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Taking Notes While Reading

Discussion: Taking Notes While Reading

Taking Notes While Reading

All right all, today’s discussion is partially my thoughts and partially me asking for advice. As book bloggers, we write reviews on most, if not all, books that we read. And I just hate it when I sit down to write the review and…. have nothing. I just can’t think of what my opinion on the poor book was. Often enough it’s not even that it was a bad book, sometimes I loved it, but I just can’t break that generally content feeling down into reasoning, ya know?

The obvious solution to this problem is to take notes while reading, but….

  1. I don’t want to ruin the immersion to analyze when I’m really into a book.
  2. A lot of the time I’m reading in the spare moments I can find and I’d rather read for those moments than write notes.
  3. I assume I’ll remember ;-) (bad assumption….)
  4. I don’t want to make judgements about plot, characters, etc until the end (if I think there is development still to come).

What I (try to) do currently is write on post-it notes anything that I’m sure I want to remember as I go if it’s really urgent, then flesh out the rest of the post-it note soon after I finish (soon is a relative term here >.>), and then use the post-it note to write the strengths and weaknesses sections of my reviews when I type them up, since those are the guts of my reviews. Often for short books, however, I don’t really write anything down until I finish, and if I’m having trouble thinking of anything, I’ll wait days until I write up a post-it note, which doesn’t really help me think ;-).

So, there is probably a better way, something in the middle of writing pages of notes like I had to do in English class and what I am currently doing, and I would love to hear what your strategy is! Especially how you deal with notes when on the go, since I’m not a fan of typing on the Kindle, and have yet to get the hang of highlighting…. Also have you figured out how to bribe yourself into writing reviews right after finishing a book? Perhaps chocolate?? Or do you think it’s good to get totally immersed in the book and not take notes while reading unless it’s super urgent?

What’s your strategy for taking notes while reading? Have you been having trouble keeping up with resolutions to write reviews sooner like me, too? ;-) Do you take a different approach for review books versus for fun books? How about if you know you are going to review the book or haven’t decided yet?

Anya from On Starships and DragonwingsHappy reading!

– A

© 2013, Anya. All rights reserved.


  1. Sometimes I take notes, but this is usually for short story collections, to help me keep the different tales separate in my head. Other times, if an idea or scene or monster or new vocabulary word strikes me, I make a note of it. I have found that drafting an email to myself is the best way as I can have my personal email open both at work and home, so I can be adding notes as I read.

    • That’s a great idea, since I agree that keeping all the short stories straight is often a challenge! Hehe, I use my email for reminders all the time, especially todo lists when I don’t have my planner handy!

  2. I also hate with taking notes while reading. Sometimes while I read – I just have an idea/thought what I should write/mention in my review. But I am usually too lazy to get up and fetch a pen/paper or I am too immersed in book to stop and write it down even when I have something close.

    After a lot of trial and error, the method that works best for me is: as I read I highlight not only the quotes I like but also any piece of text that provoked some reaction or emotion from me. So when I sit and need to write a review, first I retype this text from my Kindle into my computer. This puts me in focused/review-writing mode and also it revokes my emotions about the book. (first I tried just reading them but I read quickly and somehow, when I retype them I have more time to think about quotes/book.) So after that I am usually set to go and start writing. The downside is – if I skipped highlighting something, sometimes I totally forget/skip some aspect of book I liked/disliked.

    I don’t know why you have problems with highlights. I have Kindle with keyboard and it’s very easy. Although I have problem highlighting on my phone in Kindle app, so if you have Kindle touch that may be the problem?

    • Yup, Kindle Touch, so there is a particular finger motion I have to do and I can never remember :( So do you have a similar technique for physical books, or do you just only review eBooks?

      • Yes that motion for highlighting is so weird, I can never make it to work on my phone and when I manage to highlight I always highlight the wrong part of text. That’s one of the main reasons why I did not replace my Kindle with newer/touch model.
        As for physical books, I rarely read them, so I don’t have any technique developed for them. But I will probably have to take notes on paper.

  3. I personally don’t take NOTES notes. I mean, they aren’t study-for-a-final-exam worthy by any means. Usually I just stick a scrap piece of paper in my book and use it for a bookmark. Then any time I find something I want to remember, I scribble it on the scrap piece. The notes are usually 2-3 words long at most. I’ll add a page number if I feel like I need to as well. (I still use the scrap piece for Kindle books. My iPad has a cover, so I just stick the paper inside my cover.)

