I have a love/hate relationship with books. I want to be a reader. I enjoy reading. It just falls to the wayside, and takes me forever to finish a book. Sometimes it takes me so long to finish a book that I have forgotten the beginning by the time I get to the end. Sometimes I put one down for ages, pick it back up, and really want to read it but have forgotten the whole story thus far, or possibly even lost my place. I am the type of person that needs a deliberate system. So, I started writing a journal about each book that I read.
I’ll admit, it could be that I was just looking for an excuse to write more. But hey, whatever motivation I can grasp onto to make my brain actually want to do a thing, I’ll run with.
It all kind of came to me when I had to choose a book to critique for a graduate course I’m taking. The course is all about the links between social, technological, and economic changes and we had to choose a book that speaks to that; I chose Contact by Carl Sagan. It’s widely available as a paperback and it isn’t particularly dense reading, but it is a little shy of 500 pages. My program operates on 8-week blocks instead of 16-week semesters, so I’d have to be quick about it. Not to mention, be able to come out of it with an analysis prepared. So I decided that rather than reading it through, then going back and analyzing it after the fact, the best thing to do would be to prepare at least part of my review as I read.
That’s where the journal comes in! As a hoarder of notebooks, I simply grabbed one to keep as a companion to my book. Whenever I read a passage that strikes me as relevant, I jot down a quote and/or a thought, and note the page number. Whenever I have a thought about the book that occurs to me while I’m not reading — like in the shower, or while driving — I grab the journal and jot it down (preferably once I’m out of the shower or once the car is parked). All you need is a small notebook and a pencil. Then, once you’re done, you can go back and sort through all of the “snippets” you wrote down and organize them as needed. Hey, maybe I’ll even use these for blog posts…
Because this is for a university course, there is a specific angle I’m approaching the book from. In this case, I’m analyzing the interplay between technology, societal values, and economics; identifying points of social conflict; looking for examples of the law of diminishing returns; and so forth. Obviously your “angle” for reading may be something else depending on the context. But I’ve found it helpful to note this up front so that I can know what I’m looking for — then, the journal becomes a way to identify what aspects of the book fit into that framework.
I know that this isn’t exactly groundbreaking stuff — reading a book and taking notes on it — but I did a search for “reading journal” to see if anybody else does this, and I had a tough time finding info. Most of the hits that came up were about, essentially, making a reading list in checkbox form that you can check off as you go. While I see the merit in this (I rely heavily on checklists to survive the day), it seems like the only utility it has is motivating a person to read — not to retain information and have notes to back-reference when it comes time to “put it all together”. I am going to run with this idea and see where it goes; and start keeping cheap kraft notebooks for every book I start reading.
Anyone else journal about their books? Any methods or tips that are particularly helpful?