Book FAQ

about my book notes

I have a collection of my notes from the many books I’ve read since 2010. I include some that I’ve read before then, that I read often, like Managing Oneself, or Meditations.

This page is just to answer some questions about this list.

My notes are not a summary of the book!

When I’m reading and come across a surprising or inspiring idea, I save it. That’s all my notes are. I’m not summarizing the book. I’m just saving an outline, or highlighting ideas for myself, for later reflection. If I’m reading a book about a subject I already know well, I’ll have very few notes, because not much surprised me.

I kept these notes private for years but decided it couldn’t hurt to put them on my site.

Notes don’t replace the book

It makes me sad when people email to say thanks for my notes because it saved them time from reading the book.

My notes are just some tiny tidbits with no context. It’s like reading a punchline without the joke. If you hear an elaborate joke, then the punchline — (“The little piece of rope said, ‘No. I’m a frayed knot!’”) — is all you need to remember the full joke. But if you just hear the punchline, without the joke, it makes no sense. I just save the punchlines to remind myself what I’ve read.

Again: these notes are really just for me but I’m sharing them on my site. If you look through a book’s notes and like the ideas, please go read the whole book. It gives so much more context and meaning.

“How do you use these notes?”

This will always be changing. For the past few years, when I have a few minutes, I’ll just pick some book from the past that might apply to a situation I’m working on now, and re-read all the notes on it. I’ve also used them to research a certain subject, like discipline for example, I’ll go search all notes for any mention of discipline, and re-read the thoughts on that subject.

Eventually, instead of the notes being saved in a single text file per-book, I’m going to feed each individual idea into a database, tagged, so I can use some interesting lateral thinking tools. I set up the software to do this, but it’s going to be very time consuming, because most ideas will need editing to become stand-alone ideas, not needing the context of the notes before and after them. So for 250 books, about 100 ideas per book, that’s 25,000 ideas I need to edit. But that’s a project for retirement at this point.

“Why don’t I see __(some book)___?”

I do read fiction, but I don’t take notes on it. For fiction, I prefer audiobook. I also read lots of books before 2010, but didn’t start taking notes until I realized I was forgetting what I had read. And ultimately, I only read things that apply to my life or current interests right now.

“Which one should I read?”

Whichever one seems to apply to your current situation. I find books most useful when they solve a problem I’m having now.

“Exactly how do you take these notes?”

When reading a paper book, I just underline or circle the bits I find surprising or useful. Then when I’m done reading the book, I type those bits into a text file.

For books I read on Kindle, I just highlight the bits I find surprising or useful. Then when I’m done reading the book, I connect the Kindle by USB, copy the «/documents/My Clippings.txt» file, and edit from there.

Either way, I tend to edit a lot and re-shape the sentences into something that works for me.

“Hey, you might like this other book summary site!”

No. I don’t want to read summaries of books. I like reading the whole book.