I have the memory of a goldfish so I annotate while reading

(Last Updated On: January 14, 2020)

I am not joking when I say that I have the memory of a goldfish. I don’t remember what I ate for breakfast yesterday or whether or not I actually liked The Night Circus when I read it in 2015. Every summer, I always struggle to remember exactly what I watched the night before on Big Brother when having my gossip sessions with Paul at work. So it goes without saying that taking notes while reading is a must for me.

As I’ve settled into my role of Book Reviewer, I have fine tuned my annotation process quite a bit to help facilitate the review process. It now involves a color-coded system based on the things that heavily influence my reading experience. CW @ The Quiet Pond expressed an interest in my process a couple of months ago, and I thought this would make for an interesting discussion post – so here is my annotation process!

Writing in my books *gasp*

It began during my senior year of high school. My AP English teacher suggested that we write in our books and was greeted with audible gasps from me and my classmates. I’ll never forget what she said to us in response:

“Reading can be a two-way experience. Writing your thoughts in your book is like a conversation with the author. With yourself.”

Before this moment, I treated my books as sacred. The thought of defiling my books made my heat race, but what Mrs. Robinson resonated with me. “What’s the harm in writing in my books for class?” I figured. It isn’t like I was collecting them.

Heavy Annotating
The first book I ever annotated

As soon as I touched pen to page, I was changed. I liked it. A lot. I’ve always been a close, analytical reader. Taking my notes inside of my book saved me the time of having to write quotes and make notes directly in the margins.

Shorthand notes

Annotating 2One of the coolest things about writing my thoughts down in the book’s margins is it’s like a time capsule. It’s really fun to re-read and see what I was thinking and feeling in the past.

I suppose I should also mention that I don’t mind dog-earing my books, either.

But I don’t write in all of my books these days. I prefer to pass along my physical ARCs and doubt the Flapping Pages recipients would appreciate my analysis, and I read a large number of electronic ARCs, so my process has evolved a bit

Color-Coded Notes on Kindle

It all started with reading eARCs on the Kindle app about two years ago. Up until then, my reading skewed heavily to the physical format and as you’ve seen, I have no qualms writing directly in my books. (I love writing in my books.)

Annotating on Kindle actually led to me being far more organized. And being a lot less confused while reading books with multiple points of view. I pretty quickly took advantage of the different colors available for highlighting to take notes on four key things: world-building, quotes for review, character development (/keeping them straight), and romance-y bits.

Reading books electronically was something I took to fairly quickly because of how I could annotate the book to hell and back. It also was a lot easier when it came to reviewing because I just had to scroll through my notes section to refresh my memory on my thoughts while reading.

Page Flags

Tabbing Books

I’d gotten so used to heavily annotating my books – especially on Kindle – that I really came to rely on it for reviewing. Not to mention that I enjoy writing little notes to myself while I try to piece together the plot or suss out a murderer.

After developing my color coded system for the Kindle, I noticed other bloggers and bookstagrammers tabbing their physical ARCs. I thought this might be a good solution for me and grabbed some post-its from work (shhh, don’t tell!) to give it a try.

While not as satisfying as writing directly in my books, I’ve come to enjoy tabbing because it is a good visual representation of how a book connected with me. I use the same color-coded system that I use on Kindle and for the most part it works well to jog my memory while reviewing.

Nowadays, I don’t write in my new books in the off-chance that I want to unhaul them or I got a special edition I want to keep in good condition, so these other methods for annotating are a real life saver for me! I use Bookly in conjunction with tabbing to take notes while reading physical books, and it works well for me. You can check out this post to learn All About Bookly.

I hope you found this post interesting! Are you a reader who takes notes while reading? What is your process for keeping things straight for reviewing?

๐Ÿ’– If you like the work that I do here at Reader Voracious, consider fueling my pumpkin spice latte and black tie addiction by buying me a ko-fi or joining my Patreon! โ˜•

spacer_wLet’s go on another adventure together!


  1. Meeghan

    October 8, 2019 at 2:41 AM

    I use papery tabs that also have a little space for writing on them (with lines!!). They are my fave thing to use when I am reading a book for review!! I can send you a photo of them if you like?

    1. Kal

      October 22, 2019 at 6:05 PM

      That’s a great solution for not writing in books but also annotating with tabs, I’ve been tempted with post-its before! I’de love to see a photo, Meeghan!

