How do you skim an e-book?

19 10 2011

I’ve been spending a lot of time this semester re-reading classics on late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century American history in order to improve the book manuscript that I have to submit in December. Yesterday, I decided it was time to pick up John Higham’s Strangers in the Land again, since my editor had said that my immigration chapter needs improvement. The copy in our library was checked out. Those at my university do, however, have access to an electronic version of the manuscript!

That’s wasn’t good enough for me because I want to browse it. My manuscript is already done. All I need to do is find the parts that Higham wrote that will be most relevant to me quickly and move on since I’ve got a lot of books to read before the deadline (and three courses to teach when not writing).

Higham’s chapter titles aren’t specific enough for me to find the relevant parts, and I don’t have any particular search terms in mind since I’m interested in juicy details I can add to the narrative rather than any particular subject. In an e-book, it would take me far too long to page through everything. I’m not sure the entire page would even fit on my computer screen.

Codexes (to steal yet another term from Historiann) seem to be taking a lot of flack these days. Some libraries are getting rid of them because of budget cuts. Some libraries are getting rid of them to make room for coffee bars. Amazon is trying to wean us off them so that they can control the universe. Yet sometimes a physical book is just what the doctor ordered since they’re easy to navigate when you’re not planning on reading every single word.

That’s why foregoing the e-book was a no-brainer. The real question was whether or not to recall Higham from whichever undergraduate has it. Since they’re probably doing their research paper for my America 1877-1945 course, and not wanting to undercut the quality of the research papers that I’ll eventually have to grade, I decided to get Higham’s book through interlibrary loan.

After all, waiting three days for a book is no great burden. People were doing it for decades before Kindles came along.

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