Making Books Work
July 9, 2011 2:18 PM   Subscribe

How do you read?

I'm hesitant to say more, because I'd love to see what comes up.

Basically, though, I'd like to be a more effective reader. And not just for research, but in general, fiction and non-fiction.

Do you use marginalia? If so, what's your marginalia system?

Do you take notes while reading? During? After?

Bonus question: Do you have a larger system to your reading. Like, "This month I'm only going to read about the Renaissance." Or, "I try to alternate fiction and non-fiction." How's that working for you?

All ideas welcome!
posted by vecchio to Media & Arts (34 answers total) 63 users marked this as a favorite
Based on this previous post, this is how I have been reading, as of late.
posted by AlliKat75 at 2:22 PM on July 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

My personal goal is to rotate between nonfiction, fiction I really like and "the classics". I also tend to read several books at a time and don't worry too much about how long it takes me to finish something. For example, the current rotation is Pale Fire (classics category), Anno Dracula (fiction I really like), and On Food and Cooking (nonfiction). I've also been reading The Golden Bough off and on for a while which happens to be both nonfiction as well as a classic.

I occasionally employ marginalia which is usually just underlining passages of note or maybebwriting a short question or comment at the end of a paragraph.

I also have no qualms about quitting a book midway through if I lose interest.
posted by jnrussell at 2:38 PM on July 9, 2011

I only read non-fiction self-help, spiritual, business, finance, etc. type books. I have about 7 books going at once since it keeps things fresh. I read a chapter at a time of whatever I feel like at that moment. Sometimes I read the same book for awhile, other times I jump around.

I highlight all my books, and add stars next to really important parts. I use a pencil for lists or numbering items that are in paragraph form to help me visually organize the ideas. In general, I like this system since a) I'm more actively reading, and b) it's efficient to find important parts when looking back.

Ideally I would like to write down the "take-away" messages of books on a piece of paper, and fold it inside the book, but I haven't developed this habit. Also, I think re-reading books ~6-12 months after reading them would help a lot, but again I haven't done this.
posted by Mr. Papagiorgio at 2:43 PM on July 9, 2011

I find I need to "actively" read if I want a chance to take away something from the book/paper I'm looking at. I usually just keep a blank sheet of paper nearby and scribble down notes or key ideas as the pop into my head. I barely ever look at my notes again when I'm done, but just the act of writing it down makes it stick in my head a lot more.
posted by auto-correct at 2:52 PM on July 9, 2011

I'm reading about 2-4 books at any one time, and read many books in any given month. I suppose my voraciousness has meant I've never needed a system - either I grab what's to hand 'cause I have to be reading something, or something I see online, or someone says, or something in another book raises a point of interest for me and I go look for books about THAT. There's always a queue with enough variety in it that I can read whatever I'm in the mood for (which is why I read several at a time - this is not for everyone but I like it).

I don't annotate.

What could work for you is carrying a notebook, or keeping a notes file if you have a smartphone, and every time something piques your interest, write it down and look up books about it later. If you're an even remotely curious person you will soon have a big pile of subjects to attack and can organize them to suit a learning system - for example, if something has piqued your interest about a Chinese personage from a historical era, you can lay out a path of learning that's starts with general knowledge about China, then a book about that era, then a biography of the person themselves. I LOVE doing this - you get so much more out of the final book than if you're read if first without acquiring a framework of knowledge to view it against.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 2:55 PM on July 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

In nonfiction I use marginalia for definitions of words I had to look up, and also to mark important bits. On occasion I'll use it to make counterpoints or to note internal inconsistencies or logical fallacies in the author's argument, because I'm that kind of person.

In fiction I use it for definitions, for marking the important bits, and (in books where the title appears within the text but not often), for noting those appearances. I also list infrequent appearances of the title on the title page itself.

