Taking Notes About Books

Woman holding a book and reading

While I’ve spent a lot of time in my life as a student, I was never particularly good at taking notes. I would just jot down was on the board, often missing important things and not hearing what the instructor was saying. I know there are a lot of note taking methods out there including the often noted (pun intended) Cornell Method and mind mapping (something I didn’t learn about until I was no longer a student).

Recently I came up with a way to take notes about books, something that probably would have been useful to me as a student. While I normally write notes in the margins of books these days, I just finished reading BrenĂ© Brown’s latest book Atlas of The Heart, which is frankly too nice of a book to write in, so I needed to have a different way to take notes on what I was reading.

I didn’t want to have to carry a journal or my computer around with me wherever I had the book, whether that was sitting in bed or waiting for my daughter’s basketball practice to end. Instead I kept a pen and some sticky notes with me. Any time there was something I wanted to note, I would jot down the first few words and a quick note about my thoughts (unless it would be obvious) and stuck the note on the corresponding page.

Normally I might have a dozen or so pages with notes in the margins, but in the case of this book, there were probably five times that. Now, I certainly don’t want to leave the notes in there when I hand it off to my wife to read, obscuring parts of pages for her and there was a lot that I want to really put some thought into, especially since I discussing this book with a friend for our little two-person book club.

My solution has been to create a note in Evernote (you could do this with other note taking apps or on paper, but I type faster than I write) and added a table with three columns for Quote, Page Number, and Notes. There is a row for each new quote, collection of related quotes, or general idea. You can see what I mean in this image.

Evernote table with quotes in the left column, page numbers in the middle, and notes in the right column

Is this time consuming? Yes, is it worth it, I think so. And using Evernote instead of paper, allows me to search the document for when I’m trying to remember something I have a vague recollection of.

And doing this method will make it easier for me to take notes from library books instead of buying every book I want to read. I may still buy them, but I won’t be able to use the excuse of writing in the margins.

One final note, I know that I could accomplish the same thing using an eReader, but I like to read right before bed and I try to not to look at screens in the hour or so before I go to sleep.

Featured image courtesy of Mariana Vusiatytska mariana_, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Comments

  1. Brian says:

    Love the sticky note idea! I’ve never been one to mark up books, and as you noted it can be too much to haul a journal or computing device around (plus it takes you out of the reading flow).

    In terms of digitizing the information later, I’ve been using Obsidian lately – a bit more finicky than Evernote, but it’s cross-platform, easy to get data out (each note is its own plain text file formatted in Markdown), and free for personal use.

  2. Heather says:

    Brian,

    Thanks for the comment. I took a look at Obsidian and it looks interesting, but more complicated. I like the idea of owning my data, but I have to be able to easily use the app as well.

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