So, let me say at the outset that I love books. All my life, I’ve been a reader of books. I have at least 1,000 of them in my home (on shelves, in stacks on the floor, in boxes in the basement.) I have books of every type; novels, non-fiction, story books, picture books and more. Life feels better when I’m surrounded by books.

And I love the fact that my kids love books, that Tucker spent an hour at the public library yesterday, gliding through the stacks, pulling books down, sitting cross legged on the floor, testing them out, that the first thing Tess wanted to do when we moved last fall was organize her books. I totally understand why living in a house full of books is worth upwards of like three grades of literacy in school schooling.

So, with that bit of context, let me try to explain how my book loving brain got really, seriously rocked the other day, rocked to the point where I’m wondering how many more paper books I might accumulate in my life.

Last year, I put the Kindle app on my iPhone and downloaded a couple of books to read. I was surprised in that the experience actually wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. The first book, a great novel by Anita Shreve, was not much different from reading on paper. The story flew by, and other than being surprised when I got to the end (because I didn’t know how many pages I had left to go) it was a great reading experience. But non-fiction wasn’t so great. If you look at most of the non-fiction books in my library, you’ll see they’re totally marked up, underlined, annotated and messy. It’s the way I attempt to cement in those most important points, and it helps me recall the good stuff in a book more easily. On the Kindle, I could highlight, and take a note, but it just wasn’t as useful. The notes were hard to find, and the highlights just weren’t feeling as sticky. I wasn’t impressed; in fact, it was frustrating.

Last week, when I downloaded my first book to my shiny new iPad, things improved. The larger screen made a big difference, creating highlights and typing in reflective notes was a breeze, but I was still feeling the same frustration with the limitations; just because the pages were bigger didn’t mean the notes left behind were any easier to find, and stuff just felt too disjointed. I kept searching for a way to copy and paste sections of the book out into Evernote, albeit a clunky process on the iPad, but still worth it if I could make my notes digital (i.e. searchable, remixable, etc.) My searches didn’t come up with anything, and I finally turned to Twitter and asked the question there. Ted Bongiovanni (@teddyb109) came to the rescue:

@willrich45 – re: iPad Kindle cut and paste, sort of. You can highlight, and then grab them from kindle.amazon.com #iPad #kindle

Turns out my iPad Kindle app syncs up all of my highlights and notes to my Amazon account. Who knew? When I finally got to the page Ted pointed me to in my own account, the page that listed every highlight and every note that I had taken on my Kindle version of John Seely Brown’s new book Pull, I could only think two words:

Game. Changer.

All of a sudden, by reading the book electronically as opposed to in print, I now have:

  • all of the most relevant, thought-provoking passages from the book listed on one web page, as in my own condensed version of just the best pieces
  • all of my notes and reflections attached to those individual notes
  • the ability to copy and paste all of those notes and highlights into Evernote which makes them searchable, editable, organizable, connectable and remixable
  • the ability to access my book notes and highlights from anywhere I have an Internet connection.

Game. Changer.

I keep thinking, what if I had every note and highlight that I had ever taken in a paper book available to search through, to connect with other similar ideas from other books, to synthesize electronically? It reminds me of the Kevin Kelly quote that I share from time to time in my presentations, the one from the New York Times magazine in 2006 titled “Scan This Book“:

Turning inked letters into electronic dots that can be read on a screen is simply the first essential step in creating this new library. The real magic will come in the second act, as each word in each book is cross-linked, clustered, cited, extracted, indexed, analyzed, annotated, remixed, reassembled and woven deeper into the culture than ever before. In the new world of books, every bit informs another; every page reads all the other pages.

And I also keep thinking about what changes now? How does my note taking in books change? (Do I start using tags and keywords along with adding my reflections?) Now that I can post my notes and highlights publicly, what copyright ramifications are there? How might others find that useful? And the biggest question, do I buy any more paper books?

I know others might not find this earth shattering, but this is a pretty heady shift for me right now, one that is definitely disrupting my worldview. And it’s, as always, making think of the implications for my kids. What if they could export out the notes from their own texts, store them, search them, share them? Yikes.

I’m sure I’ll be reflecting on it more as it all plays out.