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.
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.
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?