how I want to take reading notes

I'm realizing that it may not be that I am a slow reader, but rather that I prioritize reading very thoroughly over finishing reading. That is a good skill to have and I'm glad it is my bias, but that should not be my first tool to reach for when approaching texts.

We live in a newly information-saturated environment. The real first goal of processing knowledge today should be a filtering act, not an absorbing one. In order to find a signal in the noise, I have to learn to be comfortable with skimming.

My current reading style comes straight out of the Enlightenment: read deeply and read closely, collect everything. But that works well only in a sparse environment of published knowledge, which simply no longer exists. My learning strategy is like the hoarding behavior that people in my grandparents' generation learned from the material poverty of the Great Depression; I have an addiction to information access that has been carried past the era when it was needed, and can even be hurtful to thriving in today's world.

I need to relax and understand that the internet will be there tomorrow and next year, and that countless other people just like me are learning as fast as they can to find a way to help the world's problems. focus on the system, not the activity itself, but applied to make me cool it with my academic ego.

I need to read for breadth, not depth first, especially when reading nonfiction. I need to take notes during that skimming process, then take that lay of the land and read with a purpose using it, tuning my focus to the things that I want to get from the book or work1.

So here are some rules I'm going to apply for myself with reading and literature notes starting with Their Eyes Were Watching God, which I just started a couple days ago:

  1. Start public literature notes in the /books entry when I start a book, not when I finish it.
  2. Resist the urge to outline the book with my notes. Be opinionated about what I want to carry with me from it.
  3. Allow space in the notes for both conceptual ideas and fragmentary phrases or imagery. I find that those are the things that make me me, but I haven't seen many good examples of the practice of capturing those from the various digital garden bloggers I've come across.
  4. After the book is done, see if any of my notes in the entry itself can be added to any other standalone notes that I've created. If not, take the conceptual notes and make them into standalone notes with at least a paragraph written for each. If I can't come up with 3 sentences about the idea, leave it as a simple one-liner within the book notes.


  1. This might not be the fairest of comparisons, but in my head this need to give an entire book my closest attention comes from a similar place that my need to give every person my full attention and care. And that shouldn't always come for free: the indiscriminate application of my care has wasted me a lot of time with relationships that were not good for me, and I believe the same can be said of my reading "relationships" as well.