    When it comes to reviewing promptly, I tell myself I can’t start another book until I transfer all my notes into a saved, unpublished blog post. I’ll let things percolate for a few days, but at least I’ll have the start of SOMETHING waiting for me. It takes some of the pressure off.

    • Haha, I definitely shouldn’t study for an exam from my notes either! I have been tempted to try the flashcard for a bookmark approach, but I like the handmade pretty bookmarks I have so much that I can’t help using them ;-) Instead I just keep paper nearby labeled with each of the books I’m reading. That’s a great idea keeping paper in your Kindle cover, since I have one too and just completely forgot that I could tuck paper in that little flap, brilliant!

      wow, I am seriously impressed with all of you that hold yourself to not starting another book until you get your review taken care of, I just can’t resist. The start of a new book is like my favorite thing ever and I get so freaking excited, hehe. Maybe I’ll at least make sure to have the post-it note filled with notes for the review… which I just realized I’m already behind on, doh! *scurries off to write notes* ;-)

  4. I don’t normally take notes when I read. I do highlight quotes I like or quotes that remind me of something I want to mention and if I’m not reading on my Kindle, I just snap a quick pic of the quote.
    But I always write a review directly after reading a book. I can’t move onto a new book without getting my entire review written down, even if it’s just jumbled words that I need to organize later. Just writing a scribbled mess of things will jog my memory when I finally sit down later and makea review. If I don’t write anything down and try to read another book, my brain will start to forget the previous book, so then I won’t be able to focus on the new book because I’m trying too hard to not forget the old one.
    I can’t read more than one book in a certain format at a time, either, for the same reason.
    Great topic!

    • Oo, I like the idea of taking a pic of the page! That would be easier for me in a lot of ways, given my phone’s capabilities ;-). Wow, that’s makes a lot of sense about getting notes down for the old book, but doesn’t that bother you on vacation or something where you just want to keep reading and relax? haha, though maybe you would be reading other things then anyway! I do generally try to keep to one book in each format, though I’m always reading one book per format since that’s how I maximize reading time in various situations, haha! Thanks for stopping by :D

  5. Great post! :) I’ve been trying to take notes while reading, but usually I’m so absorbed in the book I just stick a bookmark in to mark a quote I like or a pivotal moment in the book. Usually, I only know how much I like a book by the end. If the ending’s not as wrapped up as it could be or if it has a sad ending, I’m probably not going to rate the book as high.

    Alice @ Alice in Readerland

    • Hehe, you must have a bazillion bookmarks! I agree that I need to reach the ending to rate a book, though I generally can guess what the rating is going to be based on how well the author is writing the plot development etc throughout the book. You can kind of start to trust that the author isn’t going to screw it up at a certain point ya know? They might still, but it seems less likely ;-). It’s the other things that go into the enjoyment of a book that I need to take notes on though, otherwise I only talk about the ending and forget that there were 300 other pages, haha ;-)

  6. I don’t really like to take notes when I read either. And, I end up in the same place as you. What I’ve started doing is using Evernote to jot just small thoughts here and there as I read. That way I don’t feel like I’m taking notes, per se, but I am keeping track of a few things that stick out in my mind. I hope that helps.

    • Evernote can be used on an iPhone so that’s how I deal with on-go stuff. I’m not sure if it’s available for Android, though. And, I don’t actually have a problem writing reviews right after. My problem is taking the time to think about what I just read so I can let my thoughts gel and turn into something. Maybe, there’s a happy medium to reviewing right way or waiting until you forget? I need to find it.

      • I do have an iPhone fortunately, but it’s super old so I think Evernote would kill it… I text myself notes that I want to remember, so that works all right hehe. I also need to find that happy medium. One of my problems with it is that I use the waiting to gel thing as an excuse when life is hectic and then by the time the dust settles from other deadlines, I’ve forgotten details (like character names, gah!). This is why I pretty much have to jot at least a couple things down right away, otherwise the review ends up weak :(

  7. This is a fantastic question, and I don’t really have a great answer. If I’m reading an ebook, I just highlight passages as I go, and then go back through and hope I remember why I highlighted. Often I will use sticky notes or write down page numbers for paper books. If I’m somewhere that I can write down thoughts, and something big comes to me, I will stop reading and get it all down on the computer or paper. It’s funny, sometimes I almost write reviews in my head as I’m reading, and sometimes I finish a book and think “I have no idea what to say about this.” My biggest issue is that I have to write down my thoughts as soon as I’m done with a book, because if I wait for a week or so, I won’t remember anything. Because I’ve typically read a few books in between. I have very poor recall. If I write out all my thoughts right away, even if they’re incoherent, I generally find that I have a review in there. The fact that I generally read one book at a time, helps me stay focused on each book separately. GREAT DISCUSSION TOPIC!

