eBooks are our faceless friends

I love my Kindle. I’ve read probably a hundred books on it and will definitely read many hundreds more. I love everything about it: the convenience factor, the screen, the storage space, the form factor — everything.

I’ve read about a hundred books, but, if it wasn’t for Shelfari, I probably wouldn’t remember reading half of them. Not what the book is about, but the very fact that I’ve read this book. If I were browsing library shelves and happened to pick up some of the books I’ve read, I wouldn’t recognize them. Why is that?

The familiar and easily recognizable form factor of a Kindle makes the experience of reading one book virtually indistinguishable from reading any other. You may be reading a Lincoln biography, The Three Musketeers or the Holly Bible — nothing, absolutely nothing, changes. It’s the same black device with the same screen and the same black-on-white print. There are no pictures; the weight, the size, or the font of the book never changes. All those memory hooks that allow us to remember and distinguish things are missing. The books that you’re reading simply have no face. It’s like meeting a hundred faceless men at a cocktail party and having them tell you their name and their life story. You may remember the stories, but good luck telling which story belongs to who.

The same thing happens when I try to remember a specific paragraph or illustration from a book. The way memory, at least my memory, works, I remember that this specific paragraph was somewhere in the last third of the book, it was after this illustration but before that diagram, it was at the bottom of a page that had some other distinguishable sentences on it. I might have even highlighted it. In other words, finding something in a physical book is possible by just leafing through pages and setting off memory triggers. In an ebook all of that is missing: you can’t open a book in its last third and leaf through the pages to find something. You have to rely on the search feature, but you have to know what you’re searching for in the first place.

(Of course, there’s the highlight feature of a Kindle, but unless you make just a few highlights in a given book, finding a particular highlight is also not so straight forward.)

I find that using ebooks forces me to give up the natural way I remember things. It is forcing me to devise new ways, which don’t feel right and, frankly, don’t work for me. I’m yet to come up with a system for consuming all those highlights I made in all those Kindle books. I’ve tried importing my highlights and organizing them somehow in Evernote, but that, once again, forces me to have to remember what I’m looking for in the first place. I’m considering starting a good old notebook of handwritten notes. Seems like too much work though.

What do you do? Do you have a system for remembering or finding things in ebooks?

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How to read everything you should read

It’s bad enough that I can’t keep track of the books I read.  Everyday I’m faced with massive volumes of information that I should be reading.  What to read first: the book on my nightstand, the several dozen blogs I have in my Google Reader, the pile of magazines on my desk, the online publications I have bookmarked?  How to read all of that and still have a full-time job, time to eat, time to sleep?  How do other people cope?