  2. Jade @ The Elder Books

    October 8, 2019 at 3:15 AM

    It’s nice that it works for you ! I’m absolutely incapable of doing that. I never even use tabs… It just bugs me to put stuff in a book ๐Ÿ˜ฌ

    1. Kal

      October 22, 2019 at 6:06 PM

      That’s totally fair, I actually felt the same way until my teacher said the thing! It was like a lightbulb went off and once I started I couldn’t stop. Haha. Thanks for reading!

  3. Mere

    October 8, 2019 at 5:48 AM

    I just recently started tabbing books…and I always find when I’m done reading I’ve only tabbed maybe the first half of the book before I’ve dropped off. I love reading physical books, but I adore e-books because I write notes to myself in there without writing on the pages. I’ve been thinking about graduating to sticky notes to write longer messages? IDK. I also started keeping a journal to actually write the quotes/lines down. That works for physical books for me. I really liked that.

    1. Kal

      October 22, 2019 at 6:14 PM

      HAHAHA I also fall off on tabbing my books the further I get into them! I also enjoy reading eBooks for the electronic notetaking (and the ability to read chonkers without hurting my wrists lol)

  4. Flora

    October 8, 2019 at 6:46 AM

    Funny, I highlight everything of interest on my Kindle but never in my paperbacks. You’re right, Kal, it does help when it comes to writing my reviews; it refreshes my mind about how I felt when reading particular scenes.
    Thanks for posting,
    Flora x

    1. Kal

      October 22, 2019 at 6:17 PM

      That’s so interesting, Flora! Have you never thought about taking notes for your paperbacks?

  5. Catarina @ Pages & Plots

    October 8, 2019 at 7:32 AM

    I’m just like you! I write in my books, although I only use a pencil, and I keep tabs around with a specific color code. However, if I’m reading on the train or the bus, I’ll just dog-ear the pages I want to annotate on, and I’ll do it later. I love when my books, especially paperbacks and mass-market copies, look read and worn out.

    1. Kal

      October 22, 2019 at 6:18 PM

      Yessss, another book “defiler”! Pencil is still cool, I would do that too if it didn’t rub off so easily — I really like seeing my thoughts on rereads. I also dog-ear my books! Books looking well loved are my fave

  6. Jamsu

    October 8, 2019 at 11:19 AM

    iโ€™m too chicken to write in my books so i carry notebook w/ me while reading instead. I usually use post it notes to mark quotes I like. I tried color coding my Carry On copy with different post it notes after seeing YouTube video about another reader doing it but since I have my notebook it felt pretty useless.

    1. Kal

      October 22, 2019 at 6:19 PM

      A notebook works well, I’ve tried it but for some reason I never follow through much that way. Thanks for sharing your process with me, Jamsu!

  7. Molly @ Molly's Book Nook

    October 8, 2019 at 6:22 PM

    I always like the way an annotated books LOOKS but I don’t do it haha. I DO have a notebook that I write all my notes down in which helps so much when reviewing. I think what I would need to add to my system is tabbing and then writing down damn page numbers for my notes. Sometimes my notes are vague and I can’t remember where it was in the book lol. My memory is terrrrrrible so if I didn’t at least take notes, I would never remember anything about books lol

    1. Kal

      October 22, 2019 at 6:21 PM

      A lot of people take notes in a notebook, it seems! I’ve tried but it just doesn’t work well for me, I just don’t enjoy copying down quotes when I could just underline them or something lol. I think page numbers would be very helpful though; goldfish brains unite!

  8. Macey @ Brine & Books

    October 8, 2019 at 7:46 PM

    I find that I only need to annotate when I want to write a review or if it’s for class! I think I might wanna try it more just for fun, in the books that I re-read every year. That way, when I have a new revelation (because that’s the mark of a good book isn’t it? when you notice something new in a well-loved read hehe), I can look back and recall it in case it totally slipped my mind. I liked learning about your system! I’ve never given any thought to electronic note-taking, but that does seem like it’d be super helpful x

    1. Kal

      October 22, 2019 at 6:24 PM

      I’ve been taking notes for so long, I can’t imagine reading a book without it – I have come to rely on them to keep things straight lmao. I agree 1000% though, re-reading a book with new revelations and having the notes there is so much fun, you should try it!

  9. Sam || Fictionally Sam

    October 9, 2019 at 8:43 AM

    This post is so aesthetically pleasing to my eyes that I cannooootttt! 10/10
    For me I only annotate on the second read of a book, as stopping to write during my first read through always takes me out of the story and irks me to no end. So basically I reserve annotating to the faves, which I will then waddle to get another copy of that I dub the “deface book” and get to wreaking havoc. lol. Though I do have to note, that I have been using kindle highlighting more often than before (though I don’t use the color coding like you, but I’m intrigued now!)

