Hey, everyone! Since I started exhibiting some story highlights about the books I’ve read this year on Instagram, I started getting DMs about how I annotate books. I’ve been debating over whether to post this as an IG story or as a blog. But alas, I chose the latter because it’s been a few weeks since my last post.

Annotating books is the only way I can really get into the story. I’ve tried doing other things like creating a playlist that suits the feel of the book you’re reading or doing a readathon and post your progress on twitter and other stuff, to no avail.

The idea of annotating books is kind of scary for the first time. At least, it was for me. There are different thoughts roaming around my head when I was still starting out, such as books are really expensive so it’s better to preserve them and keep them as new as you’ve bought them, or books are a hard work of the author and the publisher and other people and thus, they deserve to be kept clean.

But a single thought came to me one time. I realised that sure, the authors want their books to be treasured in your library or book shelves, but they also want it to be loved and studied and make it feel as if it’s the most interesting story in the whole world. They want it to be engulfed page by page, sentence by sentence or word by word.

As a writer myself, nothing beats the feeling of your readers getting really engrossed in your work to the point where they write their own theories, burst of emotions and questions in the marginalia of the pages.

From that on, I started annotating books, which has been in my mind for a long time now. I started writing questions and predictions and feelings inline with the passages. Because of that, the story came unfolding itself in front of my eyes. Not that it is hard for me to understand what’s happening but it was a different journey since then on.

Reading didn’t suddenly feel like a task and I stopped seeing books as numbers on my Goodreads Read pile.

So now, let me show you how I annotate the books I’m reading.

How I Annotate

There are three things that I do when annotating, such as footnoting, inline commenting and highlighting. So I will go breakdown each of these things and tell you how I do them.

1. Footnoting

Reading is the second most effective task for me to learn new words. If you don’t already know, I’m not a native english speaker and there are still sides of the English language that I can’t fully grasp. Footnoting is what I do to fully understand the meaning of the sentences with unfamiliar words in them. Like what is shown in the images, I like to put numbers as superscripts on the words I don’t know the meaning of and write the meaning of the word on the bottom margin with matching superscript number. I will then reread the sentence or even the whole paragraph to better understand what’s happening. I use the other blank parts of the pages if the bottom margin isn’t enough. The superscript numbers aren’t necessarily continued all throughout the book. I try to keep them per page so it won’t get too crowded on the text block.

2. Inline-commenting

Inline-commenting is a big part, if not the biggest, of the annotation. This is what I do to feel for the characters more or get closer into the scenes. Usually, I just put my comments next to the sentences, or on the nearest side margins. Other times, when my thoughts are too long, I put them in post-it notes, like in the images. My comments are honest, genuine thoughts I have when I read the passage or the dialogue. This explains why often times, my comments are only one word or phrase. If I stumble upon plot twists and red herrings, I write predictions instead of thoughts (see two bottom images). This really gets me excited of what’s going to happen next.

3. Highlighting

This is the part I don’t usually do often when annotating. I either use highlighters, color pencils or normal ballpoint pens when I highlight. I really don’t have stationary codes for this. I just use whatever that’s laying around in my desk or bed. Sometimes, I would use index tabs if almost or all of the page or spread is meaningful for me.

When I Can’t Annotate

There are of course times when I couldn’t annotate when I read, like when the book isn’t mine or it’s the audiobook I’m listening to. It really hurt to control my fingers from writing on the pages or get any notebook to write my thoughts on. Sometimes, I’d get my current journal and write there instead. Sometimes, I would just leave the writing to my imagination.

T.L. Thornes is a writer residing in Ilocos Sur, Philippines. She was twelve when she started keeping drafts of her poems in composition notebooks. Since then, she has found an emotional outlet through writing. When she’s not writing, she can be found in the streets of her hometown, urbansketching, or in her room, writing songs and making art journals.