Do you keep a reading journal or book diary?
It used to be on and off. I haven’t got a pen. It’s only light fiction. I don’t want to keep stopping. I really should make a note of these thoughts though… I’ve got a lovely new notebook. And shiny new pens. Scribble, scribble. I’ve lost my pen. It’s only light fiction… But since the end of 2011 I’ve kept one and what’s more I’ve got better at using it and it’s really helped me. So I thought I’d share a couple of posts about how I take notes while I’m reading now: what sort of things I look out for, keeping character lists and how it helps me as a reader and as a reviewer.
First of all though I should say something about stationery. :)
I have to come clean at this point and tell you it isn’t the pretty fountain pen and leather bound journal up at the top of the post that I use. Oh yes, I am a stationery geek with the best of them and have a dwindling supply of beautiful Muji pens that I will miss when they all run dry. And yes I love pretty notebooks. But honestly? I don’t use them because I need to take notes not write pearls of wisdom. So:
1. A useful notebook rather than a beautiful one.
In my A5 sized notebook I jot down snippets of quotes, questions about characters, words I don’t recognise, chapter summaries and character lists. It’s all quickly done as I’m turning over the page and I don’t want to slow down, write beautiful copperplate that my descendants will cherish, start new pages for everything or rip out pages because I got something ‘wrong’. These are working notes, written with a nice biro, but a biro all the same, and if I need to draw a line down the page to save space or create a sub-list I am going to draw a wonky, utilitarian line down the goddamn page. I also don’t tear pages out, I scribble mistakes out instead.
I know. Hardcore. :)
2. Writing in books.
I don’t usually write in my books.
I’m not horrified at the idea, it’s just that I notice so much on any first read that I’d end up with a text too plastered with underlinings and stars and scribbles that it’d be frustrating on a second read through. Books I’ve read multiple times, most of the Nabokov, all of Austen, Madame Bovary etc, get written in though because I know them better and have a decent sense of key quotes, pivotal moments and er, I tend to argue or agree with critics in the margins.
For example, I’ve not re-read any of Austen’s books after reading John Mullan’s What Matters in Jane Austen, a book in which he discusses concepts like how much money is enough for Austen’s characters and why the seaside is so romantic a place to them, but I imagine that when I do I will have Mullan’s thoughts at the back of my mind and perhaps I’ll add notes about his suggestions in the margins. My copy of Madame Bovary has snippets from a wide range of critics (from Julian Barnes to Vladimir Nabokov to W. Somerset Maugham etc) in there, food for thought when I read it again and it adds another layer to my reading.
3. Begin the book spoiler-free but be aware of its arc.
Whether I’m reading fiction or non-fiction, I do as Susan Wise Bauer suggests in The Well-Educated Mind and I check the blurb, the publication history and the list of chapter titles (if they have them). It gives a sense of the book’s timeline and either the arguments it’s going to make (if it’s non-fiction) or story arc. I only ever read the preface or introduction before a novel if it’s by the author or translator. That last point’s a very handy tip, it keeps my reading spoiler-free and stops me picking up other people’s opinions on why the book’s important or what the author’s trying to say. I prefer to make my own mind up first before looking at what others think and why.
So that’s the basics covered, in my next post I’ll share what kinds of notes I actually take and why my notebook is my secret weapon as a reader. In the meantime though I am curious, do you keep a reading journal or make notes about your books?