(Former English major, YMMV. Current librarian, please do this only in your own books.)
posted by johnofjack at 3:11 PM on July 9, 2011

One of my bucket (101 in 1001) and Health Month goals was to start reading again. I have a Health rule that I have to read 15 minutes (or more) 5 days a week, and I only count books, not magazines or articles I save in Instapaper. This usually works out to 30+ minutes but 15 means I can manage a chapter or two of something before bed.

I'm generally reading 2 or 3 books at a time, with a lot of SFF and reasonably pop history as my core genres. I have a fiction book by my bedside and a history book downstairs and read on them as time and effort permit. I read difficult books in the tub or somewhere else that I won't be tempted to stop and play with my laptop. I don't annotate my books, but there's not a lot of annotation to be done on the fiction and in any case I read a lot of library books these days.

I will stop reading a book if I find it really unenjoyable. I've done that 3 or 4 times in the last several years, particularly for history books that I'm pretty sure are just bad history. I don't feel like reading the first book in an interminable fantasy series (or even a terminated one!) requires me to read the rest, either. This is my pleasure reading, and it ought to be fun.
posted by immlass at 3:16 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks all, these are great. Please keep 'em coming!

I'd love to know too: for those who take notes or jot in the margins--do you ever review your notes or jots? I feel like I'm constantly marking, but doing nothing about the marks.
posted by vecchio at 3:23 PM on July 9, 2011

With non-fiction, I let what I'm reading about lead me on the trail:
For instance, several years ago I was living at Thule AB, in northern Greenland. Okay, I wanted to read up about the area: the people, the history, everything. Several books later I followed the history of Greenland into the Northwest Passage, which in turn led me into polar explorers, which led to SOUTH pole exploration, which led to explorations in general, then narrowed down to African exploration, then to African discoveries, African anthropological discoveries, anthropology worldwide, somewhere in there I hit Darwin and evolution, PALEOanthropology, anthropological frauds (Piltdown man and such), scientific frauds in general.....

somehow or other, a chain which started with The History of Greenlandic Natives ended up with a brisk trot through forty or fifty books to Cold Fusion Frauds. Along the way I read classics by or about Frobisher, Darwin, Lawrence of Arabia and Scott of the Antarctic, and learned a ton of stuff. It's fun, at least to me!
posted by easily confused at 3:33 PM on July 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Previously — on marginalia.
posted by John Cohen at 3:36 PM on July 9, 2011

I'm involved with air traffic controllers and pilots, and previously in my NASA career with voice communication between various launch entities plugged into the console. Since the OP wanted to see "what comes up" given the simple request "How do you read?" my answer is of course "Loud and Clear" or maybe the more obscure "Five By" (short for "5 x 5" which has some origin in military aviation).

But anyway, marginalia? No, when I take notes in a book, I use the final blank pages. But this is rare, only for thick, complicated, usually older novels, most often listing each character as he or she appears, followed by an identifying note or two.

Very occasionally I'll write in the text, correcting a typo in ink, or in pencil, leaving a pithy comment in the margin or a footnote for the next reader, or underlining an exceptional word or phrase. Never the grotesque defacing with the highlighter, so popular with undergraduates, which absolutely ruins the book for the next reader. Sometimes, when I receive a used book in which some 'active reader' has previously underlined long passages or marked up the margins in pencil, I'm forced to grab my big eraser and clean up every page before proceeding, but fortunately for whatever reason these pencil marks usually peter out way before the book ends, or even much earlier.

No general reading system, only selecting what's in my to-be-read box, or whatever strikes my fancy. The latter often takes precedence over the former.
posted by Rash at 3:39 PM on July 9, 2011

I used to write lots of notes in the margins - and yes, sometimes I'd refer back to them. For some books, I've even supplemented with notebooks (ok, this was mostly just Infinite Jest). For now though, I almost never read physical books and do all of my reading on my Kindle. The Kindle collects your highlighting and note-taking into a clippings file, which is pretty handy. So, I underline as much, but take fewer notes, and it's more organized in one actual location rather than scattered in each individual book.

