🧠 "Memorable Digital Books ": Electronic Books Designed to Aid Memorization and Recalling

:orange_circle: Few weeks ago, in another post, there was a discussion about the difference between paper books and electronic books :bookmark_tabs:. I think many agreed that the physical layout of the page helps to recall the content: position in the page, visible page number, header, colour of the page, marks in the paper (pencil, coffee :coffee:), etc.,
:iphone: Recently I have been studying a long book that I have in digital format. I made a pdf of the book with header, page number and big margins, especially at one side, so I can annotate. I can do it easily in a tablet, but not in the kindle. I love the kindle to read because it is more gentle to the eyes and because it allows me to enter faster in deep reading mode, but for this book I am using a tablet because I can easily zoom in an out and write things and :paintbrush: draw in colours, etc.
I suppose this helps memorization. I remember pages that I read long time ago in paper (the position of a text in a page), but I do not remember one single “page” from the kindle, even if I have read thousands of pages on it.
In another post I described how I am using emoticons :grinning: to aid memorization, and it seems it works for me, as I am doing in this post (although I dislike excessive use of emoticons in messages).

The problem comes when the ebook is not open, but :closed_lock_with_key: locked (for instance when is bought in Amazon) and so it cannot be converted into a pdf, cannot draw on it, or use other means to transform it into a more memorable medium.

:artofmemory: I would like to ask what is your experience in this area, and what means do we have to make reading digital books a more memorable :memoryleague: experience. Technology is improving, so sooner it will be easier to replicate the experience (excepting the odour :nose: perhaps.)
It is not so much to make the content book more didactic, as someone mentioned: bullets, graphs, etc., but as to make the medium more memorable.

[I hope this topic does not overlap with another one.]


I’m guessing you’re already aware of it, but you can add highlighting and (keyboard-based) notes to ebooks that are, as you put it, “locked” with DRM. I know for a fact that this can be done with any ebooks purchased from Apple’s Books store. The last time I used a Kindle—maybe 6-8 years ago—you could also add highlighting and notes; I’m sure that function hasn’t gone away.

Of course, these are not handwritten notes, which is what you’re wanting. To add those, you’ll need to take screenshots of your ebook and then compile and convert those to a PDF, in order to get something like the ebook PDFs you’ve been using. (Yes, this is a hassle. If you decide to do it, though, and you’re using an iPad, I would go to Settings/Accessibility/AssistiveTouch and turn on the option to take screenshots using an on-screen button. I’m not sure how screenshots are typically taken with the latest iPad models, but on those with Home buttons you have to press the Home button and the Sleep/Wake button at the same time, which can get annoying if you’re taking a lot of them.)

I’m devoted to the iPad/Apple, so I can’t suggest anything that’s Android-based. But PDF Converter and PDF Expert are both very useful apps that are worth whatever couple of dollars they may cost. I use PDF Converter to arrange and compile lengthy collections of screenshots and then turn them into PDFs. I then send them to PDF Expert, which is one of my preferred apps for marking up PDFs. (My real preference, though, is an app called LiquidText, but it may cost more than you want to spend, ~$20.)

If I may briefly step onto my soapbox…

As a book author myself—and a full-time freelancer who makes his entire income from selling what he writes—I would just ask that if you do produce a screenshot, PDF version of an otherwise locked ebook, that it be for personal use only. I realize that if it were a paper book, you could share it. But you couldn’t share it and also still have a copy, unless you bought two copies. That’s why DRM exists: To protect authors and publishers from the free duplication/circulation of electronic copies.

…Stepping down from my soapbox now.



Thank you very much for the detailed answer. I do use highlighting and annotation in the kindle.
I suppose I can do what you mention screenshots from the ebooks.
I used to have an old Surface, until this afternoon, when it felt from my hands and the screen was damaged, and now it is almost unusable…
Regarding the soapbox, may I ask about your books? what do you write about?

I’m a nonfiction generalist, although most of my books have had a faith perspective (something I’ve since stepped away from). But I’ve written about mental retardation (and I use that word intentionally), finding your perfect job, an Idiot’s Guide, a handbook for freelance writing with the iPad, and several other titles. I’ve also self-published two novels, one for middle-grade readers and one for adults. Everything currently still in print is available from Amazon, and a couple of titles are also available through Apple. (My iPad book is, not surprisingly, available exclusively from Apple’s Books store.) You can see more details at my web site, www.RobertBittner.com.

For the last six years or so, though, my work has been focused primarily on magazine articles. I write for a wide range of trade publications, covering topics that range from financial services and coach travel to industrial manufacturing and the natural gas industry. Like I said: I’m a generalist. :slight_smile:

Thanks for asking.



nice website.


