Saturday, January 21, 2012

Reading With a "Pencil"

Scott D. Parker

It's amazing how technology can change the way you read.

I'm not sure when I started reading fiction books with a pencil in my hand. When it comes to non-fiction, it's a given that I read with a pencil or a highlighter to mark important passages and write notes to help me remember things that strike my fancy. Ditto for Bible reading. It became extremely important during graduate school and having to learn all the minutiae of history.

Fiction is a different animal. I read fiction for fun. Natch. But the more I write, the more that I realize that published books are the curricula of the School of Fiction Writing. Yes, it's obvious, but I'm someone who sometimes has to have Obvious Things hit me over the head before I see it. Moreover, I'm a relative latecomer to this mystery genre, so every new book I have read in the past decade usually contains some nugget from which I can learn.

It started slowly, with me making notes that I'd need for the review I planned to write. Soon, it migrated to notes as well as highlighting. Depending on the novel, outright annotation emerged. All of the annotations, understandably, happened on paper. These were the years before the e-book explosion, before the iPod, before the Nook, before the Kindle. After I finished a book, I could skim the pages, see my annotations, and remember the things I liked about the novel. And that book lived in one place: the bookshelf. If I wanted to look up a note, I needed to go to the bookshelf.

Now I have an iPod and a Nook Touch. I have the Nook app, the Kindle app, the Stanza app, and the iBook app. Given these new tools, new expectations emerged.

If I'm carrying around an iPod, I should be able to bring up my annotations wherever I am because, frankly, we're in the age of instant access and that's what we want. Does it really make a difference? No, but it's become important to me. I should be able to highlight good passages of prose as easy as I would if I were reading the paper book. I should be able to write a quick note with own thoughts as easy as if I had a pencil in my hand. And, most important for me: I should be able to extract those annotations out of the e-book.

Of all these apps listed above, I have found that iBooks works the best for me. No, I'm not an Apple fan boy. Up until iBooks upped its capabilities, Stanza was my go-to reading app. Now, iBooks is my go-to app. The highlighting is super simple. Heck, you can ever have different colors if you want. And it's fast, as fast as a pencil on paper. Notes are easy to insert and write. I can, within ten seconds, highlight some lines, write a quick note, and get back to reading. And, while you cannot sync the annotations via a separate file through iTunes, you can email yourself all the notes. It's a really good, usable reading app.

And, armed with iBooks, I now have a new favorite way to read a book: listen to the audio version with my iPod handy, loaded with the ebook. I get he story told to me while I can do other things and annotate along the way. It's a great way to read.

Do y'all have a favorite, non-traditional way to read?

Song of the Week: Bruce Springsteen's "We Take Care of Our Own" Yeah, as if I was not going to pick this song. To my ears, it's got a nice flavor of the Human Touch/Lucky Town era, my first new Springsteen albums after I "discovered" him. Fellow DSDer puts it bit more cleverly: "[The song] is like a fight between 1992 Bruce and unreleased '78 Bruce." Springsteen tends to neglect these songs in concert, but I still like those records. And I'm very much looking forward to the new record. Best thing about Springsteen: on one day, there is literally no news. The next day, you've got a new song, new album, and new tour.

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