I usually read two books at a time: one fiction, one non. I've been known to go more than that (way, way more at time), but I've never been good at just reading *one* book at a time.

Since I've had a baby, I've become much more likely to quit reading a book if it doesn't hold my interest. I used to finish almost everything I read, now I finish probably half of what I start. If it's not holding my interest, I really just don't have the time right now to devote to something I'm - at best - lukewarm about.

The Kindle really is brilliant for reading at least two books at once since I'm no longer dragging books around or having to choose which one to bring with me when leaving the house. (Wait, there are people who leave their houses without a book?!)
posted by sonika at 3:53 PM on July 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Reading is such a pleasant activity that I save it for the very end of the day, every day - sitting comfy in bed, a cat or two on my feet, just before I go to sleep. No matter what sort of crap may be messing with my day, I always have that sweet respite to look forward to - ah, my book.

A few years ago I decided that I would set myself the goal of reading a book from every country. It's a very casual goal, 'cause I really don't want to finish. Often I'll get absorbed in a place and read several books in a row about it. I keep a list of these books, by country, so I can keep track (about 1/2 way through so far). When I'm done with all the countries, I'm thinking I might read a book about every disorder in the DSM.

While I'm reading, I have my iPhone nearby to look up maps, definitions, or references I don't get.

I also have a notebook I keep with me when I read, and I make occasional notes about things that especially impressed or puzzled me. Every few weeks I go back and look at those notes, to see if I'm still thinking about the same things or want to follow something up with more reading.

Often, I read random interesting books that don't fit this plan.
posted by Corvid at 4:22 PM on July 9, 2011 [5 favorites]

I use LibraryThing to catalogue my books. I add a 'Started' tag to books once I've read about 30 pages or so, and generally try not to let the 'Started' queue get too long. I also use tags to keep track of how many books I read each year.

I've tried to make the effort to write marginalia and take notes from books many times, but have never succeeded in doing so. However, I make a lot of notes and highlights when reading on my Amazon Kindle -- I also have a private Twitter account to which I publish my notes, which I find to be a very convenient way of organising and storing them.
posted by mattn at 4:41 PM on July 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Corvid, a book from every country, what a great idea. Thanks!
posted by fivesavagepalms at 4:43 PM on July 9, 2011

I read mostly non-fiction. I don't have a reading plan, though I have toyed with the idea. Basically I just get intrigued with a topic and read book after book after book about it until I get tired of it, then I move on to another topic. I have learned to hang onto books on topics I've grown tired of though, as my interests tend to rekindle months or even years later.

I almost never write in the margins. I've never found it helpful, and there is just not enough room to record any really insightful observations. I do, however, highlight like a mad person, or underline if I don't have a highlighter available. Or highlight and underline key words within the highlighted passage.

I re-read my books multiple times if I really liked them. Often on re-reading I find new passages more striking than ones I've highlighted previously, so I'll highlight in a different color the second time around.

I often wind up buying the same book in both audio and book form. I listen to audiobooks when I drive, and I often find myself wishing I had a physical copy to refer to, so I'll pick up the cheapest copy I can find. Or I'll have a physical book on my shelf that I'm eager to read but don't really have the time to sit down with, so I'll order the audio so I can listen in my car.

I re-listen to audio books a lot. Sometimes just because I enjoyed them, but also because I'm not primarily an auditory learner so information I hear often does not "stick" very well unless I hear it multiple times (hence another reason why reading & listening to the same book works well for me.) Also I have ADD, and I frequently catch myself zoning out when listening, so usually the second or third trip through a book is just as interesting and informative as the first.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 4:55 PM on July 9, 2011

if something has piqued your interest about a Chinese personage from a historical era, you can lay out a path of learning that's starts with general knowledge about China, then a book about that era, then a biography of the person themselves.

