Until this weekend, I thought the ongoing note-taking discussions, here and elsewhere, were not for me. They did not fit why I read.
I read for two reasons:
One is work-related. I’m a journalist (thought lately I’ve turned those skills to a kind of marketing copyrighting, called “brand journalism”). For that purpose, I’ve been taking notes professionally for more than 35 years. I take notes on written materials, PowerPoints, and–especially–interviews, presentations, and panel discussions. I know what I’m doing and I know why I’m taking those notes–to produce an article. (Although even in the last several years I’ve made significant changes to my note-taking techniques. I record interviews and events more often, and use transcription services. And in the second half of last year I started adding a step to my note-taking–intermediate notes that I call “running notes,” inspired by CGP Grey.)
I also read for my own education. In that case, I just want to learn about the subject of the book and article, whether the subject is insider information and speculation about WandaVision, or Joe Manchin’s stance on the filibuster, or the decline of the Roman Republic.
In the second case, why take notes? And what would I take notes about? Let’s say I’m reading about the fall of the Roman Republic–I could see taking notes if, say, I was mainly interested in the Gracchi brothers. I would read several books about the fall of the Republic and take notes about all the Gracchi bits. But that’s not my agenda. I just want to learn about the fall of the Republic. What do I take notes on then? The ENTIRE BOOK is about the fall of the Republic–where would I begin.
But lately I’ve been thinking I do not retain enough of what I read. In the past couple of decades I’ve probably read dozens of books about Roman history. For that kind of investment, I really ought to know more about Roman history than I do.
And this weekend I thought, say, I bet if I took notes…
So how do you take notes when you have no purpose to your reading other than learning? What tools do you use? What techniques? And how do you decide whether to take notes and whether to just, y’know, read?