    1. Kal

      October 22, 2019 at 6:33 PM

      That’s interesting, and I can see how pausing for notes could pull you out of the storytelling. My mind legit just never stops, so I am literally analyzing everything as I read anyways (it’s tiring). Try kindle highlighting with colors, it makes looking for stuff in reviews so easy!

  10. Lisa @ waytoofantasy

    October 9, 2019 at 9:19 AM

    This is actually something I wish I did because I also have trouble remembering sometimes! I even bought page flags! But I usually get caught up in a book, or I’m out and about reading, and I always forget. I really need to start taking notes though because it’s tough especially when you’re behind on reviews and you’ve since read 10 more books….lol.

    1. Kal

      October 22, 2019 at 6:36 PM

      I feel this so hard — if I didn’t take notes, many of my reviews wouldn’t get written. I have a poor memory a day later, imagine when I have a backlog! Maybe just try tabbing without notes, it doesn’t require too much and it may be enough to jog your memory later.

  11. R A I N

    October 9, 2019 at 12:09 PM

    Okay so although I hate writing in my books with pen, I still write down some points that I think will make for a really good addition to the review – WITH PENCIL! ๐Ÿคฃ๐Ÿคฃ But THATS A RARITY WITH ME! Usually I keep my phone handy and I use my Bear app (ITS AWESOME) to note down all the thoughts I have during the read.. I prefer the digital method because then I can just send my notes to my email and copy paste it into WordPress. Saves a lot of fucking time! ๐Ÿคฃ๐Ÿคฃ

    I ENJOYED THIS POST A LOTT, Kal!! ๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ˜โค๏ธโค๏ธ

    1. Kal

      October 22, 2019 at 6:44 PM

      Pencil is cool, it’s a gateway! LOL! But cool to hear about your process, especially how you’ve streamlined it for reviewing.

  12. Sophia @ Bookwyrming Thoughts

    October 9, 2019 at 1:03 PM

    THIS IS THE GREATEST POST TITLE IN THE HISTORY OF BLOGGING because it’s the biggest of moods… especially at work. And I don’t even know how I survive reviewing without actually taking notes, though I don’t write in my books directly; I’m more use Post-It Notes so I can mark the place where it’s at or I’ll forget I even wrote in the book. Plus, since I’m planning on moving, I can pass on the physical ARCs to other readers (that I trust not to sell).

    I LOVE the notes section with the Kindle app – it’s been super handy and a lifesaver, especially since I’m reading multiple books at a time then I can look over my thoughts so far (and other important details highlighted) if I haven’t cracked open a book in months (oops).

    I actually don’t color code my notes for some reason – color coding has never worked for me in other aspects in my life, and I guess it carried over to annotating and tabbing as well? ๐Ÿค”

    1. Kal

      October 22, 2019 at 6:50 PM

      Huzzah for another goldfish brain! Post-it notes seem like a popular solution for people, and I agree that I don’t write in my physical ARCs so that I can pass them on to other readers, and find myself not annotating a lot of the time in new hardcovers on first read. Which kind of kills me, but tabbing is okay!

      YES YES YES on the kindle notes saving lives! I forget what’s going on so the notes help me so much.

  13. Christine

    October 9, 2019 at 1:48 PM

    I do love going back to my old books and seeing the notes that I made. Usually, I laugh at my ridiculous self, especially UNDERGRAD Christine. Like I thought I was soooooooo smart and witty lol. Like you said, those notes truly are a “time capsule.”

    Nowadays, I try not to mark up my books or even dog-ear pages. That is the librarian in me, though. I love your honesty and lack of fear to show all of this because I know how book Twitter gets lol!!!

    Like you, I also write in books less because I might be passing them on to someone else.

    1. Kal

      October 22, 2019 at 6:52 PM

      Time capsules into my previous naivete, for sure. Some of the notes I made aren’t as insightful as I probably thought they were!

      I definitely write less now though, and it saddens me a little bit. But I do enjoy passing books on… I reread a lot, so I can always annotate on re-reads

  14. Ngoc

    October 9, 2019 at 7:03 PM

    I have to admit, I used to annotate my required reading books for English Lit – I got a few of them secondhand so I didn’t feel TOO bad bc they weren’t in the best shape to begin with. But I’ve never done it since – I’m VERY precious about my books ๐Ÿ˜‚ I do love seeing other people’s annotated books though! I also LOVE tabbing my physical books & using the highlights on the Kindle app – some of my Cassie Clare books look like rainbow porcupines bc of all the colour-coded tabs I’ve put in ๐Ÿ˜‚

    1. Kal

      October 22, 2019 at 6:57 PM

      I love seeing tabbed books in photos, it is so aesthetically pleasing to me! I am slowly getting more precious about my books, and part of me is a little sad about it. Thanks so much for your comment!

