Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Advocating Annotation

There’s this weird aversion people have to writing in their books. Even textbooks. Like, if you put a pen to the printed paper you’ll interrupt the sanctity of the story and you’ll go to Book Hell someday.

Some people feel very strongly about having virgin books.

I, on the other hand, have no such qualms. Certainly, I’m not going to write in EVERY BOOK, especially if it’s just for pleasure, but if it is something with which I plan to do a literary analysis or it is for school, there is no way I am not doing it. And, to be honest, I would recommend a habit of annotating, too. It’s good for you, I promise.

1. You Prioritize the Important Bits

Maybe 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 Reactions

This 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 Text

If 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 Stuff

In 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 Fun

My 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!

Do you write in your books? What methods do you use?


  1. ANNOTATION IS MY FAVORITE OKAY. Though I'm sure you know that, since I posted about it so recently. I have very strong feelings about it. Like, if you want to keep your books pure, that's okay, but don't be hating on other people if they like to scribble (like I do). I've found that it helps me slow down and catch all the cool lines and character development and layers, and that it helps me as a writer as well since I'm able to analyze the things I like. I usually underline and write notes on characters or just my thoughts on a theme in the margins. Whatever I do, I really love it. <3

    1. YES! I was actually going to post this post that week, but then I held off because I figured it might be good for you to have space. I agree, though, annotating really helps me slow down and really think about books on a deeper level. :) I've even heard it said that if you aren't annotating then you aren't reading. Your system sounds great, though. Thanks for sharing, Aimee!

  2. I used to be horrified by the idea of writing in books. But now I do it a lot (if they're mine), pretty much for the reasons above :)

    1. Yeah, don't write in library books. XD Thanks for reading, Opal!

  3. Ahaha, we once again have a post of coincidence because I have a post tomorrow about how pristine you keep your books. I don't annotate my textbooks because I like to resell them, but I also don't annotate my other books because I like them nice and SHINYYYY. Annotations are really cool for a number of reasons - I mean, I have lots of fun annotating my own manuscripts - but sometimes they distract me from the actual words and slow me down, so I'm not a huge fan. I don't judge people who like it, though ... or at least not much ...XD

    1. Oh, really? I actually like slightly annotated textbooks just because I think other people's notes can save me a bit of time (assuming they're right; like if they look up Spanish words for me, haha). It's interesting that you say it's distracting, though, because I've always felt that slowing down is really important to me! Still. I don't judge people who don't annotate that much either.

  4. I don't write in my books, but I suddenly have an urge to start. I like your reasons! I think would be fun to record my reactions to certain things.

    1. Yeah! I like recording my reactions. It's like a little time machine. And I am also sometimes very clever with my annotations.

  5. Yeah, I'm one of those people who would probably suffer a brain collapse if I actually annotated one of my books (although, I do write in my Bible, so that's a small victory for me). But I also totally recognize the value of annotating, and while I tend to do a lot of mental annotation (and I tend to remember all that mental annotation the next time I read the book), there is something nice about physically making a note. That's why I like my kindle, for classics especially, because I can highlight and make notes to my cold, dark heart's desire and it doesn't mess with my head any.

    1. Oh, yes, Kindles are nice for that reason! Although it is also frustrating because they take too long to type. Plus I feel much more willing to write profanity on paper for some reason, at the parts when that is my reaction. I have no idea why. Anyway, here's to you continuing to annotate? Maybe? Nah.


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