Writing in Books

I am currently reading Turn the Page: Read Right to Lead Right. This is a quick read, and contains some excellent suggestions on getting more out of your reading experience.

One of the thing leadership education promotes is writing in your books. This helps to move you from passive reading to active reading, because by taking notes, commenting in the margins, even making simple notes like “Wow!” or “!” you are interacting with the book. There are wonderful suggestions for what you could be writing in the books you read:

  • significant passages underlined or highlighted
  • references to other relevant books
  • arguments against the author’s point
  • paraphrases
  • an outline of the book (in the back of the book)
  • new vocabulary

I admit struggling with the idea of writing in my books. Throughout college and graduate school, I would highlight but was very specific in the color and type of highlighters that I would use, and then I was only marking up textbooks. Taking this particular suggestion to heart is pushing me out of my comfort zone a little but I do see the value in marking up books as you read them. For valued books in your personal library that will be revisited time and again, you will be able to see the impact the author had on you during previous reads.

For some self encouragement in enacting this, I set up a pencil box with RSVP pens in a multitude of colors, sharpened pencils, a full set of highlighters, and various sizes of post-it notes. Now when I sit down for my personal reading time, I pull out my books and my pencil box, prepared to actively read and annotate.

For books that aren’t mine (borrowed from friends or library) I take notes on post-its. I can then either transcribe my notes into Evernote or snap pictures of the post-it notes directly into Evernote.

For reading ebooks, annotations can be made in a separate journal (I have composition notebooks for reading journals) but the Kindle app does allow for notes and highlights to be added to the book. This is really simple. In the text, you simply tap and hold down your finger on the part of the text you wish to highlight or annotate. A small menu box appears with various highlighter colors to select. You can drag the corner of the highlighter box on the text to include however much text you wish to highlight. You also have the option to copy the text which can be pasted elsewhere. You can also directly record notes, which then can be accessed either by directly tapping on the icon that remains in the text or by pulling up “My Notebook” at the top of the screen (this page includes notes and bookmarks). I also discovered something new today – you can log into your Amazon kindle site. From here you can see all of your notes and highlights in your Kindle books. It is easy enough to use Evernote Web Clipper to clip a snapshot of the notes and highlights page. Disclaimer: As far as I can tell, PDFs you are reading in your Kindle app will not show up on the Kindle amazon site, so any notes you record in those documents will not show up.

I can already notice a difference in the depth of my reading now that I am making an effort to annotate what I am reading. This is definitely one technique I recommend to enhance your reading!

Building a Book Log using Goodreads

We do a lot of reading in our homeschool – for our Five in a Row curriculum, to go along with our Science and Story of the World curricula, and just for fun. While we pick out plenty of fun reads for Read Aloud, I do try to pick out some Early Reader books for Kyri to strengthen her reading skills.

When I first started homeschooling late last summer, I had printed out Book Log pages for our portfolio. About three-quarters into the first page (and only a couple of weeks in) I realized that this system was not going to work for us. We read too many books.

I want to be able to track our books, but I for sure don’t have the time or patience to log books by hand. I realized that early on. Around the time we started homeschooling, I stumbled on Goodreads after it was mentioned on a forum I frequent.

I started my profile, and started building my bookshelves. I have several shelves for my personal reading, but I did start a Children’s Bookshelf. This is where I started to list books we were reading for our homeschool studies as well as for leisure. I realized that rather than struggle to keep up with a paper log, I could just use Goodreads to track what was being read for our homeschool portfolio.

Books can be shelved on multiple bookshelves so I recently went through and made even more specific shelves.Here is a list of the bookshelves we currently have for our Book Log:

Children’s – this is our general catch-all bookshelf. All of our children’s books are entered here. Then, I add to the more specific shelves for better organization and easy reference.

Children’s – Science

Children’s – Nature

Children’s – Math

Children’s – Literature

Children’s – World Cultures

Children’s – History

Children’s – Poetry

Children – Vegan

Children – Christian

Children – Independent Reading

Children’s – To Read**

** This “To Read” shelf is for books I may have come across on homeschool forums or conversations with other parents, or from Listopia. These books are ones I am interested in reading at some later date. These books don’t get added to the other Children’s Bookshelves until we’ve actually read them.

Each book entry has a Date Entered (automatically inputed when you enter a book), and you can also enter Date Read if you like. I tend to sit down and add a list of books at once, rather than as we go, so I don’t really use the Date Read option. I think as I assign (or expect) more Independent Reading for Kyri I will track her progress using the Date Read option.

