Readwise feedback and remembering what you’ve read

The value of reading is proportional to the ability to remember what you have read. Reading is a richer experience when you are reading through a lens informed by the context of everything you’ve read and experience before.

Indeed, how much richer is daily life when you can call on a piece of verse or a quote to help inform or understand a given experience?

Meaning, there is real life-enriching value in being able to remember what you’ve read.

That said, I have a horrible, horrible memory.

For reasons not entirely clear to me I have very poor autobiographical memory and remember very few details about the past days of my life. There are all sorts of theories about why autobiographical memory deficit exists but ultimately all that matters are the workarounds that one can come up with to compensate for it.

Fortunately for me, I am very dedicated to journaling and I try to take a lot of photos!

On top of that, as a musician, I’ve always struggled with trying to remember chord progressions, melodies, song lyrics, etc. It takes me countless rehearsals of a single piece to commit it to memory. Though once committed, material tends to stay there, so that’s promising. 

It is just that the effort to get the material committed is so great that I have to be very specific, precise and intentional about how/what material I will work on to commit to memory.

All this is to say that early on during quarantine, I spent a few weeks writing a handful of python scripts that would present me with highlights and notes that I have made concerning what I’ve read. My reading tends to take place in three buckets: Kindle (for fiction/non-fiction books), Instapaper for feature length articles from magazine/blogs and Reeder/RSS for shorter material.

I wrote some code that would extract my highlights and notes from Kindle and Instapaper and store them locally so that I could periodically review them as a united collection.

Then a few weeks ago, I discovered Readwise which does EXACTLY the same thing but SOOOO much better.

Readwise takes your notes/highlights from what you’ve read and sends you a daily email with a handful of these highlights. I can say that there is no email I look forward to receiving each day as much as I look forward to the Readwise daily digest.

I have years’ worth of highlights that the service pulls from and I am regularly presented with wisdom that some past version of myself mined from the pages of books and articles but that my present self has entirely forgotten about. The re-presentation of material that was at one point meaningful enough to highlight is powerful.

It helps to cement the foundation of understanding what you’ve read.

It helps you to draw together and synthesize disparate subjects and highlights that you would have never been able to synthesize without the re-presentation of the quotes in this new context.

Readwise is a wonderful and valuable tool, especially for someone who has a difficult time with memory to begin with.

That said the biggest area that Readwise is lacking in is providing context for the highlights that are being presented. So I reached out to them with some feedback on the service and thought I’d like to share publicly a few of the things that might make this service even better:

Hi,

Some feedback. I would like to see for any given highlight, whether viewing on the web or in my daily email:

For books: 
– the ability to open kindle desktop and see the highlight. 
– Bonus points for being able to leverage https://read.amazon.com/notebook for viewing notes so that we’re not dependent upon having the kindle app installed
– the ability to view the book on bookshop.org (or amazon) so that you could see the cover image (I read a lot of books and sometimes need more than just a title/author to help jiggle my memory
– bonus points for pulling in a cover image to display with the quote
– a link to goodreads (or any other user defined service for storing reviews)
– data around when the book was read, when the highlight was saved.
– basically as many affordances for context as possible

For instapaper articles
– the ability to open the article in instapaper
– the ability to open the article at its original source URL
– data around when the article was read/when the highlight was saved
– when presenting the title of the article, include the title of the publication and the author (right now the presentation is inconsistent, sometimes shows author, sometimes shows publication)

The ability to get this contextual information right from the email would be great. I see that there is dropdown menu available in the email that ought to bring up the quote as presented in readwise in a popup window but that doesn’t work in mail on Mac (the window pops up but the quote never appears).

Likewise, I really like the idea of being able to share quotes/highlights on twitter/micro.blog etc but the current method of using an image of the quote seems like it could be improved by giving the user the ability to include more of this contextual information via the share feature (source url, title, etc.).

I would be really happy to promote that the quote was surfaced by readwise when sharing through the sharing function but right now I have to handcrank the appearance/data for what I’m sharing and by the time I get done adding the title/source etc to my tweet or post I’ve generally forgotten to add “via readwise” at the end of it. Make it easier to share source url, book title/cover image, link to bookshop.org, etc. using the built in tool without having to do a bunch of editing/adding and that would create a great incentive to keeping that “via @readwise” on the share. Does that make sense?

Thanks for building such a useful tool,

Jim