I forgot to mention another thing that makes this a really useful way to explore a subject. We tend to accept knowledge from books as authoritative, whereas everything is subjective and comes from a particular viewpoint and cultural background at the very least, and is sometimes a deliberate distortion to further a goal.
When you read through several books to get to your goal, you encounter different viewpoints of the same things and learn to think critically of what you read, to balance one author against another, you start to look things up to compare them to what the author thinks they are; in sum, you start having your own ideas about their ideas instead of just ingesting them.
The moment that first happened to me I will never forget. I was 16, and I found myself disagreeing with something the author said. The notion that an author could be wrong was a thunderbolt, opening my eyes and my mind. I think of it as a moment of satori, it was such a moment of enlightenment.

Read 3 books on the same thing, one from a person who lives there, one from a person who lives elsewhere, one written long ago. Or by experts and laymen. Or archaeology and history of the same time. Expand your view into the things that interest you.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 5:01 PM on July 9, 2011 [5 favorites]

Oh, and one other thing I do that I haven't seen mentioned yet... when I'm really enjoying a book I like to go to Amazon and read the customer reviews. I'm always curious to see if other people are getting the same insights from it as I am, or maybe someone has a different, interesting take on it. I've usually already read at least some of the reviews in advance if it is a book I ordered online, but I also buy a fair number of books on impulse from the bookstore.

I'd love to find a really active online book discussion forum where it's ok to talk about whatever you might be reading (as opposed to the book that the group has chosen for the month or whatever) but so far have not found a community like that. Amazon reviews sort of serves that purpose for me.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 5:07 PM on July 9, 2011

I use goodreads (which has a metafilter group btw) to catalog my books and keep track of my progress. I am not much of a reviewer.
I try to read 25 books per year and try to split fairly evenly between fiction and nonfiction.
I have broad interests in specific nonfiction areas. i like to read math history (think fermat's enigma, or the indian clerk) and pop science (brian greene, james gleick, richard preston)and WWI.
For fiction I try to keep current by reading a book or two from the prize lists or cull from the tournament of books. last year i tried to read books by authors I already love (lethem, maugham, pynchon, lipsyte, proulx).
I will include a maximum of one re-read per year, but mostly i do not re-read.
i sometimes annotate, definitely high-light on my kindle, dogear like crazy.
summertime is for george rr martin, richard k morgan, gg kay, et al.
this year i seem to have no theme, but plan to read V, the only pynchon i have yet to read, and maybe IJ, if if feel like DFW this fall.
posted by OHenryPacey at 5:47 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

It really depends what I'm reading.

(NB: I am a recent PhD grad in English, so YMMV.)

If I'm reading something that's purely for pleasure—that is, something I'd never really care to write about—I don't do much in the way of marking up, unless something really resonates with me. If that occurs, I'll probably underline it or jot it down in a notebook. I keep a notebook as a sort of commonplace book in which I just write down ideas, interesting quotations, or random thoughts, most of which are research-related.

If I'm reading for something I plan to study, or that might somehow relate to something I study, I'm more liberal with my marginalia. I'll underline, jot notes in the margins (most of which are probably illegible or incomprehensible to anyone but myself), and make quick notes in my notebook. I do come back to these, of course, and these often will form the basis of doing some writing about the text. I might take one of the notes I've made as a starting point and do some freewriting on the passage, for example, and see if anything comes out of it. I've lately started reading on a Kindle and fortunately, because I work in a historical period that is fairly well-represented on Project Gutenberg, I've been able to get a lot of e-books for free. I follow the same practices there: I underline and type in notes on the Kindle. I love that it stores all of your marginalia in one file there, because when I read a number of books together I can get a good idea of some theme that I keep become attracted to as I read.

