This document records some practices I found myself using while reading texts. It is not at all exhaustive, complete or even sufficiently encompassing. It does not claim to be efficient. It is a work in progress. It is open for discussion. I intend to write down here some practices that I find useful, sometimes providing justification.
2 Reading setup
Reading is a thing that can be computer-assisted nowadays, and if it can be, it should be. I try to do the following:
Unless the book is about illustration or graphics, black-and-white is enough. I print it a typographic shop, ask for paperback binding and manually write the name at the book spine.
I usually read PDF books, about 90%. I have the PDF file open either in Evince, or in Emacs pdf-tools. This simplifies searching. In 10% of the cases this is either an HTML or an EPUB version, which I still usually convert to PDF, or try to open in Evince.
I end up googling quite a lot, so I have Google open in the browser (Firefox) for quick access.
I usually use Google Translate, and it’s enough just about 90% of the time. In the 10%, I use Wordreference, BKRS and mdbg.
I use a mechanical pencil (I do not like sharpening pencils), 0.9HB. I have an eraser too, relatively hard. I do not use coloured pens or pencils for annotation.
I use a ruler to focus on reading, and to sometimes demarcate important pieces of the text.
I use it when reading Chinese material. Finding individual characters for input tends to be easier using handwritten recognition, than by radical search. Using CangJie may be easier, but I do not know it yet.
3 Reading practice
I use Emacs org-mode’s time tracking capabilities for measuring how much time exactly a book takes. It also helps me stay focused on reading, since I do not want to obscure time tracking data.
3.2 Notes file
I try to have note files for books I read. Emacs, and other special software has special functions for making notes, but I did not find a way to use them efficiently. This only relates to humanities, light, or fiction literature. Scientific literature I process differently.
The notes file is an org-file. It consists of two root nodes: a node for vocabulary and a node for remarks.
3.2.1 Vocabulary node
The vocabulary node is just called “vocabulary”. It contains just a single table of the following format:
|#||unknown word or phrase||translation|
I usually do not fill in the dictionary at the moment of reading. I consider this a separate task, to be done later. (Maybe this should not be done like this?)
In the Citations and Remarks node, every heading corresponds to a piece of the text that made me generate a non-trivial thought. The thought is written in the body of the heading.
This is where have both the digital and the paper copy comes in handy. When I find an interesting piece of text, I can search it in the electronic copy and copy-paste into the notes file.
I heard that it is recommended to use a “sliding window” to read text. I do not use it. However, I use a ruler to protect my eyes from wandering ahead of the narrative. I put it right under the line I am reading an move down after the line has been read.
3.4 Paper annotation
As mentioned above, I do not use colours for annotations, because I don’t know how to make them efficient. (Suggestions welcome.)
Apart from colours, there are the following markup tools:
- underline the text
- circle the text
- put an exclamation mark at the margins
- squeeze a remark between the lines
I tend to underline words and phrases that attracted my attention. If they seem noteworthy, I then copy them into the notes file remarks section. I tend to circle the words that are unfamiliar or unknown. I try to copy them to the notes file vocabulary section. I sometimes use a ruler to mark some extremely important pieces of text.
I sometimes circle “large sparse” pieces of text which make little sense and cross them out with several strokes to obscure.
Sometimes I write remarks on the margins. Sometimes I squeeze remarks in between the lines. Both of the above are not very efficient.
I tend to google work meanings if I don’t understand them on the spot, but do not write the meanings into the table. This is because I want to visit the vocabulary again, and have some “context to remember”.
I tend to google concepts that I do not know, but I do not write them anywhere. (Shall I have the third section in the notes file?)
4 Reading tricks
Do not try to make it a full-scale university-level essay. It would be a waste of time. But try to reiterate all the thoughts that you found useful, well versed, or non-trivial.