When my interest in a subject is renewed and I realize I’ve forgotten much of what I’ve already read about that subject, I regret most not having digital versions of books.

I never mark up my paper books, but of I’m reading something digitally I tend to spend a lot more time highlighting and creating notes. It really helps months or years later. If I don’t have my of those, it’s in my nature to want to re-read entire volumes, which of course can take a very long time if more than a few books are involved.

This past week it’s been my interest in Zen that has been rekindled. While I was reading Zen: Tradition and Transition, I gradually felt myself wanting to read two books I read in 2008 and 2010: The Way of Zen, and Living and Dying in Zazen.

Two months ago I wanted to restart my GTD practice, and for that I re-read David Allen’s Getting Things Done, and before that, it was the idea of mindfulness that urged me to re-read Thich Nhat Hahn’s The Art Of Power.

In each of these cases, having a digital edition with all my notes and highlights intact would have been more efficient than re-reading each volume. Picking up a book and going through it is always rewarding and feels very nourishing for the soul, but when I look at all the books I still have to read, and when I pay attention to my priorities, I know its not the most effective use of my time.

So keep this in mind when you decide to buy new books, and while you read them as well. Don’t read books just to have read books. Read books to remember them and internalize them. Highlighting passages and taking notes are important parts of that process, and having those notes and highlights digitally can save you a lot of time in the long run.

The truth is I still haven’t found a solution I’m entirely confident with. All of those digital books I’ve read and marked up have been so recent that I haven’t needed to review them yet. What might happen as digital formats evolve, my devices change, or the services I use change their business priorities and no longer store my annotations?






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