Reading criticism, though, is different. I take (too many) notes, usually on a computer, and often will copy down long passages from the text verbatim as part of the research process. (That's in case I have to return a book and want to find the specific phrasing again for whatever reason.) I then will add my thoughts and comments below, which range from summarizing to critiquing the argument being made. If I'm working with a hard copy of a book I own or an article I've printed out or photocopied, I'll underline and mark-up there, otherwise I skip that step and just work in Scrivener. Later on, I'll go back through those notes and synthesize them into "citeable notes" (a phrase I picked up from a dissertation writing book), often paraphrasing them with a citation or writing sentences in my own words that include quotations from the critical text.
posted by synecdoche at 6:20 PM on July 9, 2011

Some more about my reading habits:

Re-reading? Hardly ever, life's too short, too many books left to waste time re-reading. But very occasionally, yes, of course.

Where and when? I do my best reading a) while eating alone in restaurants, maybe at the counter if nobody talkative's sitting on adjacent stools; b) on public transportation in foreign countries, and C) on the airplane.

I'm reading either one, two or three books simultaneously at any given time, but usually only picking up one of those two (or three) each day. And I guess I do have a system, in that I try to read one certified classic every year. Otherwise it's all either novels written in the last few decades, sometimes even older, but hardly ever less than a century old (but the annual classic may be older); or the novel-like non-fiction so readily available now, especially about local or world events since ~1930. Plus the occasional science fiction (which was the only genre in my reading diet when I was much younger).
posted by Rash at 7:12 PM on July 9, 2011

My basic tools: the library and lists.

I have a list, "Books To Read," and every time I hear of or read a review of a book that sparks my interest, I put it on the list and request it from the library. With interlibrary loans almost every book is available to me from somewhere. (I do check out books on Amazon before requesting from other libraries, since it does cost my library money. I check to see if I'm still interested after finding out a little more about them.) **The key to using the library is to return most of them unread.** I probably return six books for every one I read to the end. But some books will grab me -- and not the ones I might expect. "The Columbo Bay," for instance, a book about a year in the life of a giant freighter, was amazing. And led me to a book about the invention of cargo containers (interesting to me) and how diesel engines changed the world (not so interesting to me). And the author is on my watch list, in case he writes another book.

I have another list of authors whose work I've really liked, and every so often I type their names into Amazon to see if they have a new book out. I also keep a book journal, where I list the books I've liked, with a one or two sentence summary.

I absolutely re-read. For pleasure, and for surprises, too. I've found re-reading a book will sometimes be much richer the second time, because I've changed or there are things that I missed the first time. About a third of the time a book I re-read will be surprisingly shallow the second time around. I can never predict. Except that I'm pretty sure I'll never get tired of re-reading Jane Austen.
posted by kestralwing at 8:04 PM on July 9, 2011

English teacher here.

This works for non-fiction but is better if there is some kind of narrative (as opposed to a textbook). When a writer repeats an idea/word/phrase it's usually for a reason. I read the first chapter and decide what the patterns are. Then I use a variety of highlighters/coloured pencils to trace those patterns throught the text.

Those patterns give you an idea about what the author intended and are usually related to the themes. I also note the places where patterns intersect and where the author uses figurative language

Memail me and I'll send you a copy of one of the short stories I've patterned and marked up.
posted by guster4lovers at 8:10 PM on July 9, 2011

Look at your pattern of reading and, every now and then, read something that's outside your assumed range of interests. For example, you might never have an interest in learning to fly, but reading Wolfgang Langewiesche's Stick and Rudder will give you a new perspective on flight.
posted by SPrintF at 8:45 PM on July 9, 2011

I read mostly at night, before bed. Writing in books would be a distraction to me, and would make it hard for me to fall asleep. However, if I find a passage I like or want to revisit or share, I dog ear the bottom of the page.

I somehow manage to stumble upon good books to read. When I'm running low, I will try to return to classic books I should have already read, but haven't. I will also try to find the high school required reading lists for ideas. Most recently, that led me to read Ayn Rand's Fountainhead. And, yeah, I'm not a fan, but it was a good book to read.
posted by fyrebelley at 9:05 PM on July 9, 2011

Interesting question; I've never thought about it. But here's my shtick.

