Recently I tried an experiment. My note taking method already involves trying to record every single claim a book makes- I added to that “record every thought I have about the claim.” This included information that bore on the claim (e.g. if the claim was “A wave of German Catholics emigrated to American colonies from 1720-1741”, my thoughts would include “wait, wasn’t Germany Protestant?” and “Germany didn’t have any colonies of its own”) , questions it raised (e.g., “what was the state of German Protestant immigration to American colonies?”, “what constitutes a wave of immigration?”, “how did they fund the travel?”) and potential implications (“They would learn to need English”). Obviously this would be incredibly onerous to do all the time; my goal was to see what changes occurred when I did it, and perhaps train the muscle so it would be easier to do so in the future.
For a test subject I chose Children in Colonial America, of which I had skipped the last three chapters because they didn’t bear on my overall question that much. However they were a much better size and format than my the next two books in my queue, and I’d be able to get to the meat faster because I’d already read the previous chapters.
You can see my notes for the book as a whole here, the experiment starts with Chapter 10
Day 1, Round 1 (Chapter 10):
- Not a perfect experiment; I’d taken Ritalin for the first time in a while before deciding to run the experiment and it obviously altered the experience a lot.
- I got through a pre-read (basically a non-exhaustive reading of the first and last few paragraphs) and two pages in 1.5 hours.
- After 1.5 hours I was done. Could not continue with the experiment for love or money. I went on to work on a blog post about cat-mitigation strategies for an hour, so it’s not that the Ritalin quit.
- Even explicitly giving myself prompts to write down *everything* I thought related to a claim, I would sometimes notice new thoughts well after I’d left a particular claim.
Day 1, Round 2:
- Tried for a bit but couldn’t muster the energy to go really into detail like I did above.
Day 2, Round 1 (Chapter 10):
- More intense than D1R2 but less than D1R1, finished early when I finished a chapter.
Day 3 and 4, Round 1 (Chapter 11):
- Started (day 3) and finished (day 4) Chapter 11 of Children in Colonial America. Either something has changed in my capacity to this work, or the work showed me something was wrong with the chapter, even though I can’t put my finger on it.
Day 5 (Chapter 12):
- Became irritated in the pre-reading phase, spent 2 hours writing a blog post about why the final paragraph signaled low quality.
Day 6, Round 1 (Chapter 1):
- Coincidentally experimented with caffeine + theanine + MCT oil in the morning.
- Published complaints about Chapter 12.
- I wanted to extend the experiment- both the deep note-taking, and predicting work quality in the pre-reading stage. I have some books out from the library, but they’re full books, not anthologies, and I feel like stand-alone chapters give me faster feedback.
- Discovered that Children in Colonial America is book 3 in a series on children in America, and there are three other books with the same editor on different time periods. This is great because it lets me minimize the changing variables as I continue the experiment.
- Read Chapter 1 and deep note take Children and Youth in a New Nation (notes). I’m not able able to go quite as deep as in attempt 1, but then, Ritalin. Chapter 1 of CaYiaNN is one of those middling history works that doesn’t have an overarching thesis but knows it is structurally expected to have one, so makes a thesis out of its uncertainty: “Some people had a variety of experiences with X for a variety of reasons.” Become inspired to write Fake Thesis Vs Absent Thesis.
Both my note-taking process and the notes I took on it gradually declined as I attempted to read Chapter 2 of Children and Youth in a New Nation, culminating in going days where I couldn’t even push myself into reading. So… can’t say I recommend this. I’m working out other ways to approach the goal of contextualizing information as I read.