How I Take Reading Notes

As you might know, I really like creating systems for things I do frequently and repeatedly, to make my life just a bit easier. Taking reading notes is one of them, as something I do with just about every book I read.

For over a year, I’ve been tweaking and testing this process until it became what it is today. While I wouldn’t say that I have it down to a science, I’ve created something that works quite well for me.

This is actually a post I’ve been meaning to write for a while, but at long last I’m sharing it with y’all in the hopes it might inspire someone else.

Why I Take Reading Notes

I know taking reading notes isn’t for everyone. Maybe it gives you flashbacks to painful English / literature classes and/or feels like too much work and/or ruins your enjoyment of the reading experience. Obviously it’s totally fine if you’ve tried it and hated it — but if you haven’t, I’m going to be that annoying person who urges you to give it a chance before you write it off.

Because for me, it’s been a positive process that enhances my reading experience:

  • It helps me keep track of details I would otherwise easily forget, including content warnings, rep, and character names.
  • It’s a private space to word-vomit my reactions to events, characters, certain lines. Since no one else will ever see it, I don’t have to worry about “dumb” questions or saying something unintentionally offensive or typos.
  • It’s a record of my thoughts while I read; I can see whether / how they’ve developed over the course of the narrative, and I have proof when I’ve correctly predicted a plot twist or reveal.
  • It’s also fun to have all my reading notes collected together to look back on — and sometimes I use them as inspiration for non-review posts!
  • It makes it easy for me to do my criteria-based rating as soon as I finish a book while everything is still fresh, which is particularly nice if I don’t have the time and/or energy to write a coherent review.

Of course, for all of the above reasons, my reading notes are extremely helpful when putting together a more polished review. But you certainly don’t have to write reviews to reap the benefits.

How I Take Reading Notes

I. Kindle Notes & Highlights

This part of the process is probably pretty self-explanatory. I highlight quotes that catch my attention, whether they confused me or represent an epiphany or just sounded nice; if I have something to say I’ll add a note. I also add notes to flag potentially triggering content, explicit or implicit rep, and general thoughts I have (particularly if they’re tied to a certain scene or passage).

What’s nice is that these Kindle annotations are automatically uploaded to Goodreads (through the power of Amazon), so I don’t have to worry about remembering or copying down any quotes. Still, after I finish a book I’ll go through my Kindle notes and copy them over to Google Keep so that I have them all in one place — more on that in the next section.

II. Google Keep

Previously I’d tried taking reading notes by hand, in a section of my blog planner, but I soon realized that since I read everywhere and anywhere that I can, it was important for me to be able to easily access my notes everywhere and anywhere, and I didn’t want to carry around an extra notebook/binder because my backpack was crowded enough.

Enter Google Keep: accessible on all my devices, with just enough features for me to create a system but not so much that I waste time fiddling with all the settings.

(In fact, I use GKeep for a lot of brainstorming, miscellaneous notes/ideas, and nascent posts … but that’s another post.)

I especially like GKeep for audiobook and non-Kindle ebooks which don’t have a built-in notes system; in these cases I’ll also transcribe quotes I want to save since they also often don’t have a highlighting system.

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I’ve written about how I use templates for formatting posts, but I actually use my reading notes template even more frequently. As a bonus, making a copy means that there’s always a blank version at the very top of my GKeep notes, tagged as “reading notes,” and ready for the next book!

Admittedly, if you’re just taking simple notes, a plain new Note will probably serve your purposes just fine. But I generally include content warnings, rep details, and my rating system in each review. (I like to list out CW & rep as I read, so I keep it at the top of the Note for easy access; then I copy it to the bottom to make it easier to transfer everything to a review text box.)

So it’s a lot easier for me to set it up in the template rather than having to set it up for each new book, especially with the HTML formatting I use for Goodreads reviews.

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As mentioned, I also take notes on my Kindle as I’m reading, mostly because it’s conveniently already in my hands, so my GKeep Note generally gets the most use when I start a new book — which is when I make a copy of the Note template and rename it with the book title — and when I finish a book — which is when I fill it up with overall and final impressions, give my detailed rating, and copy over my Kindle notes. 

But I do actually prefer GKeep to typing up notes on my Kindle, because my phone / laptop keyboard is more responsive and accurate, and it’s easier to collect and access my notes in the future (especially since I read a lot of library ebooks, which get returned after a few weeks). Currently I’m getting used to typing up my notes in GKeep as much as possible, to cut out the transfer-from-Kindle step; that’s an ongoing process.

In the meantime, though, the system as I’ve described has been working really well for me. At the risk of sounding cheesy or overdramatic, I really can’t emphasize enough how much this has improved my bookish life.

  • Do you take reading notes?
    • If yes, what’s your system like?
    • If not, would you ever consider it?
  • Have you ever tried out Google Keep? Or is this the first you’re hearing of its existence?

5 thoughts on “How I Take Reading Notes

  1. I can see how this can be handy for tags or recs or anything else where you need to remember details about certain books!

    However, idk how i’d personally set it up 🤔 Most of what I read is either physical or from libby (thus not transfering into goodread and/or not electronic at all). And as I mostly read before sleeping, i’d tend to be way too lazy to write it by hand 😂🤦🏽‍♀️

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  2. I don’t tend to take a lot of notes for ebooks, but for physical books, I have these little post-it tabs that I use to highlight quotes of parts of a story that I really liked (or really didn’t like). I also have little papery ones that look like tabs on one end, but have lined space for writing on the other end so I can make a little handwritten note, and then it looks like a tab too. I do usually have piles of these tabs all around with pens (handbag, desk, bedside table, coffee table) so I have them wherever I end up reading.

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  3. Organization, planning, time-management, I’m all here for it!!! 😀 I love figuring out new ways to improve my tasks but I also love seeing how other people do it.

    I tried many times to make a habit of taking notes while reading, and in the beginning, it would all go well, until I just forget about it, finish the book and then struggle to remember all the important details 😀

    Most of the books I read are on my Kindle and I don’t really like the note system there, as you said, the keyboard is not very responsive. Besides, as I read MANY ARCs the notes for those are not transferred to GR (at least I think they aren’t… lol).
    I also tried writing in GKeep (which I love btw), but I tend to forget to take notes. Lol

    The only system that has been working for me is for the physical books when I add a small paper every 50 / 100 pages. So when I reach that page and see the paper, I know I need to stop and write down my thoughts. Sadly, 90% of all my books this year have been e-books 😀

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  4. I could never be this organized. I tried to take notes, unfortunately it takes me out of the story enough that I end up not reading at all. The crazy thing though is that I can text my reactions to people that have recommended me books OR even react on IG stories just fine, but there’s just something about actually taking notes that I can’t explain why but they just take me out of the reading mood. Probably because me reacting generally implies a string of emojis or a word and many exclamation points only? It’s highly probable.

    I will try it more though, because I find that I have an easier time reviewing the books that I’ve reacted to to my friends than not having reacted at all. I’ll need to find a system. ❤

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