Need for a tool for consolidating book notes and highlights – Part I

June 10, 2015

As I have continued to learn to read better, over the past 6-8 months, I have restarted my habit of taking notes.

I think it was partly inspired by Tim Ferriss and Maria Popova podcast (listen at the 31:45 mark) and Ryan Holiday and reading “The Art of Reading” and “Becoming a writer” by Dorothea Brande. But it is mostly a fallback to my childhood habit – when I would take notes of anything I wanted to understand or remember. The writing of words on paper is a beautiful thing, even though I particularly don’t like my handwriting – which has been ridiculed by friends and family alike the act of writing, a good pen on smooth paper is somehow extremely satisfying.

So how do I make my notes? When you read both paper books and e-books without distinction, and in in ebooks if you read html, kindle, e-pubs, pdf – any format how do you then consolidate notes?

I considered using Ryan Holiday’s method of handwriting all notes in index cards and filing them. But then decided it’s not for me. I do not, at this point in life choose to indulge in the luxury of handwriting and storing and indexing all my notes. So the alternatives, as discussed by Maria Popova and Tim Ferriss was to digitize – Evernote or OneNote were the serious contenders..

Since I already use OneNote for a personalized GTD system, I decided to use OneNote.

For kindle books bought via amazon – I go to my “Kindle Your highlights” page , and then use Bookcision to download my notes and highlights in an XML format. I then copy out the pretty Bookcision formatted output into my OneNote page for that book and embed the downloaded XML file in the OneNote page.

I also need to find a way to consolidate the notes and highlights from epubs, pdfs and those Kindle books which I did not buy from amazon, but which I uploaded but read on the Kindle Paperwhite and made notes on it.

Ok. What about paper books? When reading a paper book, I use pencil to mark-out the passages and lines of interest and use post-its to flag those pages. Then I type out by hand, the highlights and notes into an XML file. The XML file format is based on the Bookcision XML template with the addition of a few more XML tags. I then embed the XML file in a OneNote page with that book’s title.

But here I ran into an issue – I wanted these hand-typed highlights to look pretty like Bookcision as well. So over last week, I used XSL to render these XML files as HTML pages. These seem to open nicely in Firefox and Safari (Chrome does not allow it) and look good. However, when I copy out the text from Firefox onto Word or OneNote, it loses the pretty formatting.

So I need another solution. And these are my requirements:

  1. Someway to consolidate all my XML files online (like the Kindle Your Highlights page) for all the books I read – both digital and paper
  2. These XML files should be available Offline as well since I write my posts mostly offline.
  3. I need them to look pretty, like the Bookcision format with my additional XML tags – maybe using AJAX to load the XML files and use Javascript to render them in copy-able html like Bookcision.
  4. An index page of all the books in this repository would be awesome
  5. And then to make all the XML files notes highlights searchable
  6. And edit it online if you are the owner of those files.

Sounds like a fun project right? Maybe in Part II, in the future, I’ll talk about what I do next.

Tags: Books, Thoughts

Suprada Urval's blog.