Don DeLillo’s Players, as marked up by David Foster Wallace.
Courtesy Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin.
I just sat down to air a complaint about reading on the iPad when I discovered that Sue Halpern had done much of my work for me:
For all its supposed interactivity, the iPad is a surprisingly static machine, especially for reading. … One of the guilty pleasures of an actual, ink-on-paper book is the possibility of marking it up—underlining salient passages, making notes in the margins, dog-earing a page. While it’s true that some electronic book platforms for the iPad allow highlighting (it even looks like you’ve used a fat neon yellow or blue or orange marker), and a few—most notably Kindle and Barnes and Noble but not iBooks—allow you to type notes, they barely take advantage of being digital. It is not possible to “capture” your notes and highlights, to organize, compile, arrange, or to print them out. Until there is a seamless way to do this, marginalia will remain sequestered in the margins, and the promise of electronic books will be unrealized.
This plaint struck me a few weeks ago when — eating pasta in Palo Alto, as it happens — I was reading The Selfish Gene. I was enjoying both meal and book immensely, and, thinking fondly of my faithful readers here, wanted to share some of it with you, and to harvest salient passages for my own research as well. So I was pleased, exploring this new device, to find that the iPad’s Kindle program offers a highlighting feature.
Later, however, when I wanted to share these passages, I found what Halpern complains about: My highlighted passages appeared to be as locked up in the book as they would be if I’d highlighted a print copy.
Halpern describes a workaround, and I discovered one myself,* so this is hardly an intractable problem. Yet these “solutions” require far more hassle than, say, pulling an excerpt from an online article to quote in a blog post, despite that all of this is digital. The book-reading (and book-based research) experience on the iPad thus fails to offers some huge advantages it could hold over print. The data is weightless — yet it takes all this heavy lifting to move it from one part of my desk to another. It’s absurd. (The new IBooks program coming out soon will also highlight and annotate, but it’s not clear how easy those highlights and notes will be to export.)
Two passages from Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene that I highlighted in my iPad. Took quite some trouble to get them from there to here.
… it’s a complicated choreography that requires a fair amount of concentration to avoid getting tripped up. Someday there may be an iPad app to get you there directly. Someday there may be a stylus and a way to physically write in the margins. Someday there may be optical character recognition software that turns those scribbles into manipulable text. Someday.
Let’s hope it’s sooner rather than later.
*The easiest I found is to make the highlights and then — either on iPad or PC/Mac — browse to kindle.amazon.com, sign in, burrow your way to the book in question, and then copy the highlights you want into whatever program you want them in. Hardly a fluid workflow.