  15. Clo @ Cuppa Clo

    October 10, 2019 at 7:39 AM

    As someone who doesn’t really review…I don’t really take notes at all. Although I have danced with tabbing books, but my system wasn’t organised haha. I was brought up to respect my things (writing in your book is totally respecting it if that’s what you choose to do to it!) But for me, my parents always praised me for keeping my books in a pristine condition and it eventually got to a point when I was 12 that I legit couldn’t handle buying a book that had a mark on it or something. It was a time Kal, a frustrating time for everyone who wanted to buy me books because I’d gotten so fussy and particular about them.

    Fast forward to now and I’m trying to relax a bit, I’ll buy a book which has a mark on it or the top edge of the spine is indented. (wow…all these things seem so silly) but for me it still is a huge hurdle for me to get past because I like to have things in a “pristine” condition. Suffice to say I was not a fan of annotating books for English Literature, though I have toyed with possibly buying a copy of a book I already own to erm read it and annotate it. My family thinks thats a waste of money but I don’t know, if I were going to annotate a book I’d want to use a different copy. But that’s just me, I do however appreciate seeing other people’s annotations/tabbing etc because at the end of the day it’s their book, and if they want to show that book love by annotating the hell out of it – then they should!

    1. Kal

      October 23, 2019 at 10:18 AM

      Oh man, I can’t imagine! I would be so anxious if I were you to the point of not even wanting to read my books for fear of not keeping them in pristine condition. I really love the look of a well-loved book, even though I am kind of fussy about first edition hardcovers of books I love.

      I am glad you are trying to relax a bit, though! There’s nothing wrong with wanting an annotated copy separate though, I have considered that for a few of my faves haha.

  16. Kristina

    October 10, 2019 at 6:21 PM

    That’s quite interesting!
    I still stand by not writing in them, but I gotta say your teacher gave a good point; I didn’t saw it like that. Though I mostly read in bed before sleep, so it’s already complicated enough with my little camp lamp than trying to write in the book aswell ๐Ÿ˜‚ So it’s almost easier for me to just grab my phone and write it somewhere electronically.

    I also love the idea of a little time capsule !! If you’re big onto rereading like I am, it’d be interesting to see if your thoughts changed or not upon rereading a second (or more) times.

    1. Kal

      October 23, 2019 at 10:21 AM

      I agree that writing notes is a pain in the ass when in bed, which is where I mostly read these days as well. I do have an app I’ve been using for notes and have enjoyed it, but there is just something *magical* about writing in the book for me.

      YES! Rereading is so much fun when you annotated the book previously.

  17. Ahana Rao

    October 10, 2019 at 9:05 PM

    The reading I do of fiction books is probably the only space in my brain where my memory outweighs that of an elephantโ€™s. I have a really good memory of everything that happens in the previous book in a series so I rarely have any issues going forward to the next book. It also helps that Iโ€™m a re-reader. When I go into slumps, I go back to books I thoroughly enjoyed to pick myself up. This helps in cementing what I already know so I usually always remember well.

    But since I started reviewing Iโ€™ve found myself doing a LOT of highlighting and bookmarking on my Kindle.

    On the rare occasions that I forget I usually go back to the reviews I wrote on the book or I read up on the blurb and some one elseโ€™s review to jog my memory.

    Your habit of writing in the book took me straight to Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Kal. โ™ฅ๏ธโ™ฅ๏ธโ™ฅ๏ธ
    Ooooh post-its sound like a fantastic idea. But Iโ€™m yet to receive a physical copy so I guess as of now I have no reference on how to work with those. I donโ€™t dog-ear books either. Ooooh, I wish we could do something similar to colour coding on the Kindle, that would be so useful! Loved your post Kal!

    1. Kal

      October 23, 2019 at 10:24 AM

      I am so jealous of your elephant-enhanced brain! I have to re-read before picking up a new release in a series, because I won’t remember close to anything in the previous book(s). Which takes time… and when slumping, it isn’t great.

      I do color code on my Kindle! Well, I use the app on my phone, not an actual Kindle device, so I don’t know if the colors exist. But the app has the yellow, red, blue, and orange options for highlights!

  18. Haley

    October 11, 2019 at 3:30 AM

    I think your annotations look so awesome! I use tabs, I didn’t start to until I hit grad school and then realized it was amazing, I typically just take notes on a notebook while I read, but, I wouldn’t put it past me to someday just underline the crap out of a really good quote, I really enjoyed reading about your annotations.

