The Riveting Details of How I Manage Book Quotes

I lie. This isn’t a riveting post at all, but I have had a few questions about how I manage, organize and otherwise handle the material I pull out of books. So I decided to give this topic a separate blog post since it’s a subject near and dear to my heart.

Over a decade ago I started collecting quotes from books. My system was, admittedly, very haphazard. For the most part I would handwrite these quotes in notebooks. This was not a good system for me. I hated the clutter of having different notebooks and it was hard to categorize and/or locate specific information.

Then, for a few years, I would type up a new Word document for every book I read (from which I took notes). This was also cumbersome.

Eventually, I moved everything over to a single master document and slowly digitized all those handwritten notes. It was a big job (and I actually still have a small binder full of quotes – all relating to parenting – that I want to type up at some point).

Last October, after years of wanting to have something I could hold in my hands, I printed off a small book. Four copies – one for me and a handful of friends. That’s it!

The subtitle is…a bit much, though it’s also true! These quotes and reading in general have had dramatic impacts on how I view the world.

I now have a fresh working document that contains all the quotes I’ve gathered since printing off this first compilation.

what sort of information do you record?

Almost exclusively my quotes come from non-fiction, but I do occasionally write down bits of favourite dialogue (including quotes from children’s picture books because they can be surprisingly insightful).

I give a broad first pass because I know that when it is time to make another “book,” I will edit things ruthlessly.

how do you track what you want to RECORD?

CURRENT | I mostly do this by dog-earing or flagging the sections within the book. When I finish reading, I go back through and see if the quote still strikes a chord. If it does, I type it up.

Of the sections I highlight on my first read-through, I’d estimate I keep about 90% of them when I go back through to type up my notes. (Sometimes quotes that seemed deeply insightful on the first reading, were actually more eloquently summarized later in the book.)

2 YEARS AGO | I used to take pictures of quotes – as I went – with my phone and then I would upload the pictures to my computer and then split screens and type them up. This was cumbersome and it also had the unintended consequence of making me more susceptible to spending time on my phone; when I went to take a picture of a quote…it was easy to get distracted by e-mail or WhatsApp notifications in the process. But I can see this still being a great system for other readers.

5 YEARS AGO | I would handwrite the quotes as I came across them in the book. This was cumbersome and interfered with the flow of reading.

How do you organize your notes document

For now, I just list the book title and author and then below that any quotes from their book. If I have picked up on a quote they attribute to another person (e.g. a lot of people quote C. S. Lewis in their books), then I make sure to add the actual person being quoted at the end of that direct quote.

My “book” contained the following categories:

  • Words of Wisdom
  • Spiritual Growth
  • Food + Body
  • Marriage + Relationships
  • Motherhood + Parenting
  • Productivity + Time Management
  • Grief + Pain
  • Work + Creativity
  • Home + Minimalism
  • Mental Health
  • Miscellaneous
  • Insights from Literary Characters
  • Poetry

Within those sections, if I had a lot of quotes from a single book, I left the book/author heading.

In this case, I actually combined quotes from two books by Nora McInery (Purmort)

If I end up having only a single quote or two from a book, then I will add in the author’s name at the end of the quote but not include the book information.

I also will sometimes separate quotes from a book into different categories. Say, for example, I read a book about parenting, but there was something insightful about grief; if I didn’t keep many quotes from that particular book, I might have one quote recorded under the “Grief” category, while a handful might stay in “Parenting”.

This might sound unnecessarily…complicated. But, in reality, I’ve spent a lot of time (happily) optimizing my process until I settled on something that works

Your turn. Do you like to keep quotes, phrases, or memorable bits of character dialogue from books you read? If so, how do you record/track these quotes?

Header photo by Florian Klauer on Unsplash

26 thoughts on “The Riveting Details of How I Manage Book Quotes”

  1. Well done. You are organized. I keep quotes, phrases, or memorable bits of conversations with friends. I do this by writing them on a piece of paper and then tossing them into a drawer in my desk. This isn’t a sophisticated system, but works for me.

    In undergrad I majored in English Lit & we were required to keep a Quote Book that was reviewed by a prof. I don’t know what became of my book, but it was nowhere as put together as yours. Still I got a passing grade on it.

