Marking My Books

I was pondering the other day the value of e-books as all 1691 grams (about 3 3/4 pounds) of Stephen King’s Under the Dome pressed heavily upon my chest in bed.

Those familiar with Mortimer Adler (How to Read a Book) will know that reading while reclined breaks one of Professor Adler’s fundamental rules of reading. Those familiar with Stephen King will know that his aren’t the kinds of books that Professor Adler was concerned about me learning to read, so that’s all good.

I was mulling over, then, the fact that e-books have NOT created an environment which allows me easily to mark, star, underline, highlight, annotate or otherwise react to what I’m reading. With this, Professor Adler would agree:

“Reading a book should be a conversation between you and the author. Presumably he knows more about the subject than you do; if not, you probably should not be bothering with his book. But understanding is a two-way operation; the learner has to question himself and question the teacher. He even has to be willing to argue with the teacher, once he understands what the teacher is saying. Marking a book is literally an expression of your differences or your agreements with the author. It is the highest respect you can pay him.” (page 49)

Many books elicit a response from me that demands I mark. And an e-book does not make that easy. Kevin Charles Redmon agrees:

At present, annotating an e-book with a stylus is about as handy as marking up a Norton anthology with a Crayola. The amount of clicking required to two-finger type a note using the Kindle’s mini keyboard is even worse.

King and Kindle I think would make a match that even Professor Adler could endorse. (The Kindle App fully loaded with books I don’t think adds much to the basic 140 grams of my iPhone.)

But for most everything else, I’m sticking with a paper book and a pencil.

And a soft couch.

5 thoughts on “Marking My Books

  1. I had the kindle app on my blackberry . . . and really liked to for reading in the odd moments of waiting, or reading when I couldn’t fall asleep at night.

    I no longer have my bb (withdrawal!) and do miss having an e-book at the ready. And with so many of the kids’ school books available in e-formats, I’m really thinking about getting a kindle. As we still had to leave 15 boxes of books in storage in the States, and as we have a plenty of room in our home but few bookshelves. . . I’m starting to think that it might be a good idea to adapt to technology with our current lifestyle.

    I’m torn. . .

  2. Staci Thomas

    Received a Kindle as my 40th birthday present. I mark, highlight, and make notes all over the e books. I love the thing more than I ever thought I would. And I’m spending lots less on e books that I was spending buying the hard copies. I carry it EVERYWHERE, which is also much easier than lugging around the tote bag of books that I used to lug around. 🙂

  3. For everyone I’ve talked to who has a kindle, I’m hearing good things. However I’ve been looking at book prices lately and I’ve actually not seen THAT much of a difference in ebooks. Maybe a dollar here and there. Am I missing something? I’m in the middle of trying to decide myself. Tough decision.

  4. Wow. Kindle is bigger than Rob Bell!

    Geoff, I’d perhaps change your first line to: “Everyone I talk to has a Kindle.” It’s seeming to be like that. And here, at the local SBUX, the Kindle or the iPad are ubiquitous. But your question is a good one. I don’t think there is an economy, though I would hate to take on a VT engineer on that question.

    But I would concur that lugging is an advantage. I have the Kindle app on my iPhone and have read a couple books on it. Being portable and, like the other night when awakened in the middle of the night, being able to read like a kid in the dark is great.

    But my main problem (other than loving to display books read on a shelf, like trophies) is the marking. Perhaps the Kindle has greater functionality here than my poor iPhone imitation. But can one put smiley faces, or frowns, or exclamation points, or duel angry question marks, in the margins? Can you circle important works, or really important words with deeply pressed double circles? Can you put vertical lines or horizontal lines, and combinations thereof? And can you return to scan the pages to see the places where the author most seriously grabbed your emotions? These are serious questions – that’s how I interact with a serious book, and I can’t see how it’s possible on a Kindle.

    However, knowing how I can ALWAYS find some way to justify technology, I’ll eventually get one. I just know it.

  5. Yeah I do like to mark up books. I return to them less often than I should or would like to though. I guess what seems to be selling me is the non-tech, even non-facebook people who have embraced them.

    Just like getting a flat screen TV, I’ll probably drag my feet for years before getting one.

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