ideas & perspectives, organization, videos

organization || HOW I READ: Annotating Books and eBooks, Keeping a Literature “Journal”

I’ve officially gone over to the dark side. I’ve been converted. To what, you ask? I now annotate – that’s write, I MARK UP – books. With pen. Yeah, you heard me right. *gasps and faints in the crowd*

Jokes aside, I just got back from a family vacation in which I did a lot of reading of this really good book called “100 Years of Solitude”, and I’ve been annotating it. It’s the kind of book that has so much insight that one simply does not read it just for fun. And along the way, I’ve developed a very simple but effective and totally transport-friendly (all you need is a black pen, a grey highlighter, and the book) system for annotating.

And what better way to show you than to do just that – to show you! Check out the video below.

[OKAY this is totally an aside but I’ve found that YouTube videos are better for reaching an audience and for communicating ideas but blog posts are way more my forte. Maybe it’s because I basically wing all my videos. After writing this post AFTER having filmed and edited the video, I’m realizing that I totally should have written this first and THEN filmed so that I could communicate all my witty written thoughts on camera too and sound super witty in person. Damn. BUT then I’m conflicted because if I do that then I’ll basically have a post and a video with the same content… Isn’t that pointless? Thoughts?]

To annotate or not to annotate?

To annotate:

  • Keep everything in one place by writing directly in the book
  • Easy to refer to passages later, perhaps when writing an essay/discussing said book
  • A personal record of your intimate experience reading said book
  • Feel like a magical fairy bookworm that leaves super deep and insightful comments in his/her books
  • Look cool and serious when you’re reading

Not to annotate:

  • If it’s not your book
  • If it is your book but you hate the idea of writing in the pages and ruining it for future potential readers (depending how you see it … an annotated book might be cool to read – you get the perspective of another reader)

How I annotate PRINT books

HIGHLIGHT with a grey mildliner

I use a grey highlighter because it’s not as harsh a colour as the typical yellow, and it sort of maintains the aesthetic of the book, in a way. I use this to highlight passages I particularly enjoyed, or ones that I feel are important to a key theme of the novel.

COMMENT with my black muji

I comment whatever goes through my head when I read the passage. My comments range from simple things like “LOL” and “OMG” to actual in-depth analyses of the text.

UNDERLINE with my black muji

I use the same pen to underline, and I underline parts of the text that stood out to me or an element of the text/writing itself that is interesting or important.


At the front of any book (sometimes only at the back), you can find a more or less blank page. I use this page to set up a couple of long-term lists I want to keep track of about the book.

Three that I would recommend are:

  • Potential essay topics
    • These are questions that would merit more investigation
  • Themes
    • This forms the foundation for almost all literary analysis
  • Questions
    • Ongoing questions about the text you intend to find out

The GREAT thing about keeping a summary page is that it’s IN the book. When you travel somewhere, all you need is the book you’re reading and a pen + highlighter and you’re all set.

You might also want to create a list specifically for one of the essay topics you find important. In 100 Years of Solitude, I knew that the concept of “Solitude” would be interesting to investigate, so I made a list in which I write down any instances that “solitude” was mentioned, the context, and the page number. This way, I’m doing the research AS I’m reading and don’t have to go through the book again later.

Keep in mind, if you’re reading on the Kindle this is way easier to find – so there’s pros and cons to both eReading and real reading!

A note on messy writing:

I annotate everywhere. Desk, no desk. In the car, in my lap, in my bed, in a lecture room or classroom, etc.

In other words, this gets messy.

And that seriously doesn’t bother me. If it bothers you, I understand, but try and recognize that these notes don’t have to be perfect – it’s what they say that matters! And plus, the aesthetic still works even with messy writing for some reason … maybe it’s the pen. (Which is a Muji 0.38 gel with a hexagonal frame thing.)

How I annotate eBOOKS

My family has pretty much always had a Kindle. Ever since they were a thing. Currently, I own a PaperWhite Kindle and it’s one of the most amazing things ever. I annotate in the same way I would annotate a print book, in that I comment and highlight. These are then available in my Goodreads account to refer back to. (I did have to connect my Kindle to it, so you’ll have to figure out how to do that first.)

The one thing you don’t get with Kindle is the summary page in the book. Instead, you could always do it on a separate sheet of paper (possibly one of the detachable sheets from your literature journal if it’s a FiloFax like mine) and keep that in your Kindle case.

What is a “Literature Journal” and how might one use it

I have a FiloFax journal that I use to record notes on all the books I read and also occasionally lectures I go to outside of school. It’s fantastic because I can remove the pages and reorder them (a feature of FiloFax notebooks).

I used to try using it WHILE reading a book, but I found that takes forever. So instead, I annotate in my books while I’m reading and then lay out larger-picture ideas in my literature journal later. I might also keep track of discussion questions there (using my colour coding and note taking system) and refer to those after I’ve read the book.

How to annotate for school

Of course, there’s a lot of situations where you might not own the book and you cannot simply write in pen in the book. In this case, I would either:

  • Purchase the book on Kindle (for cheaper) or in print
    • If this is a book you’ll be writing a lot about it might be worth purchasing.
  •  Use sticky notes
    • You’ll have to limit your annotating but you can still use sticky notes if things catch your interest. Simply keep a pack in the front of your book wherever you go.
  • Fold a page of your literature journal into the front of the book
    • You can use this or a large sticky note to still have that “summary page” I mentioned earlier with long-term lists about the book.

Hope this helped you figure out your own annotating system! Happy reading!

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