Anyone who has visited me can attest to this: I own a lot of books - one may say too many. People then tend to push me towards ebooks, some are even offended when they sent me a file, and find a printed copy on my desk the day after.

I like to work with books

Some people consider books to be holy and untouchable, writing or marking in them to be sacrilegous. Well, I don’t (with books I own myself, that is). Nothing quite makes a book more useful to me than the close presence of a text marker, or three.

I used to use different colours for different meanings when I was still in university - yellow for key insights, red for stuff to look into, green for further literature and references, blue for “miscellanous”. That system served me well back in the day …

… today, though, I use different colours for different readthroughs (that is, if I take a book into hand more than once). Yellow for the first time, red for the second time when my mind focusses on other aspects.

Either system is good, and maybe you will find a third way that will work even better for you.

I do keep notes electronically, in an orgmode file - but that’s a second step. Quick scribbles I put with pencil on the margins.

I love sitting down somewhere disconnected and read

Books don’t have notifications. This has become a major advantage lately, when ever more devices, apps and stuff fights for your immediate attention. All the time something flashes, beeps, puts a message on your screen … it’s unbearable, and it takes your attention away from the written word. Lost attention means you will lose your train of thought - worse, it will make you lose the train of thought of the author which - as it is unknown to you - is elusive.

Reading offline is a commitment of time - and it takes you to another frame of mind, which changes how you percieve content. I have found that during the rise of the net, my attention span had radically shortened from a state where I could focus on a topic for hours to a point where sometimes I didn’t finish a sentence, looked something different up, forgot about the original task, then forgot about the other task, then I just floated around. In the end, I had wasted hours.

Regaining this attention was - arguably - hard. Keeping up attention is a technique that needs training, that needs to be kindled. I am still not back at where I started - but I feel that limiting exposure to distractions helps.

Physical books can be (legally) borrowed out

Borrowing books is something I do for close friends and colleagues, and repeatedly so if I get the feeling that my recommondation has been appreciated and helpful. It is one of the original ways of knowledge sharing.

I also feel that borrowing a book (instead of a file) gives a recommondation an deeper meaning - I know that reading is a commitment, so I only borrow out books that I really believe will be of benefit to my friend or colleague. With a file, that decision is made less careful - while a book should be returned at some point in time, a file just can be deleted, never to be thought of again. Be honest - how many of the links and files people send you did you actually read?

Returning books also is an opportunity to talk about the takeaways and lessons of it - which mirrors back insights I may have missed myself.

Psychological factors

I know this is subjective and does in no way reflect a rational thought - but holding a book, especially a nice one, makes the information within feel so much more worthy.

I think it’s a combination of the weight of a book, the paper, the fact that people did actual work to produce a physical copy, from the author to the designer of the dust jacket to the binder who glued the pages together. A book is a work of a group of craftsmen who collaboratively worked to bring me this very specific information.

In comparison, a file on a glowing screen seems almost trivial. Yes, someone still wrote it. Yes, someone built that screen, that operating system - but these are multi-purpose.

A book gives you immediate feedback on where you are - you instinctively understand if you’re at the beginning, at the middle, or near the end. You don’t have that information that intuitively presented to you on a screen - yes, there may be a progress bar somewhere, or you can eyeball it from the size of the scrollbar, but it’s not the same. Knowing this information, you can make decisions, like to push through the chapter, or putting the book away for the night, which may be made differently on an electronic copy.