Hi, Liam. Thank you for starting this thread. I think the fact that electronic books are less memorable than print books is too little discussed and too poorly understood, so I’m grateful for the conversation.
I read a study that said people who read fiction in e-formats tend to forget the order of events, though they remember the events themselves. It seems that something about the physical progress through the book helps us gauge where we are in the story and aids our memory of the order of things.
What I do is carry a physical notebook and pen or pencil along with the kindle. When I come to a pivotal moment or something I particularly want to remember, I write it in my notebook, preferably in my own words (unless the exact phrasing matters to me). I find that’s a really helpful supplement to reading on Kindle.
I have to confess, though, I read physical books whenever possible.

What about webpages? When you’re not reading a book but just scanning a website, how do you remember what you read?

Often I have a question and I’m searching the internet for an answer. In that case, I think what I learn is more memorable because of that active process of questioning.

What do others have to say about this?
I’d like to hear from memory experts, what have you noticed about information on screens? Is it less memorable for you?


I think we may see this changing over time, as people become more accustomed/adapted to reading books electronically. Remember, the general population has about 300 or so years of familiarity with books. Ebooks have only existed for ~20 years, and it’s only been in the last 5-6 years that they have gained significant traction.



Changing in what sense? That we will remember more because we get used to it, or books will change?

I’m thinking the former. As humans get used to electronic books, we’ll adapt just as we did to printed books. But, again, this may be many decades from now. And, given technological advances, ebooks may transform into something else before then. Who knows.

Funny. I think it’s generally believed that the use of printed books and our reliance on them led to our general loss of the art of memory and to weaker memories. Or do you not think so?
Based on an analogy to the invention of print I would guess memories will only weaken more.
I’m other words, people will remember less but they will get used to remembering less and won’t really notice.
Of course, you can always look it up, after all.

Thoughtful people like us should be finding ways to modify technology or the way we use it in order to get the convenience of ebooks without paying a hidden cost of learning and remembering less. :confused:

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I started using a computer in 1982. For many years I found it difficult to concentrate on text on the screen. I would print stuff out, whether it was code or literature. I found it impossible to compose any text at the keyboard. And I just I love books. I have walls of them.

Overtime of course, I’ve gotten very comfortable with electronic presentation and writing with a keyboard. Much of the information I need is only available online and who hand writes a letter these days?

I still would rather use a book or write by hand. The quality of the experience is just of a different order. If the material takes any real effort, or I feel it’s important, I will print it out and mark it - there’s just no substitute. The act of physically marking the page engages me in a way that I can’t reproduce. Sometimes I will transcribe the text from the screen by pencil - it’s a way of touching the information as though I was running it through my hands.

I don’t bemoan the situation. Electronic print has made so much information so easily available. But there is always something valuable lost when change happens.


I wasn’t commenting in any way on memory techniques. I’m suggesting that if people today cannot recall what they’ve read electronically, that that situation may improve as people get more used to reading electronically. If you cannot remember the plot of a book you just read, that’s not a memory technique issue; that’s a comprehension issue.

Frankly, my personal feeling is that the problem isn’t an issue of whether material is presented as pixels on a screen or ink on paper. It’s that our use of electronic technology has led some people to develop the habits of skimming, incomplete reading, and distracted reading—and ebooks end up being consumed the way someone glances at Twitter. And that will, of course, lead to lower engagement and comprehension. My guess is that when those same people sit with a paper book, they focus on the book. And if they focused on reading a book electronically, they would have similar results.


Thanks, Bob.
I agree that the situation may improve as people get more used to reading electronically.
It’s also possible that what people will get used to is remembering less.

Printed books have embedded loci which help us remember. Just as Simonides was able to remember who was at the banquet based on the chairs’ locations, we are able to remember the content of a book which appeared on an upper left page early in the book. The two – memory palaces and the format and feel of print books are related.

I would rather actively work to develop mnemonic techniques than wait and see or attribute my weaker memory for ebooks to something generational.

I like what you say about habits of skimming, incomplete reading, and distracted reading. Alas, those habits may be supporting the current trend toward dummed down books. Don’t you find many non-fiction books these days have only one simple message, which could have been conveyed in a brief article, if only readers would focus better?


Thank you, zvuv. I appreciate your response. That’s really interesting.
I am particularly intrigued by your statement referring to printed books that “The quality of the experience is just of a different order.”

How is it “of a different order”?

This is a difficult question and one I feel is under-addressed in our culture, which loves technology and progress.

Something I notice, and I wonder if you and others do also, is a book doesn’t change.
It’s just printed and is what it is.
Of course, you can tear it or burn it or something like that. You can spill coffee on it.
But, in general, it’s the same every time you go back to it. The formatting is the same. The font-size is the same. The paragraphing is the same.

I have a feeling that knowing I can expect a book to be the same every time I return to it makes me interact with it differently. I trust it.

With screen content, I anticipate change. Corrections will come. Pages will be reformatted. I approach it with a degree of skepticism.

I wonder how this may act on my subconscious to encourage me to take it less seriously, remember less, to rely less.

