Annotation: Necessary Evil or just Plain Evil?

By Taylor Hourigan

This year, every Sophomore in English II Honors walked into their English class with a copy of The Old Man and the Sea, The Great Gatsby, Huck Finn or Catcher in the Rye. The book was nice and new, all crisp white pages with bold black letters imprinting the story onto its pages. We all had the knowledge, though, that soon these clean pages would be marked with every different color of highlighter known to man, and filled with questions and summaries and sometimes even mindless doodles.

Every English class, no matter what grade, requires the same thing. For students to understand the book fully, our teachers say, we must highlight key phrases, write down question and summarize what has happened in each chapter. But let’s be honest, most of us do it because we have to, and end up not really putting any thought into what we write down.

“Did Daisy kill Myrtle? What does yellow symbolize? Does Nick really love Jordan?” Are some of the gems written down in my copy of The Great Gatsby. My routine was to read the chapter and highlight certain sentences that seemed important, and then go back and write questions that seemed pertinent to the passage I had just read. That’s been the same way I’ve done every book since I was assigned Catcher in the Rye and The House on Mango Street during the summer. I’ll put it out now, before people get mad at me. The Catcher in the Rye is probably my least favorite book I’ve ever read for any class, and I had to read a book called The Travels of a T-shirt in the World’s Economy for my Freshman Human Geography class. It could possibly be because I was mindlessly highlighting and writing down stupid questions while I sat on the beach and felt the allure of the sea foam green water in front of me.

Now, don’t get me wrong; English has always been my strongest subject; but does interacting really help us understand the book more? Did you know the color yellow symbolizes wealth in The Great Gatsby? Chances are, you didn’t, and if you did, it wasn’t because your annotating helped you understand that. It seems like busy work to me, something teachers made up to make it harder on us. In all actuality, annotation is like taking Cornell notes. It’s a strategy some educator came up with to help students understand what was being taught better. But does it really help us understand the literature when nobody takes it seriously?

It seems like our teachers are trying to make reading less enjoyable for us. Who can really just sit and enjoy the book and make observations by themselves when they’re being forced to think up mindless questions for a grade? I read almost everyday when I was in Elementary school. I read any book; I didn’t care what genre or author. Lately, my interest in reading has been petering off , and I can tell you that annotating my English books certainly hasn’t been helping rekindle my interest in reading.

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