First, I track my habits on Good Reads. It takes a minimal amount of time to maintain, and sometimes I benefit from the social networking aspect which lets me strike up conversations that might not have occurred if left only to an active effort to mention a book. It can also be integrated into Facebook, which expands on that dimension a bit.

I keep my current books in my car for any kind of downtime/wait (e.g. at the mechanic, hair appointments -- straight guy with a stylist; wanna make something of it? -- doctor's offices, when I pick up a friend that takes their sweet time coming down). This has drastically changed my perspective on involuntary idleness, which I sometimes welcome now.

Rather than a bookmark, I keep packs of Post-It flags around. They don't leave residue, and I can pick up exactly where I left off, reducing time spent reorienting myself within the spread. One color to mark my place at a given time, another to highlight passages of interest. I hate taking notes; sometimes I will, or I can consolidate them later based on the flags.

I'm also a committed fan of audiobooks. There are some fantastic (and terrible) public domain pieces at Librivox (a volunteer-driven free site), but you can also find them on iTunes, on Audible, or there are many torrents available. I have long commutes, so I can burn through a novel in a week or two.

After going through a few books -- often thematically-related -- I have a massive case of burn out on reading, and go on an information fast. I stop reading anything beyond light news, blogs, etc. The iPod goes back to shuffling my music collection. During these periods, I either do little during my downtime but watch movies or drink with friends, or have a manic creative burst as the information gets processed in my subconscious.
posted by evil holiday magic at 9:32 PM on July 9, 2011

When I buy a non-fiction book (history, pop science, biography, etc.), I scan through it quickly (looking at first sentences of each paragraph) to get the gist of it, and to see if I want to add it to my (ridiculously deep) TBR pile. This gives me a passing familiarity with it; sometimes, this level of cocktail-party-chatter familiarity is all I need from a book. (This technique is too spoiler-ific to use for fiction, obviously.)

I buy whatever interests me, often without immediate plans to read it, but knowing that it's a topic I'm interested in, and might want to read someday.

The most interesting of the new acquisitions get left next to each of the places I sit around the house (the living room, family room, my study, etc.) - and therefore, I never have to cary a book around the house with me: I just pick up whatever's next to me. So, I have a dozen or so books going at once, at some low level. I currently have a yard-deep stack next to my couch.

One of these books is discovered to be interesting enough to get promoted to become one of the books that I'm actively reading; I carry this current book with me on my commute, and read it on the bus and at lunch. I have enough books at home that unless it's some riveting fiction that I want to finish that day, it tends to stay in my briefcase. My commute isolates me from the internet, and lets me read an actual book (or two) per week.

My other active read is one of the 'books at bedtime', from the stack next to my bed.

Since I might be 'reading' a book a few pages a week for a year, I use bookmarks - and if I need to make a note, I write it on the bookmark. Rarely, I'll turn down a corner to mark something I'll want to refer to again. Other than that, I'm pretty respectful of books - my college roommates used to joke that a pb would look better after I'd read it.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 12:00 AM on July 10, 2011

If you can stand having your computer open while you read, Zotero is good for taking notes, and then you can review them.
posted by outlandishmarxist at 2:41 AM on July 10, 2011

I had a boyfriend once who used the following system for nonfiction, originally foisted on him by a teacher in college: after each chapter or similarly-sized section of the book, summarize the main points of that chapter on a 3 x 5 index card. After you finish the whole book (or as much of it as you're going to read), summarize the main points of the whole book on a 4 x 6 index card.

The idea is that you won't remember everything from a book, and identifying the most important points helps you make a useful entry of sorts for the book in your memory: "Oh, yeah, that's the book where his main argument is...." Putting it on an index card forces you to cut to the chase and be succinct. Plus then you can store the cards inside the book for future reference!
posted by aka burlap at 8:08 AM on July 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

I have kept a journal since 1992. In 1995 I decided to keep track of the books I finished in the back pages. Like, just the title, the author and the date finished. Then I transferred this list (still starting in 1995) to LibraryThing.

