I wasn’t always an inveterate note-taker—notably during my school days when it would have helped enormously—but I’m trying to get into the habit. Previously, when reading my Kindle, for too long I was passively highlighting passages of books I read, unlikely to come back to them, or if I did, unlikely to understand why I highlighted it or what that ? meant—disagreement? lack of understanding? a once-pertinent question for the author?
As it happens, Alan Jacobs wrote about this in the excellent The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction:
The more heavily you annotate a text—the more questions you ask and comments you venture—the more often you disrupt the continuity of reading.
Writing out the whole of your question is better than just flinging a question mark onto the page, because doing the former takes more time—it gets you out of the flow of mere passive reception—and because it forces you to articulate the precise nature of your vexation. A mere question mark could indicate confusion, disagreement, a feeling of lacking information—any one of a dozen things. When you write out your question you render the discomfort exactly.
So by reading actively—that is, highlighting and marking up and taking extra notes and asking questions—you disrupt the continuity of reading more often, the more thought goes into it, and the more likely you are to digest and remember what you have read. So I’m doing it more often.
Still, we can’t all remember everything, no matter how actively we read.
Here are 3 tools you can use to export and resurface your Kindle notes and highlights. They all work by accessing your kindle.amazon.com page. In increasing order of power and complexity:
The bookmarklet yields a single page of cleanly styled highlights, which can then be copied to one’s clipboard and pasted into a local text repository (OneNote, Evernote, DevonThink, etc.)
Chrome users will additionally be offered the ability to dowload the highlights in plain text, JSON, or XML formats.
A browser extension that syncs your highlights and sends you a regular email resurfacing them. I use and like this a lot! (They’ve launched a web app version which they are currently pushing.)
A Chrome extension that powers a more feature-rich version of something like Bookcision. Notes and highlights are synced to the ‘app’, where you can perform some additional organisation such as tagging. You can export individual or multiple highlights, adhering to different referencing styles.
There’s a tiny monthly charge, but I’m pleased about this—I’d always rather pay for things I find useful, as there’s then less chance they’ll disappear overnight.
I use Clippings.io to transfer my highlights and notes to my archiving/information storage app of choice and get an every-other-day email from Readwise. Using both services I have an easily searchable database of highlights, the ability to see contextual links between my highlights and other documents (a feature of DEVONthink), and get serendipitous reminders of them in my email inbox.
In fact, simply publishing some these highlights with some extra context, questions, elaboration etc would form the basis of an intriguing blog, if you don’t have one already…