    • I’m exactly like you! I completely agree. I write reviews in my head while reaing, too, sometimes. And if I don’t write out my thoughts, I’ll completely forget about the book.

    • I really need to get this highlighting thing figured out… My problem I guess is that things I want to say don’t relate to a particular sentence, just the feel in general you know? So there isn’t anything in particular I can highlight, which is why I also need to do the sticky notes thing if I have the opportunity! I’m just the same though, sometimes I write down notes as I go as things jump out at me and by the time I’m done with the book, I have a full review already, but other times I don’t and then I’m like, oh crap! I also can’t manage to only read one book at a time, so that might muddle my brain more ;-) Thanks for joining in :D

  8. I’ve always tried to wait AT LEAST 24 hours before writing a review…that way the full impact of the book can settle in. Sometimes I see something after a day that I totally missed while immersed in the topic. Then again, I generally write pretty short reviews because I have a short attention span for long reviews myself. :p I tend to skim if they’re over one paragraph. (Bad habit, I know, but so much to read, so little time!) If I think of something while reading that seems important enough to note down, I generally jot it down after finishing with my reading. Even if I’m out, I’m generally close enough to paper and pen to write something quick – I can expand on it later when I have more time. :)

    • Totally true, I often find my thoughts of a book changing from when I’m reading it to a few days after, often for the better strangely…. Though then I’m not sure which opinion is more important, haha. I completely agree about short reviews, I also tend to skim reviews that get too long and rambling, unless the writing style is particularly awesome to read ;-) that’s why I format my reviews the way I do, since I find it easier to read and I hope others do to! I often find myself texting my own number to get notes written down, hehe!

  9. I hate writing notes while I’m reading because I like to be totally immersed in it, totally subjective rather than objective, but I do occasionally jot a few things down that I have a big problem with or just little passing things that bother me. I like writing reviews about books and usually write them the day or the day after so everything is fresh in my mind.

    • I completely agree about the immersion, since that’s what we’re all going for right? A book that really pulls us in! I’m just always worried my faulty memory will make me forget things from the beginning that I wanted to include ;-) getting old and all that, haha! It’s lucky that you like writing reviews, for some reason that aspect has become difficult for me lately, maybe my brain is just getting squishy from school….

      • School just takes over your brain. I wish I had more time to actually read and blog. I’ve written a review before and realized like a day later, oh ya, I was going to talk about that! Haha oh well. I know how you feel :)

        • Agreed, I keep day-dreaming about becoming independently wealthy and doing nothing but read books all day >.> it could happen…. haha

  10. Really interesting questions. I personally don’t take notes while reading, nor do I want to, but it’s because I don’t review books critically. I think if I had an eReader, I would make note of quotes & jot a few notes, because I could do this without coming out of the reading experience.

    I don’t accept books for review, so no comment on that. As for writing my book discussions, I simply don’t start another book before I do. I also like to spend some time after I’ve finished a book simply thinking about it, without writing anything, or thinking about writing anything. For me, I think of books & reading as an experience that I want to relish. I love the process of selecting a book, then reading it, then thinking about it and the characters, and finally writing my thoughts down.

    • That’s a really great point, since I didn’t think about how different bloggers might approach their reviews. I’m impressed that you don’t start a new book before thinking through and writing your discussion for the previous on, since I can never resist!

  11. Kindle has made this easy because I just use the highlight function, but with regular books I don’t take a lot of “notes”, more just want to remember parts of the book that I might want to reference in my review, so I’ll just use a sticky note to write a page number on.

    • I’m a fan of sticky notes :D So with the kindle highlighting… does it work well for you? Maybe I just haven’t mastered the right wrist movement, but I just can never get highlighting to work when I want it to, so I pretty much never highlight…. Is there a magic trick, do I need a wand or something? >.>


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