Monday, November 8, 2010

Keeping a Reader's Notebook

Last Monday, I suggested a few simple ways you could sq
ueeze a few extra books into your life. This week, I'd like to add another suggestion to help you get more from your reading life.

Reading Notebooks

You can call them many different things: reading notebooks, reading journals, book logs, commonplace books, etc. You can keep them in a variety of different ways, but they are infinitely useful.
I first learned about commonplace books (which I've discussed on this blog before) in Susan Wise Bauer's book, The Well-Educated Mind. Bauer shows readers how to educate themselves using a commonplace book and a stack of quality literature. She provides the reading list of "great books", along with a information about each book and genre. She encourages readers to keep commonplace books to being understand and remember what they are reading. She describes commonplace books as educational tools used by readers and scholars in the 18th and 19th centuries. According to Bauer, a commonplace book was, "a looseleaf or bound blank book in which readers copied down quotes or snippets that they wanted to remember." She compares it to a hand-copied version of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations. However, some readers added their own thoughts in their books, beyond simply copying passages from published works. Bauer says a modern reading journal should be "the place where the reader takes external information and records it (through the use of quotes as in a commonplace book); appropriates it through a summary, written in the reader's own words; and then evaluates it through reflection and personal thoughts."

I was immediately smitten with the idea of a commonplace book, and tried to implement it almost immediately. However, it wasn't until I read Michael Gelb's How To Think Like Leonardo DaVinci that I really got the hang of it. In it, he discussed Davinci's famous notebooks and what they contained. He included drawings, plans, brainstorming, quotations, vocabulary words, questions, and lists. Gelb encourages readers to keep notebooks and to write down anything and everything. He especially promotes them as useful for capturing ideas and questions. Gelb's book sort of gave me permission to make my notebook a hodgepodge of sorts. I felt like my commonplace book had to be purely literary, but Gelb helped me understand that I can include all sorts of information, not just that which came from books.

So what does my notebook look like? I purchases a medium-sized, hard-back, spiral sketchbook from Michael's with blank pages on thick paper. I didn't want lines because I wanted to be able to change directions on the page or write in different sizes. I try to always use the same pen (because I am crazy like that), and then have a color-coded highlighting system for emphasizing certain types of notes later. I decorated the cover with maps, scrapbook paper and magazine clippings. I recommend the hard-back and the spiral because it makes it easy to write in. I can fold the pages back and use the hard cover to write on with the need for a separate hard surface.

What do I put in it, you ask? Well, I started with some brainstorming lists, then took notes on a few books I was reading. I include words and definitions of vocabulary I came across in my reading that I didn't know. I do copy some passages and quotations from books that I find particularly inspiring or thought-provoking. I tend to write in my notebook for my non-fiction reads, more than for novels. Bauer's book is primarily about fiction, and she encourages recording characters, themes, and other aspects of the literature that we read. I haven't tried it yet, but I see how it could be useful, especially if I was reading a particularly difficult text. It's also a useful place to keep track of books I want to read and where I learned about them. Writing things down about what I read is very helpful in understanding and remembering the books that I read.

Do you keep a reading journal or ideas notebook? Is it something you would consider.


Lauren said...

I really like this idea. I often write quotes that I love or that are inspiring in my journal, but it would be nice to have them all together in once place, along with notes from non-fiction books (love that idea!). I also keep a small journal type book with a list of all the books I read each year, as well as another list on a page of my blog AND on Goodreads! Probably far too much list-making but I love it!

Caitlin said...

I'm so glad you like the idea. I keep a quote book as well, and sometimes end up writing some quotes in both places. I may stop that though, because it has been one central place to record everything! I keep tons of lists everywhere too (I'm a list addict), and keep several different notebooks for all different purposes, but I'm trying to consolidate. I'm finding that I use it more if I only have to keep track of one notebook.