Some people feel very strongly about having virgin books.
1. You Prioritize the Important BitsMaybe you are reading a history textbook or maybe you are reading Wuthering Heights. Either way, your ability to demonstrate an understanding of the book will not just come from memorizing names and big events—highlighting the small but significant details tracks the progression of ideas in the story and helps you pinpoint exactly what the writer is trying to say.
Questions You Answer: What are the significant details? How do they relate to one another? How do they relate to the main idea?
2. You Record ReactionsThis seems like it wouldn’t be relevant in an academic setting, but I disagree. Even if your reading material is sometimes super boring, they were not actually intended to be that way 99% of the time. The point of writing something is to send a message that evokes something in the reader. By keeping track of your reactions, you can gauge whether the author accomplished that goal.
Questions You Answer: What feelings/reactions did you have while reading? How does this support the author’s purpose (or not)?
3. You Interact with the TextIf you zone out when you’re reading, sometimes I find that underlining and making notes helps me keep a better handle on what I’m reading because I have to physically respond to what I’m reading. I’ve always found that helps things sink in.
Questions You Answer: How does this text relate to me (even if that relationship is primarily my grade in this class)?
4. It’s Easier to Find StuffIn English class you can be guaranteed of two things: verbal discussion and essays. (Well, at least at my schools.) The worst thing in either of those situations is when you want to talk about something, but you know that your thoughts have no validity unless you can yourself up with a textual reference and YOU CAN’T FIND THE REFERENCE YOU NEED. When you annotate, it raises your awareness of the book's spacial reality, and then you can be like, “Oh yeah, my thought it three pages after I made a note about Japanese sandwiches."
Questions You Answer: Where is the stuff that is important in relation to the rest of the book? How can I find it again?
5. It is FunMy annotations are about 80% important factual details, 15% reactions, 3% vocab/small personal notes, and 2% Broadway musical lyrics. The best part of being the oldest is that when your younger sisters take your classes they can read the books you wrote in, and then you can enjoy the sound of their laughter as they find all the random stuff you put in there. It is very gratifying, I assure you.
Questions You Answer: How can I make this book an enjoyable experience I won’t regret?
Those are the five best reasons I can think of to annotate. It’s useful, it’s effective, and it is entertaining. Plus, it’s kind of like a time capsule, and you can see your thoughts as they evolve on the page!