How I Annotate My Books

Yes, a process that took me forever to come to terms with and then figure out for myself, I’m finally ready to share with you how I annotate my books.

I do want to preface by saying that I don’t annotate every book. Aside from a funny or prolific line in general fiction, I find that annotating books works best for my sci-fi and fantasy reads. There’s a lot to digest in these stories and annotating helps me not only remember my thoughts, but also dive deeply into the themes and ideas behind the book. It’s actually made me a much better reader.

There’s many ways you can annotate your books. Lots of folks use colorful tabs to separate out their reactions and thoughts. Others strictly use post-it notes and pen. It’s entirely up to you how you want to annotate and starting with someone else’s way of doing it and then creating your own method after trying it out really helped me nail down the process. After much trial and error, I’ve finally found the winning combination that works for me:

I use tabs to note parts of the book I want to look back on. I try not to go overboard with the number of tabs because I found it difficult to remember which tab represented what and whether or not it was important for me to note. So, I keep it to three specific parts:

  1. Well-written prose and quotes: this is pretty self-explanatory. If I come across something beautiful or a quote that ruined me, I want to remember it, so I go ahead and mark it
  2. Important info: This is a catch-all for a lot of different things: character introductions/development, plot points, world building, themes
  3. Moments to remember: This is different than noting quotes because this is to remember big scenes. If something surprises me, made me laugh, made my cry, ripped out my heart, I want to remember it so I use this to note that

I use post-it notes to write down bigger thoughts or themes I want to explore more. The post-it notes are mostly there to help me write down stray thoughts and ideas that float through my head while I’m reading. If I don’t write it down it will flutter out of my head or I’ll become too distracted trying to remember what I was thinking that I will lose focus on the book. This allows me to get those thoughts out of my head, but it also helps to look back on when I’m ready to write the review.

I underline and write reactions to sentences and passages throughout the book. This is probably the most crucial part and the part that keeps me engaged in the story because I need to pay attention to what I’m underlining. Interacting with the book by underlining passages and writing my reaction (either with a quick abbreviation or even draw an emoji) actually helps me retain the story better. I guess being a part of the book by writing down my reactions actually helps me be more active in the reading process. When I want to note things, I find myself paying much more attention to the story than letting my brain drift off.

I love the way my books look after I’m reading. This was an expected effect because I was sure I would be annoyed by the way my books looked after I finished reading. It was quite the opposite. Similarly to the characters in the book, I feel like I went on this journey with them. I also have been rereading books I’ve dabbled in annotating with and it’s so interesting to look back and see what I thought during a different point in my life.

I have no clue if this is a habit I’ll continue to do, but for now it seems to be working wonderfully for me. Do you annotate your books? What do you like to do?

2 thoughts on “How I Annotate My Books

  1. I just tried tabbing for the first time in several years. I doubt I’ll do anything more than that, but I want to see if the tabs make me more likely to revisit certain scenes while writing my review notes and the actual review.


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