What do you think?

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I despise physical books.

I read in Kindle. Then I export my notes as HTML (via Kindle for PC). I always go over my highlight limit, so I delete the first round of highlights and then export again. (Or type them up).

I then import these highlights (exported from Kindle) into SuperMemo. I then “incrementally read” these highlights. I add tags, using my own tagging system, or make Q/A flashcards in SuperMemo. When I dismiss a highlight (no longer want it to pop up in SuperMemo incremental reading) I also copy and paste this note into Evernote with tags.

This is my version of an old “Commonplace book.”

An eccentric system, but I absolutely love it.


We read different books. As a journalist myself, I tend to only read books written by writers, not personalities or celebrities or self-help gurus. My reading focus is primarily biography, true crime, and history/sociology. I don’t read any self-help, which is what your description sounds like. (I will even stop reading a memory-focused book if it veers into self-help/self-actualization territory. Looking at you, Mr. K.H.)

The best-seller lists don’t begin to represent the depth of nonfiction on the market. There are over 60,000 nonfiction books published each year in the US alone. I’m sure there are better books out there for you if you go looking for them. :wink:

I’m a former board member and president of the Association of Journalists and Authors (ASJA), an international organization for professional nonfiction freelance writers. I’m definitely biased toward and supportive of quality nonfiction.



I think my feelings are very similar but I would describe it differently.

As you say, electronic material is evanescent. It’s hard to form a relationship with a display. Especially since it might change or vanish.

I am passionate about my books. I keep them immaculate. Any notes are written in the neatest small pencil print I can manage. They are my friends and my colleagues. I think of them now, even some that are in storage and remember the experience of working through them, discussing them. I remember the pages where I learned something important. I have regretted every book, I’ve ever given away. Many of those books made me who I am. I have a small blue volume on Real Analysis/Math that I spent a lot of time with. That was the book that showed me what mathematics was really about. It opened the gate to the garden. I visit that book in my mind, often, and sometimes just for the joy of being there. It was that book that did it. No other copy would feel the same.

I think this kind of enjoyment of printed books is inevitably going to be lost, like many things, the pleasure of writing things out in your own hand. It takes time to acquire a taste for books and there is no longer any reason for young people to bother. Also, the quality of editing and printing has deteriorated greatly. Software books are often outdated in a year or two - so they rush to print before the demand fades.

The availability of information in electronic form has been an enormous boon - I don’t rail against it and progress always means something gets lost. But I do mourn for books :slight_smile:


Yes, and so they began to insert things in the books to make them memorable: drawings and titles, and medieval beasts, and all these things.
That was lost again, I think, with the invention of the press. Now we are facing another change: the rise of the digital books.
How can we make them memorable again?

O think time and technology will solve that.

I recommend the book: The Shallows, by Nicolas Carr. Some things that he writes might be debatable, but nevertheless very interesting.

That was my original point. In a sense, a physical book is an very imperfect and poor Loci Mansion, but that is already something.

Are you human?:joy: Also for novels and fiction?

Yes. We do not want to go back to a pre-digital era.


I also don’t find ‘physical books’ more attractive and likeable than the electronic books. I don’t understand the idea ‘physical books are more memorable than the electronic ones’. I find not much difference between the two types!!

I am a voracious reader of books! And last time,I read a book in printed format had been,may be,back in the 90s!

We can apply ‘mnemonic’ techniques to electronic books,too,like we can,to the physical books. So,I see nothing special in physical books’ formats!

I read in Kindle. Then I export my notes as HTML (via Kindle for PC). I always go over my highlight limit, so I delete the first round of highlights and then export again. (Or type them up).

I then import these highlights (exported from Kindle) into SuperMemo. I then “incrementally read” these highlights. I add tags, using my own tagging system, or make Q/A flashcards in SuperMemo. When I dismiss a highlight (no longer want it to pop up in SuperMemo incremental reading) I also copy and paste this note into Evernote with tags.

This is my version of an old “Commonplace book.”

An eccentric system, but I absolutely love it.

Interestingly,I also use SRS tool like Anki to make summery of the book I read and review it time to time!

I read the book first in PC,Kindle or Tablet. And If I feel the book needs to be remembered for a long time,I start to create ‘mnemonics’ on its summery/notes that I made. Then,I put those summery/notes and the mnemonics in Anki!!

Crazy how after I do this,I can understand the book better and apply the ideas from the book in real life situations! It is also very easy to remember the main ‘points’ of a book using mnemonics and SRS idea.

Below is a portion of my ‘mnemonics’ and note on the book “The 48 Laws of Power” by Robert Greene which I read in a Tablet! And I can recall all 48 laws of the book! I didn’t even use “Memory Palace” to remember the ‘laws’ of the book! Just used ‘story’ and link techniques to encode 48 points/laws of the book. Super easy!


@elitely Wow! That is absolutely fascinating. Thank you for sharing.