Adding books you and your children read to a single bookshelf or multiple category bookshelves is the simplest way to use Goodreads as a Book Log for your homeschool.

There are other options that may be helpful to you as well.

I am a “print and file” kind of gal, and so at the end of the school year, I want a paper copy of our book log to put into our Portfolio binder. The easiest way I have found to do this is to export your booklist to a .csv file and open in Excel. This exports your entire book collection into .csv format to be opened and edited in Excel. So far I have not found a way to export a single bookshelf, so I have to manually go to the Excel file and Delete the rows of non- Children’s book. There is also a lot of information exported (ISBN for example) that I don’t really need to include so I get rid of those columns as well. I tidy it up a bit and then its ready to print. Prepping the book log for printing is the only time-consuming step, so if you don’t care about having a printed copy, then this is totally unnecessary.

One thing that I really like with Goodreads is the mobile app for smartphones, found in your phone’s App Store. I can actually scan the barcode from books we have read (or that I want to add to our To Read shelf) and it pulls up all the information for that book and lets me shelve it where I want. The only complaint I have about the book scanning, and this is more a complaint toward my library, is  that a lot of the books from the library have the barcode covered. I totally get that they need to cover it since they use a different barcode to track it in their systems, but still it is tedious. I either have to awkwardly pull back the dustjacket to make the barcode able to scan, or (imagine the horror) have to actually manually type the name into Goodreads to look the book up. Beyond the small inconvenience I experience with some library books, however, this mobile app has been so helpful!

Another thing I have found to be very helpful is Listopia. The idea is simple. If you are interested in Children’s books about Science and Nature, you can check out Listopia on Goodreads. Chances are, there is already a list (or five) about the topic for which you are looking for book selections. You can read through the lists and add books to your To Read shelf. If you can’t find a list, start your own. You add a bunch of books, and then it is out there for other people to see. They can add their book selections to this list. It grows and grows and acts as a great book list for others. You can direct to Listopia from the main navigation bar, under the Explore drop-down menu. When you are at the main Listopia page, you can Browse By Tag (there are over 300 listed for “Children”) or you can search for Lists. For example, I can search for lists using “Children Science” and several lists that include Science and Science Fiction for Children come up. I can then explore these lists to find book suggestions.

One more feature that I really like – you can add a Goodreads widget to your website. Here at The Vegan Bee I have my Goodreads widget showing what is on my “Read” bookshelf. But over at Kyriandra’s Big Day, I only show the Childrens bookshelf. If you blog about your homeschooling, this might be something you would be interested in.

A couple of features of Goodreads that may be helpful, for your Book Log or for your own book shelves, are Amazon Bookmarklet and the Reviews. The Amazon Bookmarklet is available from the Widgets page, and is simply added to your Favorites toolbar. When you come across a book on Amazon, you can click on Add to Goodreads in your Favorites toolbar and a small window opens up from Goodreads, letting you add to a bookshelf (read, currently reading, or to read). Another great resource are the reviews for books. Usually if you look for a book on Goodreads, reader reviews are included in the search results. You can easily add reviews for the books on your bookshelves. These reviews can then be published to your blog. There is also an option for Private Notes, if you want to add notes about a particular book relevant to you but that does not need to be viewed by others.

I know there are other booklist websites available, but I have really enjoyed using Goodreads, and have found it so easy to use. It is very helpful in keeping track of our books for our homeschooling. If you are looking for an easy way to maintain a Book Log for your homeschool, this is definitely worth checking out.

Access all of your bookshelves from My Books on the top navigation bar. All individual bookshelves are then listed on the left. Date Added is automatic based on when you added to bookshelf, but you can edit the Date Read if you choose to keep up with this.
The Toolbar, shown below your bookshelves on your My Books page, contain options like Import/Export, for importing book lists from other sites, and exporting your bookshelves to .csv format to read in Excel. You can also check out Widgets if you are intersted in installing any Goodread widgets on your own website. The Amazon Bookmarklet can be accessed from the Widget page.
There are several widgets available to install on your website. Note – not all are compatible with WordPress, but these are clearly marked. You edit the options and then copy the code for the widget to your own website. So easy!
As you can see, there is a lot of information in the .csv export file. All your books will be shown, so remove the ones you don’t want to include in your Book Log (delete rows). Remove all the extra information for each book (delete columns), adjust your print areas, and with a little tweaking to get it sized how you like, you are ready to print.