    1. Kal

      October 23, 2019 at 10:28 AM

      Aww, thanks so much Haley! I used to do notebooks too… but then I got lazy copying down quotes ahaha.

  19. Krisha

    October 11, 2019 at 5:39 AM

    I usually never annotate my physical books but I love highlighting and making notes in my Kindle. It definitely helps a lot while re reading and also while reviewing! Great post, Kal ๐Ÿ’›

    1. Kal

      October 23, 2019 at 10:34 AM

      Thanks for commenting Krisha, and I love that you annotate on Kindle! It really saves me so much on re-reads & while reviewing as well!

  20. DB's Guide to the Galaxy

    October 12, 2019 at 2:59 AM

    I love writing in my books! I mostly highlight my favourite quotes and maybe underline a few good ones with a pencil. Haven’t done a proper annotation like back in high school, though. I do like the idea of the post-it note tabs. Especially if you’re reading a physical book and you’ve found a good quote or a section you want to discuss.
    With Kindle Notes, blue is my quote colour and yellow my ‘note’ colour – if I want to discuss something I read in the book. It helps, mostly when I’m writing the review and I can sort by colour.

    1. Kal

      October 23, 2019 at 10:39 AM

      OMG YESSSS!!!! I love hearing about other people annotating books, even in pencil! I don’t know why but it brings me so much joy… I just love the look of well-loved books so much??? Post it note tabs are really nice, and so aesthetically pleasing when finished reading to boot!

      Blue is also my quote color, how cool is that!?!?!

      1. DB's Guide to the Galaxy

        November 6, 2019 at 11:23 PM

        I probably need to get another pencil ๐Ÿ˜ and all that goes with it. I do have post it notes but never use them!! Why?? I could even use them in my library books too? But yes, as much as I do like new books, I also love seeing second-hand books – the spine cracked, TONS of page corners bent from dog-earing (huge fan), but my favourite are seeing the annotations other people make – in second-hand books.

  21. Kristi

    October 13, 2019 at 8:16 AM

    This is another great post! I started using flags over the past year or so and they help a lot. I also highlight and note in my kindle (paperwhite, so no colors). I don’t think I’ve ever written in a book besides a textbook before though. I don’t know that I could do it, but I can see why it can be super helpful. My memory is like yours. I struggle to remember details about past reads unless I refresh a bit.

    1. Kal

      October 23, 2019 at 10:54 AM

      How weird that the paperwhite doesn’t have colors, why wouldn’t the actual device have the same functionality as the app? lol. I really am starting to fall in love with page flags since I have started using them, though!

  22. Marta

    October 18, 2019 at 3:30 AM

    I’d LOVE to annotate my books more often, but I’m scared to do it, I suppose??? I have no problems highlighting and adding comments to e-books, especially because later it’ll help me writing my review (goldfish memory, too) but when it comes to physical books, I just add stickers and flags. I’ve just annotated books for classes! I need to turn my mind around ๐Ÿ˜›

    1. Kal

      October 23, 2019 at 11:22 AM

      Aww, I can relate to the fear so much!!! I don’t know why I was that way, but it was like a light switch was flipped when I was given permission and I haven’t been able to stop. It is actually really hard for me not to annotate my physical arcs (I pass them on to other readers).

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  25. Angelica @ Paperback princess

    February 15, 2020 at 5:19 AM

    Kal another amazing post. If you can do another which gets into the nitty gritty of what you actually annotate would be so helpful.

    1. Kal

      February 20, 2020 at 3:30 PM

      Ahhh, thanks so much Angelica! And that is a good idea, I am happy to add the suggestion to my list of post ideas!

  26. Reg

    September 21, 2020 at 4:27 PM

    As soon as I saw I have the memory of a goldfish on your recent post I have never felt more seen. I am the exact same way. Sadly I am probably the most disorganized person ever. I feel I do feel I need to find a system that works for me because sometimes I want to write reviews and I barley remember stuff. I sometimes tab my books but I never really have a system which is something I need to do. I did love seeing how you go about it because you always have such great reviews!

    1. Kal

      September 22, 2020 at 12:32 PM

      GOLDFISH BRAIN TWINSIES! ๐Ÿ™Œ And yea, if I didn’t take notes I would be useless. I just wrote a review for something I read a month ago and my notes weren’t great because I was sucked into the story and I’m so mad at myself lol. Thanks for reading and I am so glad you enjoyed this peek into how my brain works!

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