    1. Your system sounds great (really, if a system works for the user, that should be the only criteria in my book!).
      What an interesting idea about keeping memorable bits of conversations. I feel tinges of guilt that I don’t do this with my kids. We have a few VERY memorable phrases or tones they’ve used to say things over the years that have become part of our family “inside” jokes…but I had a friend once who had a calendar hanging on the wall SPECIFICALLY to jot down memorable things her daughter said. It was so sweet. She printed off their favourites each year in a little book and shared it with grandparents. It clearly wasn’t a priority for me because it never got done…but it did seem like such a great idea.

  2. Re: your Current system, what about library books? Do you use those removable stick on flags?? I generally don’t really like highlighting or marking inside my books…well, a majority are library books, so that would be frowned upon. HA! But even my own books, unless it’s a really old/ well loved book, I feel uncomfortable marking it up! Not sure why. I was a chronic over-marker/ over-highlighter in college.

    I have a “2022 Books” notebook that I will jot things down in, which works well if I am sitting and reading at my desk/ “studying” a book. But….then I struggle because sometimes I want to just sit in our glider in the sunroom, or maybe I’m reading in the bleachers at a swim meet, and it’s not conducive to getting out a notebook. So then I end up just sort of skipping over big chunks of the book. I hadn’t thought of those removable flags, though! Maybe that would work and I could go back later.

    Another issue I have with the notebook system: I’m often reading more than one book at once- a fiction + a non-fiction. I tend to take more notes from non-fiction, but there can be great quotes or passages from fiction, too! So let’s say I have several pages of notes from non-fiction Book A. Then the next day I’m reading fiction Book B…and want to take a note. Well, I don’t really love mixing up my quotes from Book B with Book A! But I don’t want 2 separate notebooks, either….and it’s hard to say, jump ahead a few pages/ try to guess how many more pages, if any, I’ll want for the rest of Book A… does that make sense?? This sounds sort of crazy, but it’s a legitimate problem for me. 🤣 I suppose all of this could be avoided if I adopted your method of TYPING up the notes, because then I could put them wherever I wanted. So you just have one big master file- and then if reading multiple books, you could just jump to the section under that title to add the notes?

    1. Oh! To clarify about “skipping over big chunks of the book”- I mean I just don’t end up taking NOTES on those sections/ I just read only, if note taking isn’t convenient at that time. I don’t mean I skip over reading any sections! I read every word. 😉

    2. I have stopped marking most books I own; I used to do this a lot, but now that I type up my favourite quotes, I stopped underlining/highlighting or even leaving in removable markers.
      I don’t feel uncomfortable marking up a book – I actually appreciate interacting with the book that way. Underlining and highlighting textbooks gave me such a thrill in high school/university. But I can 100% see why some people would see it as a sign of respect to keep books pristine (I grew up around several readers who used heavy markup). I mostly don’t mark books up now because every book I own I intend to re-read, and it’s just not as fun to re-read a book if things are underlined because it influences what I might gravitate to on a second reading? And I wouldn’t want to loan a book to a friend that’s marked up for the same reason – if you want to read the book with fresh eyes again, it’s nice to have a clean slate.
      Removable flags are GREAT!
      Regarding having quotes from multiple books: I now ONLY type up my quotes when I finish a book. So if I’m reading Book A and Book B, if I finish Book A first, I will type up all the quotes that I have flagged from that book at the same time. Once I finish Book B, I will type up those notes. So things are always grouped by book. Some books might only have one quote, in which case I’ll attribute the quote to the author, but won’t track the book title.
      If I wanted to make life easier for future-me, I could categorize as I go, but I do find certain books have great quotes that really span so many themes.

  3. I love your quote book!!! I especially love how Calvin and Hobbes made it in there- my son and I read every single Calvin and Hobbes book when he was little and we still quote them.
    I don’t have a complicated system- I just jot things down in notebooks. Reading your post is inspiring me to take out some notebooks from long ago- I but there are some great quotes in there that I’ve forgotten all about.

    1. I have such fond memories of Calvin and Hobbes. My brother and I were obsessed with reading those comics; my Mom loathed (but did tolerate!) them because she found Calvin so disrespectful to his parents. I really should get some Calvin and Hobbes books out of the library again. It would be such comfort reading. (But maybe won’t let the kids read them in case they get any ideas – haha?!)
      I had the same problem with notebooks – I would write down quotes and then never look at them again! But I think part of the problem is I had too many quotes. While the book I printed off has something like 140 pages, the quotes are really pared down (I probably edited out 25% of the quotes from my notebooks) so I feel like I have a pretty good handle on what quotes I have and since they’re categorized it makes it even easier to reference.
      But this is because I love quotes so much; I think my approach could be really overboard for someone for whom it’s not a passion project on the side!

