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On note-taking


Diary by Keith Thomas – described by TMN as a “wonderful, long meander about the tradition of note-taking.”

I skimmed it (tl;dr, hardeeharhar but I will go back later and finish it) and read snippets about Renaissance scholars drawing pointing hands in the margins of books and other slicing up books and putting them in their notes (or maybe even in commonplace books, as Snicket’s Baudelaire children called them; Milton had one, yo).

Since I’m taking notes for House of Leaves, here’s a little about my note-taking process(es).

In class: WRITE DOWN EVERYTHING. I use abbreviations (Dryden became D., Dr. Johnson  J., and Henry Fielding HF in 18th Century British Lit this past spring) and sometimes slip into Spanish if it’s faster (en vez de for “instead of”–that two whole letters!). College ruled paper, in one of those 3 subject spiral rings with pockets for print-outs, essays, etc. So I write very fast and sometimes half-illegibly; when I study for tests I usually have a pencil nearby to correct typos/unclear notes. I use dashes, descending hierarchy, and draw in the margins if nothing’s going on. And of course the top margin is reserved funny prof. quotes (one of my favorite of the past year being from Modern Literary Criticism: “I saved Pamela from the garbage—and I thrust my hand down her bosom.”)

For research papers: I use the same paper, generally, unless it’s a PDF of an article from an academic journal. I put bibliographic info in the top margin of the first notebook page of that source (esp. the author’s name for easy citing later), then put page numbers in the left margin while I take notes in the normal space. I block off quotes from my own paraphrasing/musing with capital Q’s to limit confusion¹. And all the notes remain in the same notebook for flipping back and forth when I’m constructing my paper. I tend to do a lot of block quoting in my notes; probably because I’m neurotic that if I paraphrase too much I might misinterpret the text or accidentally plagiarize by using too similar word choice. Such transcription makes research somewhat laborious, but I enjoy hunting through indexes (indices?) and tables of contents to string together answers to my questions.

Novels on my own time: Often just handwritten snippets of funny parts (with page numbers) or some other kind of musing. I don’t usually take notes when I read for fun–mostly with complicated books that NEED notes (aka IJ and HoL). At Annular Summer, we’re finishing up our read of Castleview, but I didn’t take any notes until last night when I was doing an interwebs extravaganza of Norse and Arthurian mythology for the post I’m ostensibly²  writing for today. The notes I did take where in good old-fashioned MS Notepad.

For IJ I blogged a little bit (mostly vocab, as you can see in the Apocryphal Materials), but mostly took little notes in a Lord of the Rings diary I had hitherto that summer not used–saving it (it was a birthday present from LONG ago) for a special occasion. Mostly stuff like “OH MAN GATELY IS AWESOME, page #” and “More about the AFR, page #” and “OMG THIS connection, page #.” Yeah.

Right now for HoL I have one sheet of notebook paper with a column for vocab, a column for IJ/HoL comparisons, other notes in the far left margin, and misc. observations in the top margin. I’m in the fifties right now so there isn’t much yet to report. Except it’s pulling me in and Danielewski uses less unrecognizable-but-real-yes-look-it-up words than DFW.

So there.

¹ This was the one useful thing I took away from English Comp. woot.

² I’ve been using this word perhaps too frequently in my lenguaje cotidiano.

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