One of my majors is english, so I do a lot of reading. Having to read an entire novel each week is rough, but it really helped me refine my annotating methods. Here is how I annotate fiction and nonfiction books! 

FICTION

1. MAKE USE OF THE BLANK PAGES IN THE FRONT OF THE BOOK 

I’m someone who has a lot of trouble with keeping track of characters, especially if there are a lot of them. To remedy this, I use one of the blank pages in the front of the book to make a list of each of the characters, and sometimes I’ll write something about them so I can place a name to a character. Here’s a quick example: 

2. USE HIGHLIGHTERS AND ASSIGN MEANING TO THE COLORS

If you aren’t someone who likes to actually write in the book, you can obviously use different colored post-its for this instead. I typically use three different colors when highlighting, and this is what the colors mean for me:

Pink - Character introductions: I use pink to highlight any time a character is introduced for the first time. You will often be asked to write about characters’ personalities, so this makes it easier to find descriptions of characters later. 

Green - Important plot points: I use green to highlight any important things that happen that I think I’ll need to look back at. 

Yellow - quotes: I use yellow for important quotes, or anything that is important but doesn’t fit any other category. 

Extra - Purple: After you finish reading a book, your teacher will usually point out important passages too. When this happens, I use purple to highlight those sections to denote that my professor found them important, because this probably means they’re worth talking about in an essay. 

3. WRITE A SUMMARY AT THE END OF EACH CHAPTER

To make sure you really understood what you just read, it is a good idea to write down a brief summary on the last page of the chapter. This helps with remembering what you read, and it also makes it much easier to go back and find events in the plot that you want to talk about.

4. POST-ITS FOR ESSAY IDEAS

I’ve pretty much had to write an essay on virtually every book I’ve had to read in both high school and college, so I’ve made a habit of using post it notes to bookmark pages with content that would be helpful in making arguments in an essay. Make a short note on the post it so you remember what point you were planning on making with that passage. *This is especially helpful for timed essays during which you’re allowed to use the book as a resource. That way, you can have essentially your entire argument planned out ahead of time. 

NONFICTION 

I use similar methods when annotating nonfiction, but instead of paying attention to plot points, I try to focus on main arguments and ideas. 

1. USE A BLANK PAGE FOR SUMMARIZING

Like with fiction, I like to use a blank page at the front of the book to summarize different sections of the book. This makes it easy to remember all the main ideas without having to flip back through the entire book.

2. HIGHLIGHTING AND WRITING

When I read nonfiction, I care much less about color-coding my annotations. I typically just use whatever I have around me at the time. What really matters about nonfiction is making sure you really understand the content, so I write down summaries in the margins on nearly every other page. 

As you can see, there’s a lot of different colors going on. They mean nothing. Honestly, my yellow highlighter was just going dead so I was going back and forth between that and my purple one. The red pen was the one I was using during my initial read-through, and the second time I read these pages, I just happened to have a blue pen, so don’t worry about the colors.

Anyway, what is really important about this is my short summaries in the margins. Doing this not only helps you dismantle the arguments being made, but it also forces you to become an active reader. 

3. ACTIVE READING

Like i just mentioned, engaging with the book by writing summaries frequently makes you an active reader. It is difficult to get anything out of a book if you aren’t actively engaging with the material, especially if it’s nonfiction. To fully understand the ideas being presented in the book, you need to find a way to actively engage with it. You can do this by using my ‘writing summaries in the margins’ method, or you can do whatever it is that makes you really focus on the content of the book. Anyone can zone out and look at words on a page, but if you want that A, you need to really dive into the book! 

Maureen Corrigan’s Summer Reading List:

Journeys, near and far, into the past and even into near space are the subject of the novels, memoirs, and narrative histories that make up our book critic Maureen Corrigan’s early summer reading list. Here are her recommendations:

  • American Eclipse By David Baron
  • Murder in Matera By Helene Stapinski
  • The Awkward Age By Francesca Segal
  • Between Them By Richard Ford
  • You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me By Sherman Alexie
  • Camino Island By John Grisham
  • Hear why she picked them.
Summer Reading Challenge

Throughout college I’ve tried to read around 10 books every summer that I’ve never read before. I usually am unable to do all of them (lol) mostly because I get books from the library, and if I don’t plan well they all get checked out : P 

If I combine re-reads with new reads, though, I do always end up reading 8-12 or so books every summer. I love reading, and I never get time to read longform writing during the school year (it’s always just news or articles or short stories and whatnot : P) 

Here is what I read in past summers (nf = nonfiction)

Summer 2015

New Reads: 

  1. The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddartha Mukherjee (nf)
  2. This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz
  3. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
  4. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonothan Safran Foer
  5. The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Re-Reads: 

      6-12. The Harry Potter Series (yes, the whole thing) by J.K. Rowling
         13.  Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Summer 2016

New Reads: 

  1. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (nf)
  2. White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi
  3. The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi
  4. What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi
  5. Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  6. China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan

Re-Reads: 

      7. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
  

Honorable Mentions

  1. The Vegetarian by Han Kang (Winter ‘16) 
  2. The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told by Alex Haley (nf) (Spring ‘15)  (everyone should read this book!!! Everyone!!! iT’s RIDICULOUSLY IMPORTAnT!!!!) 
  3. The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu (Spring Break ‘17) (it was the MIT Reads book selection so I got it from the MIT bookstore for free :D) (ridiculously good book by ridiculously good Asian American author) 

Started but never finished, and why:

  1. We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (nf) (this is ridiculous as it’s very short and honestly more of a long paper, but I got back to school and got busy ;__; will finish (starting from the beginning) as soon as finals is over.)
  2. A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace (nf) (ran out of time on the library loan, and had to get back to school)
  3. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera (the first few pages describing the womanizer super turned me off, and I just stopped there…I feel like I’ve had enough White European Man books assigned to me in school, and so I’d like to read more diverse authors in my free time. My friend really recommended it though so maybe I should try again…) 

Summer ‘17 List

I’m quite determined to get through all 10 this time. So far, I have…

Nonfiction:

  1. The Gene by Siddartha Mukherjee (the sequel-ish to a book above) (was too popular last summer to check out)
  2. Fresh Off the Boat by Eddie Huang (tried before, also too popular)
  3. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
  4. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks

Fiction: 

  1. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  2. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath 
  3. Paradise by Toni Morrison
  4. 1984 by George Orwell

Inevitable Re-Read: 

  1. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Suggestions welcome! Preferably I want even more than 10 new reads on my list–I’m thinking if I have loads of books on my list than any one of them is less likely to be checked out the library and maybe this year I can finally actually get through 10 new reads :3 Heavy preference to Asian or Asian-American authors, as I’ve been trying to diversify of authors of the books I read, starting with people of my own background (bizarre that practically all the books I read til now were white authors, isn’t it…). I’ve at least successfully read a few African and African-American authors by now; Ken Liu’s The Paper Menagerie was really great and the first book I’ve read that also really reflected on the Asian/Asian American experience, through sci-fi stories (!!!!), in a very organic way. Going to try and add to that~