  4. What a fun keepsake! How often do you refer back to your book of quotes?
    I keep a piece of paper in every book that I read (or I just highlight on my Kindle) and I jot down notes/quotes as I read through it, usually just page numbers and the first few words of the quote or whatever my comment is. Then when I write it up on my blog, all the quotes and thoughts go there. It’s nice for me to have it all in one place, but it’s not as fancy as printing it all out in an organized way!

    1. Hmmm. I only printed it off last October, but I refer to it several times a month. I really, really, really love quotes, so I sometimes just pick it up and read a page as a sort of calming practice.
      I have done something similar with books – not usually quotes, but a “Look-It-Up-Later” list where I’ll want to fact-check or look up something on the internet (a word I don’t know, etc.,). That way I don’t rush for my phone everytime I encounter something I want to delve into.
      I can’t believe how thorough you are in your book reviews. They are truly incredible, and I love how you take the time to include so many quotes. They are top-notch summaries (and I also love how you record the things you looked up; it’s so easy to just slide on over things we don’t understand or lack context for when we’re reading and you really take it to a whole other level of seeing each question through. Gold stars, NGS).

  5. Thank you for sharing your process, including how it evolved over time! I have written quotes before but in random notebooks and calendars. I find that I don’t ever see them again which defeats the purpose of writing them down! I have quotes in the notes app on my Mac but I track different things in my notes and it’s getting unwieldy and not great for seeing things I really want to reference.

    I like the idea of categories. That way I don’t have to remember the quote itself but can browse by the category.

    I don’t think it’s complex. I appreciate how you have really made a system that then makes it possible to go back to the quotes!

    1. Yes, recording a quote is only half the battle, because then we have to come up with ways to make sure we have the opportunity to see them again.
      Notebooks weren’t a great fit for me…
      I also want to stay off my phone while reading, so after years of taking pictures of quotes AS I read the book, I really like marking the pages and then going back through once I’ve finished the whole book. Admittedly, this does take more time…but I would say I average less than 10 minutes of going back through books/typing up quotes as I’m pretty picky about what I’ll take the time to write down).
      I have LOVED having categories and where it’s in a digital document it’s easy to move things around – where it wouldn’t be within a hardcopy notebook.
      I’m happy with where my system has ended up, though I won’t be surprised if I pivot again at some point.

  6. I love quotes but don’t keep track of them for the most part. I used to print off a quote that really resonated with me or was inspiring and then I’d tape it to my monitor at work but I haven’t done that for quite some time. I am using the new MMD reading journal for 2022 reading and there is a prompt for a favorite quote, so I have been trying to pay attention more closely so I can pick out quotes from books to put in the journal. I almost exclusively read on my kindle, and you can highlight quotes in there and then share them on goodreads so I have done that for most books I’ve read, but even if I don’t share them, the quote is stored in goodreads. But that’s the extent of how I keep track of quotes! I love that you made a book of your favorite quotes – such a great idea!

    1. Sounds like you’ve got a good system that works for you! I love how people share quotes on Goodreads.
      I don’t read any books on e-readers, but being able to highlight things is very appealing. Is there a way to collate just the highlighted portions of text at the end of reading and export to something like Word (I’m guessing so since you can share them on Goodreads!)? If so, that would make it SO much easier to compile a digital collection of quotes.
      The book – even as I was doing it – felt like maybe I was going a bit overboard, but I’ve always wanted to have a hardcopy of all my quotes organized in one place. If I’d done a better job of categorizing quotes as I went along, this would have taken no time. The investment of time really came from restructuring my document and culling extra quotes. In the end, it was actually a fun project. Incidentally, Oliver Burkeman’s book Four Thousand Weeks is what gave me the final push; in the book he talks about focusing on a single project until it’s completed. I’d been slowly working on this project in little pockets of time in tandem with other things; when I read that book I immediately (same day) devoted all my “personal project” time to finishing this off. So kudo’s to that book for the final inspiration I needed 🙂

  7. oh how lovely to have a book of special quotes! I love how tangible and accessible that is.
    What company do you use to print your book?
    I also do the “piece of paper as bookmark” method when I read hard copy books where I write quotes on the piece of paper. Then when I’m done my book, I tuck the pieces of paper into my book journal.
    I currently, though, read most of my books by borrowing from the library via the Libby app and the app has a highlight feature, which I love. I’ll highlight things and then go back and pull favorite quotes to write in my book journal. The highlighting is also handy because when I read something I want to share with someone, I just highlight it and take a screenshot to easily send the quote. And another of my favorite things about Libby is, even after you return the book, you can still pull up the stuff you’ve highlighted by using your “history”.

