Thursday, 15 July 2010

Readers, take note!

I've just read an entertaining essay in the London Review of Books on note-taking by Keith Thomas, the eminent historian. His notation/filing method seems to involve a cavern stuffed with envelopes full of slips of paper.

Mine consists of computer files with a new section for each page, with my comments in […] and bits which seem specially important in bold. I'll read everything I need, take notes in a separate document for each text, then have them all open while I try to make sense of them in a fresh master document. My books are also full of scribbles, scraps of paper and - I discovered last year - the passport I'd reported lost several years ago.

The trouble is, writing's horrible and reading's fun. And easier.

Still, at least I'm not Lord Acton, another famous historian:
whose enormous learning never resulted in the great work the world expected of him. An unforgettable description of Acton’s Shropshire study after his death in 1902 was given by Sir Charles Oman. There were shelves and shelves of books, many of them with pencilled notes in the margin. ‘There were pigeonholed desks and cabinets with literally thousands of compartments into each of which were sorted little white slips with references to some particular topic, so drawn up (so far as I could see) that no one but the compiler could easily make out the drift.’ And there were piles of unopened parcels of books, which kept arriving, even after his death. ‘For years apparently he had been endeavouring to keep up with everything that had been written, and to work their results into his vast thesis.’ ‘I never saw a sight,’ Oman writes, ‘that more impressed on me the vanity of human life and learning.’
What's your method?


Ewarwoowar said...

Use wikipedia.

Benjamin. said...

Primarily I take notes using anything in sight to write upon from the drafts function on mobile phones to sticky notepads. But nothing to the degree of Lord Acton as, unlike yourself, I prefer to write vivid and imaginative things then return to studies which I find waste alot of time and effort.

The Plashing Vole said...

If only you were joking, Ewar!