Get Dirty: Start Annotating Your Reads

Some of my friends love their books so much that they are not letting even a pencil scratch them—especially if the book is one they have been saving up to buy. It is understandable and nothing is wrong with it. I used to relate to it as well, but not anymore. I’m just saying, there’s also nothing wrong with annotating your books.

What Happened to You? by Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Perry

At first, I used to annotate my nonfiction books only because I never thought there would be something to comment on my fiction novels. However, as I started reading Coco Mellors’ Cleopatra and Frankenstein, I realized that comments as simple as praises or something like, “I relate to this so much!” are worth writing for because it adds up to my reading experience, especially when I re-read it.

My annotation experience started with a pencil underlining words I didn’t understand or some important parts I’d like to get back to later. I also like to draw question marks on something that I have not yet understood and what my interpretations are. Sure, it may seem like I am talking to myself and slowing down my reading pace. Nevertheless, I found it to be more beneficial for me because my goal is not to just finish the book but to comprehend what it tries to say to me.

The annotations on Virginia Woolf’s Orlando (1928) I did for my research proposal

In my case, annotation works better and faster compared to writing it down in another notebook or typing it on a computer. By annotating, I only have my book to focus on although the margins may not fit everything we are trying to say (hello, post-its!). With notebooks or computers (especially computers), distractions often come and go which could also lead to a slower reading pace (even worse, it could even stop me from reading and finishing the whole book). Yeah, it happened to me once or twice.

Annotations have enhanced my analyzing skills. I often found connections between books that might not be explicitly correlated, but I somehow just connected the dots. It all started with what the paragraph reminds me of. By writing it down, I remember it more, especially when I pick up another book. I’ll remember that I have read something that might relate to it and I could come up with some hypotheses (that not anybody may have heard of). It’s interesting and it expands my reading experience!

Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond

The only time I write notes in a notebook is when I am reading books with my Kindle. Books on Kindle are cheaper and faster to get, but the most I could do with it is highlight the important parts and then write them down in my book later. The struggle may also come when I read journals. It may be convenient when I read them on my iPad, but there are websites where I can’t get the PDF. I have to read them online and I want to annotate them but I find it tiring having to go back and forth between the screen and my notebook.

I found a digital annotation tool in a form of a chrome extension, I started using it a few weeks ago but haven’t explored much. I have tried to annotate a journal I read on JSTOR, and so far it has been a seamless experience! The fun thing is we could also create a group and then share our annotations, which, I think could be useful for teachers and students when sharing a read.

Before it all sounds like babbling and going out of the topic too much, I just want to encourage you to start annotating what you read as it could lead to active and constructive reading. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to keep your book clean, but there are many advantages you’re missing when you don’t annotate!



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Adelaide Livia

A literature student who probably hasn’t read your books-every-literature-student-has-read list.