In a previous post I mentioned that I like to take marginal notes when I want to engage deeply with a text. This is quite time consuming because I stop to evaluate each paragraph and think about how to summarize it. This kind of reading is only appropriate for a relatively small portion of the books that I read. I learned from A.G. Sertillanges’s book, The Intellectual Life, that it is a mistake to read books with a higher level of attention than they deserve. His prescription is quite systematic, distinguishing four distinct categories of reading.1 I would simply suggest that we should adjust the tools and degree of annotation to the text at hand and our research purposes for it. Seneca makes much the same point:

Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.2

After spending quite a bit of time working out a digital annotation system, I face the danger of wanting to apply it to everything I read. This transforms into what Sertillanges diagnoses as an inordinate lust for collecting information:

Some people have so many and such full notebooks that they are prevented by a sort of anticipatory discouragement from ever opening them. Their imaginary treasures have cost much time and trouble, and they yield no return.3

More to come on note-taking in general.

  1. A. G. Sertillanges, The Intellectual Life, trans. Mary Ryan (The Catholic University of America Press, 1987), 152.↩︎

  2. Empty? Quote taken from the excellent Taking Note blog.↩︎

  3. Sertillanges, The Intellectual Life, 188.↩︎