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Reading and Note-Taking

I’ve been perusing The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim, an Australian who married to an English family in late 19th century. The story revolves around four ladies who expect a pleasant holiday in a castle situated on the hills of Portofino. They didn’t anticipate their month-long vacation would confront their true nature. Since much of the plot takes place in the same setting, the novel is very character-driven. I have found myself taking so much more notes and more frequently, filling up leaves of post-its in no time. In my experience, a book that is either character-driven or stream-of-conscious will find my taking enormous amount of notes at the beginning. I would look for (and often over-analyze) details that might help nail the theme and the meaning of the book. The novel in question, behind the beauty, the leisure, and the sense of solitude, challenges me to know the characters. What about you, do you feel compelled to take lots of notes when a book is not plot-driven?

14 Responses

  1. Ideally, I’d love to take notes but mostly just write down page numbers. Reading Proust is the worst, I’ve written down TONS of page numbers! Looking forward to your thoughts on Enchanted April.. am planning to read it someday too.

  2. I take notes in my books almost all the time. I find that I tend to take more notes in books that have several characters, such as Middlemarch. I would definitely agree that I probably take more notes than usual when a novel is not plot driven.

  3. I love that you brought this up. For me, it’s always about the way that the story is told. Some stories, I find it is too hard to break away from to TAKE notes. When I was reading Waiting for Columbus I could barely jot down any reminders to myself – I couldn’t pry myself from the narrative.

    Otherwise, those are typically the novels that have more pages dedicated to them in the journal.

  4. I love character-driven novels and find that I have to be a little more attentive when reading them (as opposed to plot-driven)… so many actions or words provide clues into developing or changing character! If I can’t stop and make a note, I’ll use those little post-it arrows so I can find the passage later. I must say that since ‘meeting’ you, I’ve begun to keep a little notebook (pink moleskin at the moment) handy while reading.

  5. Some books I make absolutely no notes, others like you say which are very character lead and have sub plots upon sub plots I take notes for. Ot if they are surreal, I am currently making lots of notes as I read Murakami.

  6. I absolutely love character-driven novels, but I’m not very good at taking notes. I’m not even sure if I would know how to properly analyze it all. I tend to review based on my emotions, the pace, and my overall takeaways. I know, I’m probably making your hair curl by saying that!

  7. Honestly I never take any notes at all – I’m always so impressed at the copious notes you seem to do! I just hope things will stick in my memory. 😛

  8. I take notes–marginalia, even–but I’ve never seen any distinction between the notes I take or the very note-taking process for plot-driven and character-driven books. Hm. Now I’m thinking about it.

    It’s usually the language that gets me to take some notes, though, I know that much. Character revelations, too–a result of a minor in Lit, I suppose. Furious What the hells too. But notes about, on plot? Not so much. If at all.

  9. I hang my head in shame…rarely do I take any notes.

  10. I tend not to take notes because it distracts from my reading. Also, there’s the way I read: generally stretched out on the bed, propped up with pillows, with the cat on my lap. All that makes it very hard to maneuver a book, notebook, post-its, and a pen (and a cat). I even find that putting post-it flags into the book can distract me. One thing I am hoping to do this year, though, as far as note-taking goes, is to jot my thoughts down after I’ve finished a certain number of pages, just to give myself a sense of what I was thinking as I read, so that when I am finished, I have the “experience” in front of me.

    I haven’t read Enchanted April, but I admit I enjoyed the movie.

  11. I would like to say, “Why yes Matt, I do!” but the sad truth is that I take very few notes at all!!

  12. When you have a chance, the movie was excellent, too.

  13. I ALWAYS take notes when I’m reading. It’s been a habit (or rather, a compulsion), and it’s quite essential when I’m reviewing the book. I write everything from quotes and page numbers to the thoughts that run through my head as I’m reading. It’s time consuming, but helpful 🙂

    I agree with Claire though, writing notes while reading Proust would prove to be difficult, as every line is enchanting and there’s hundreds of pages of those lines, hehe.

  14. I am a bit ashamed to say I rarely take notes, although I admire you for doing so! I do tag specific passages or write down the page numbers.

    I saw Enchanted April probably at least 15 years ago and it is still one of my favorite films. I read the book soon afterwards and loved it as well. In fact, I still own that copy and have kept it through my many moves. Perhaps I’ll reread it one day.

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