    1. I used Blurb, which is the same company I use to print off my annual photobooks. I’ve been happy with the quality, customer service, and pricing…so I didn’t even explore other options. But I bet there are lots of great companies out there 🙂

  8. I love your quote book! What a wonderful keepsake.

    I wrote about annotating what I read a few weeks ago on my blog, and I haven’t really done much since then. Usually, I’ll take pictures of quotes that resonate so that I can use them in a blog post. I’ve also started keeping a Word doc and typing up the quotes I took pictures of, but I’m bad about remembering to do that. But it is very satisfying to type up the quote and delete the picture from my phone, ha.

    1. I really started to mind having all the photos of quotes on my phone! It felt like a big to-do (I moved them from my phone the computer, but it still felt like an onerous task – especially since I could let them accumulate). Doing one book at a time, typically as soon as I finish it, has really streamlined the process. Overall, I also feel like I’m collecting fewer quotes these days? Not sure why? Maybe getting “pickier?”

  9. Wow you have printed off a quote book! That is dedication. I have a few quotes that I love in the front of my paper diary, I add a few each year and they get transferred from one diary to the next, each year. Very few have authors assigned to them as I don’t usually get them from books, I guess I could look that up but I don’t really feel a need or desire too. I love that you read through your quote book, how wonderful.

    1. What a great idea to transfer favourite quotes over each year. I would have such a hard time narrowing down my favourites, so I cheated and just kept all of them in one place!
      I do really enjoy reading through my quote book; though I realize it’s time to start organizing my latest quotes. My working document is kind of a mess and I really should clean it up now before it gets too big. I know how I want to organize it, but have gotten lazy over the last few months. Maybe a quasi-fun spring project? A form of digital spring cleaning.

  10. Oh….where to begin?
    First, I am envious of your organization and now I am determined to figure out A System to fix my own issues. Because I have quotes marked/saved everywhere. Dogeared in books…highlighted in Apple books…handwritten in my commonplace book (the basis for my blog name!), etc. etc. I love quotes. Love. Them.
    So… now I am working on figuring out a system, and I think I might wind up using Evernote for this. And creating a notebook for these, specifically. At least that would allow me to get all of the quotes-related content into the same place, which I need before I can organize it!

    But back to your quotes management approach – I really love how you *keep up* with it. This is a HABIT. My “habit” is to mark/ save the quote willy nilly, without much thought, and… yeah, then you end up with the quotes everywhere situation. So your dedication and making this a habit seems to be a key factor?

    And I love that you created a book! What a wonderful keepsake and reference for you, forever! <3

  11. Oh, I love this so much, Elisabeth. What a fabulous idea to organize it all and have it printed 😉 Swoon!

    I am in the adding things to the “note app” phase and I wish it was more organized (if I think about writing down quotes in the first place). One of these days.

    1. I think because I do write down so many things (maybe because I have a tendency to skim and this is one of my ways for compensating for that?) I just felt like I had to commit to system and I’ve really enjoyed the feeling of having all the old quotes printed off. Just having a physical book to pick up and flip through has been lovely.
      But, as I’ve admitted in some subsequent posts, since printing off my accumulated quotes the last 6 months my working document is kind of a mess. An hour would likely be all it needs…but I should do that now before it becomes a much bigger job…but never carve out the time. Oh well!

  12. How did I miss reading this post when it was first published?
    Very insightful. I love that you made a book of all the quotes you are collecting. I might have to steal this idea. It is just a lovely thing.

    Wen I read on my kindle I just highlight the words and by the end I sent myself the document as email and then copy paste in my master list. When I am having a paper book it is a bit more complicated because I sometimes forget what I wanted to note down. If my phone. is not at my hand I usually don’t do it. Unfortunately. I dont do gear my books. And I don’t write in them either.

    1. See, this is one reason why I probably would love a Kindle. It IS a nuisance to have to flag all the quotes. I love paper books so much, but I have requested a Kindle for Christmas. We’ll see how it impacts my reading habits?!

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