I’m Desecrating the Temples of Literacy!

If my blog title has caught your eye and brought your here, then I have done my job! Good night, Blogosphere!

Okay, I guess I should actually write something.

Question: How do you feel about note-taking/annotation/marking up a book?

Robert Mitchum’s annotated copy of “Baby I Don’t Care” by Lee Server. From: Book Patrol on Tumblr.

As a graduate student, I have to do a lot of reading. Often the texts are dense with information. Even more often I have to actually remember the details well enough to be able to critically discuss them with my peers, if not retain them for the rest of my professional career (so much pressure!) or until the information is disproved/improved upon. I’ve reluctantly been accepting that one of the best ways for me to do this is to annotate physical copies of the texts as I read.

In the case of copies of journal articles, I’m pretty happy with annotating and that’s what I’ve always done. In the case of textbooks… I have some qualms. Whenever I get a new textbook, I’m always hesitant to crack it open because I know that inevitably I’ll have to write all over it’s beautiful pages.

My 9th grade teacher really preached annotations. He tried to teach us how to color code our annotations so they would be easier to remember and review. Being 9th graders, we tried our best to resist his attempts to turn us into effective learners. A lot of the students in the class complained about it being extra work that wouldn’t help us. Me, I went along with it, all the while thinking, “YOU’RE MAKING ME DESECRATE THE TEMPLES OF LITERACY!” I did not like writing in my books. Luckily, we instead could use those neon sticky flags. I’m blanking on their names right now.

I resisted marking up physical books until I taught my first literature class. My students were elementary school Korean students reading books like Frankenstein and Lord of the Flies. No, they did not actually read the books. Because of that, our class discussions rarely focused on details, so I probably didn’t need to annotate my copies of the books. But I did. I started appreciating the literary merits of the books a lot more. When we got to the Life of Pi, I broke out my 9th grade teacher’s color coding. Red = main ideas. Blue = character development. Green = words and their definitions. Yellow = symbolism (there was a lot of yellow in the Life of Pi).

I was SHOCKED by how much more I got out of the book when I was annotating this way. I was more focused. I remembered details better. I connected the details better. And I absolutely LOVED the book. Taking detailed notes in no way diminished my enjoyment of the book. It may have actually enhanced my enjoyment because of my close focus on the story.

Damn it! My 9th grade teacher was right! Since I’ve taken about 6 years of psychology courses, I can now appreciate the neuropsychology behind all this. I should cite some articles that explain how note-taking helps people focus and retain information, etc., but I don’t have any ready. You’ll have to take my word for it until I can add some. Bottom line: I’ve become a convert to systematic annotations when I really want to remember what I’m reading.

But I still hate writing in my books.


One thought on “I’m Desecrating the Temples of Literacy!

  1. I love the caption! And that particular page fits the description. I was an avid highlighter in my school books, especially if I knew I wasn’t going to sell them back, but that picture above made me cringe. In any of my writing material I only highlight those things I want to be able to find again quickly, which I’m not sure I could do if I saw that rainbow, because it would make me want to read it all all over again.

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