I’m a voracious reader. I read most anything I can get my hands on, which ends up being an eclectic mix of articles and books, both fiction and nonfiction.
I’ve thought quite a bit lately about how to utilize the web to aid my reading: while I understand the importance of the ripple effect (everything we read produces a ripple effect in our thinking, affecting all of our perceptions thereafter), I also know that taking notes as you read goes a step further, drastically boosting reading comprehension.
Last summer, I came across a wonderful piece in the Wall Street Journal on the benefits of keeping a book journal. So, I decided I was missing out by not keeping a reading journal. No time like the present.
The problem was that I also had in the back of my mind this concept of digital anthologies, of doing something with your data. So, I wasn’t satisfied with the idea of keeping a paper journal. I wanted my book journal to be digital. I imagined going back to it twenty years from now, picking a month at random, and recollecting what I had read, looking over my notes, perhaps marveling at how I’d evolved since then.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I googled ‘online book journals’ (and all sorts of variations on that phrase) and realized that no one had yet implemented this concept.
Luckily, web entities no longer exist in a vacuum, and with a little trickery, they can be made to talk to each other.
I happen to be a member of Goodreads, which is a fantastic site for booklovers, and one that’s growing very quickly. That’s important, because I want to make sure that whatever services I use are going to be around for awhile.
Goodreads would be perfect for a book journal: all the books I read go into it, anyway. Why not automate the process?
Ultimately, then, the solution was to figure out how to get the books I’m currently reading in Goodreads automatically added to Evernote. Enter the internet-hacking powerhouse IFTTT.
Here’s how to do it: head over to your Goodreads and find your ‘currently reading’ bookshelf. Underneath the shelf, you’ll see an RSS button. Right-click and copy the link address.
Now, we’re going to use this IFTTT recipe to create a notebook in Evernote. In the ‘trigger’ field, paste the link address you copied from Goodreads. The rest of the items should be fine, unless you want to do some tweaking (ultimately, after taking the screenshot below, I deleted the feed description and url and added a horizontal line to separate the entry from my subsequent notes). Save the recipe.
Now, any book you add to your Goodreads ‘currently reading’ shelf will create a new note in Evernote, in the ‘Book Journal’ notebook, and the title of the note will include the title of the book. Essentially, your book journal will be pre-populated with whatever book you’re reading.
A major benefit of this method is the ability to not only add text notes, but images of particular passages. If you’re reading on an iPad, you can take a screenshot and add it to your book journal. If you’re reading on a Kindle, or reading a paper book, you can take a photo with your phone and add it to your note, too.
Plus, since this is Evernote, you can also share your notes on a particular book. This might work for collaborative reading, but I’m thinking of down the road: say that, in twenty years, my daughter starts reading Anna Karenina. I could simply look up and share my note with her.
Time will tell whether this method sticks, but so far, the only flaw I see is the dating: you can set up the recipe to automatically tag each note with the date, but ideally, you would want the dates themselves to be entered as a sub-notebook to organize your reading by month and year. Otherwise, it’s a great solution to the problem we set out to fix.
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