Tabbing Books | Why, What, How?

Tabbing Books | Why, What, How? 


I don't dog-ear pages, or write in books or crack spines (not yet anyway), but I do tab my books. I tab them a lot. My bookstagram friends are well aware of this and I get a constant stream of messages and comments asking me about the how's and why's so if you're one of those people, I hope this answers your questions and inspires you to try tabbing your books!

| Why |

Highlighting on the kindle + color-coding  --> reading physical books + tabs = where I am now (crazy book tabbing lady). 

Before I started tabbing my books (and kept them in near perfect condition), I used to stop reading whenever I got to a quote I liked so I could write it down in a notebook. This actually worked for a bit but then I started writing book reviews for fun and suddenly I started noticing more quotes and had to stop reading more frequently. This all got annoying pretty quickly so I began using tabs to mark quotes instead. After I wrote the book review I would go back and take out all those tabs and then my book would look perfect and unread again. 

Two things happened that resulted in me a) leaving the tabs in and b) feeling proud of all the tabs I used. First, while studying abroad in South Korea, I noticed one of my friends was using a set of really skinny sticky notes for our Korean vocabulary exams. When I asked her where she got them, she showed me the next time we went to Daiso. If you're not familiar with Daiso, it's a Japanese dollar store (converted to $1.50 in the U.S.) with adorable and high-quality products. After this, I started using these sticky notes for everything

Besides being inexpensive and definitely worth the money (600 in one pack), they're perfect for reading books because their small size and transparency make it easy to read the text underneath and it doesn't clutter up the page. Plus, the adhesive is pretty mild and comes off easily without damaging the page.  

The second thing that happened: I stopped caring about how my books looked. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't throwing them across the room or walking all over them (it still physically pains me when I drop a book), but I did stop letting aesthetics dominate my reading experience. I found that removing sticky tabs after writing reviews kept annoying future-me when I wanted to go back to a certain scene and realized, welp I can't or I can but it'll take forever. Now, I leave my sticky notes in and share pictures of books I've tabbed because it's really fun and I love how easily I can find things. (Also, it's great since I'm not really a fan of rereads but I will go back and read my favorite scenes, especially the cheesy romantic ones). 

A lot of people tell me they don't tab books because it seems like too much work and would pull them out of the story. I have the opposite problem, if I can't tab something while reading, that pulls me out of the story and I have to go looking for my sticky notes again. 

cherry reading

Reading + tabbing

I can lose my bookmark while reading because I always have my sticky notes on hand. 

| What |

The next question I get most frequently is, what are you tabbing? What do those different colors mean? Teach me this secret language! 

Okay, maybe not that last part but pretty close. 

Here's a non-exhaustive list of the things I like to tab (which varies by book btw, more on that later)

  • quotes
  • world-building (mainly for fantasy novels)
    • history, myths, legends
    • descriptions (people, places, etc.)
  • character-related
    • physical descriptions, likes/dislikes, etc.
    • relatable moments
    • defining moments
  • plot-related
    • clues, twists, things that might come up later
    • weird scenes 
  • "things to look up later"
    • definitions
    • references (to shows, music, books, etc.)
  • mistakes (mainly for reviewing/critiquing purposes)
    • typos, grammatical errors, plot holes, etc.

You might be thinking, wow that's kind of a lot to keep in mind when reading. Also that sounds like a lot of work. Aaaaand yeah it might be if these are things you don't typically notice while reading or pay attention to. What you tab is really up to you so if you really only care about quotes by characters or romantic scenes, you don't need to worry about all the other stuff. 

No two books are exactly alike which means I don't tab my books exactly the same either. It all depends on the book, the genre, if I'm enjoying it, the writing, and a bunch of other stuff. More on this in the next section about how I tab my books. For now, here are some examples of what I tab:

I teach you to be warriors in the garden so you will never be gardeners in the war. I give you the strength to fight, but you must learn the strength of restraint.
— Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
Nightingale. A little name for a great horse. How did you get it?
— The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
We kind of wanted the going-out, shopping, prom-going type, and we got this weird, creepy one, and we love it but what is it talking about, ever?
— Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

| How |

If you don't have a Daiso near you and can't get the same tabs I use, then any other set of tabs will work. It really depends on you and whether you plan on keeping them inside the book, reread books a lot or want them to be very visible. 

I won't tell you what color I tabbed the quotes from earlier because it doesn't really matter. They're all from different books. My system of tabbing books is an ever-changing thing. But for the most part this is how I color code things:

  • Green - World building (because it reminds me of grass lol)
  • Blue - Favorite quotes (usually reserved for the protagonists) 
  • Pink - Quotes, etc. from all other characters 
  • Orange - Scenes (plot-realted, weird, favorite, etc.)
  • Yellow - Mistakes/ things to look up later

While I try to stick to this color-system, it doesn't always happen and that's fine. 

I prefer not to force myself to use certain colors for things because I may not have enough colors or I might run out of a color halfway through a book. 

If you decide to color-code things and adapt it to whatever book you're reading, it might also be helpful to create a little key for your system and put it on a sticky note in the beginning of the book so you don't get confused later on. 

Or if it's easier for you, just stick to one color all throughout the book. This works great especially if you're not tab-crazy like me and only tab a handful of things throughout an entire book. 

Any other questions?

Is there anything regarding my tabbing process that you're still curious about? Concerns? Suggestions? Feel free to leave a comment! Also, if you'd like an entire post dedicated to tabbing one book, let me know (basically I would make a key for my current read + include examples of everything I tab + what colors I used + a reflection on the process--this would likely include spoilers).