I like being able to look at the list in reverse order--I think it gives a peek into my state of mind in a given period.

I am always reading one fiction book and four or five other non-fiction books or books that require daytime attention span. In other words, the fiction is something I can read before bed without needing a pen for marginalia. (Right now, that's a translated copy of The Seed/Spring Night by Tarjei Vesaas.) Then I have one for research on a novel I'm writing (currently the Harlem Renaissance Reader). This one gets lots of marginalia and bracketing/starring of useful passages that then get copied into a word-docx for notes on that book. Another on writing. (Though right now that's three books.) One on meditation. (Chop Wood, Carry Water.) And one on history (currently two: Heimskringla and a book of oral history on the Hinckley Fire).

I read those books depending on my mood, and sometimes it takes me a year to get through one, though it picks up a lot in the summer since I don't have a job to go to. When I do go to work during the school year, I bring one of the non-fiction ones with me for downtime. In fact, I would guess I hardly ever go anywhere at all without a book and pen tucked into my bag.

I pretty much never re-read books, since I have so many on my shelves that are waiting for me. I would like to get to most of them before I kick, you know? The marginalia is so that when I pick up the book again, I know what struck me, and what I found important in it. But sometimes I think they're just embarrassing and nonsensical. Oh well.
posted by RedEmma at 9:06 AM on July 10, 2011

I don't catalogue what I read, but I suspect I have a better memory than most. I know that when it comes to trivia I tend to be the strongest member on the team in the bar. When I read, I try to find others reading the same material and discuss it with them. Barring that, after reading interesting things, I go online to see what others have written about the book. Oddly enough, I sometimes read reviews afterward, to see if my opinion is similar to others.

I mainly read fiction, but when I read non-fiction, I do separate research after reading the book. Wikipedia has been invaluable for this, both as a starting point and as a good place to get reference works. Reading more about the subject and comparing what two different authors had to say helps fix the material in my mind.

Also, I re-read a great deal. I don't trust myself with libraries, given the fines I have racked up, so what I read tends just to be the books that I own and what articles I can find online.

Occasionally, when I'm reading, if I'm struck by something, I'll stop and start writing on m own.

I don't know how much this will help you, but there are much more informal ways to do this.
posted by Hactar at 9:26 AM on July 10, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks all. I've pieced together a little system from the advice.

posted by vecchio at 7:30 AM on July 11, 2011

@Vecchio: Care to share?
posted by inbetweener at 5:05 AM on July 16, 2011

Response by poster: Oh God. Sure, I'll put what I have. Nothing special, but it does feel like I'm taking away more. And having a clear little system has made me more likely to actually take the notes.

For fiction - whatever goes.

For non-fiction, especially research, I'm trying this:

a) put a couple 3X5 notecards and a 4X6 notecard in back with paper clip
b) find it on GoodReads/Library Thing - add to account

2) WHILE READING - IN THE BOOK - "active reading"
a) mark important/interesting lines
b) underline main points
c) mark counterpoints
d) number listed points
e) write definitions

a) any related thoughts
b) any ideas pertaining to book
c) quotations for later

3) END OF CHAPTER (keep it quick)
a) look at notes from chapter
b) 3X5 notecard - summarize thoughts
c) don't need to fill the notecard - just thoughts
d) note any other special passages in journal

a) 4X6 notecard - "take away" points from the book
b) update on GoodReads
c) any free-writing on notes?

Anyway, I'm in a GTD-mode, so we'll see how long it lasts.

As for selecting books--I'm waiting for the hivemind to compute the shortest possible list with all of the following criteria:

1) At least one book from every country
2) At least one book by an author of every age between 21-85
3) At least one book with a character every age between 21-85
4) At least one book by every Nobel Prize winner

Then I'll read that!
posted by vecchio at 3:09 PM on July 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

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