyler!

Do you have a process for note taking while you read? Like clipping important parts in books, etc? Or do you just read and that’s all?

Matthew E.

And in the same week William D. writes to me:

…How do annotate, or mark up books that you read? This question is prompted by a lively discussion between a professor of mine (who argued that the text should be kept clean to ensure the integrity of re-readings) and myself (I find that my comprehension and ability to navigate the text is increased by annotations). Do you think that re-readings are harmed or benefitted by the presence of past annotations on the text? Personally I am not sure. Does it depend on the text?

My approach is simple, though not sophisticated.  If I own the book, and there is something interesting on the page, I fold over the page corner.  (If it is a library book I simply write down the page numbers.)  The mere act of folding makes the fact or point easier to remember, and in fact that is my main purpose, namely to turn the piece of information into a claim about visual space.  That said, the folds also make the source easier to find again if needed.  I agree that marking up the page “ruins” your next read of the source.  I find that by having to search again on the page I find other significant ideas as well.

That said, if I teach a book I have to mark it up to find particular passages more easily on the spur of the moment before the students in class.  Then I stop learning from my rereads of the book, but instead learn from the teaching of it.

I pretend no universality for those procedures, but they work for me.  Do you do something different?


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