Sunday, 29 November 2015

Reading tip: how to get your Kindle highlights and notes on your computer (and sync to Evernote)

As a general rule, I love paperbacks. And of course hardbacks. But I like reading on my Kindle because it’s portable.

Also, I highlight an obscene amount in the books I read that I read, and I have a way of importing these highlights into an easier format on my laptop. This comes in very useful when it comes to writing an article, or if I feel like simply reliving the magic of a book.

If you’re curious, I use a Google Chrome extension called to import Kindle highlights and notes. It costs a tiny amount per month ($2 I think), but it's useful and appeals to my love for order (no affiliation whatsoever). So I'd say it's worth it.

How to set up to export your Kindle notes

  • After installing the extension, make sure you’re logged into your and account in Chrome.
  • Then press the 'full import; button if it’s the first time you import your highlights, or the ‘quick import’ button if you just want to import your latest annotations.

It takes a few minutes to do its thing (it seems to have got quicker in the last few weeks though), but soon you get a lovely list of all of your Kindle highlights and notes.

On the website, it also suggests that you can automatically sync your notes if you use the Apple or Android Kindle app.

Add your Kindle highlights to Evernote (or Word, Excel, PDF)

You can then export the list of highlights. I choose to do this to Evernote (a digital filing cabinet for all of my notes, ideas, and things to read later), but there are other options too.

After syncing with Evernote, you can just press “integrate with Evernote” each time you want to export new annotations.

Then you can get a new note on Evernote for each book, with all of your notes and clippings within it (or whatever options you choose). The page or location can be stored for each highlight, and if you’re looking for a quote in future you can just use the Evernote search function.

For me, it's great to have my Kindle highlights in one place and ready to search through–it does simplify a lot. Hopefully some of you also find this useful! Back to books in my next article...

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Saturday, 28 November 2015

Haruki Murakami on travelling light (and just getting up and going)

When I’m travelling, I like to read Haruki Murakami. I like the clean writing style of his books, but also their otherworldliness. Last weekend I spent two nights in Chamonix, travelling over the Swiss border into France, and finished up A Wild Sheep Chase before getting the train home.

It was a good case of reading material matching my environment: as the snow tumbled down in the Alps to kick off the ski season, Murakami’s protagonist was holed up in a run-down house as the first snow fell. If he waited on the hill much longer, he’d be stuck there for winter.

I highlighted one excellent paragraph at the start of the novel that's on travelling. In particular, it’s about packing light and deciding to just get up and go. Here it is:

Boarding a long-distance train without any luggage gave me a feeling of exhilaration. It was as if while out taking a leisurely stroll, I was suddenly like a dive-bomber caught in a space-time warp. In which there is nothing: no dentist’s appointments, no pending issues in desk drawers, no inextricably complicated human involvements, no favors demanded. I’d left that behind, temporarily. All I had with me were my tennis shoes with their misshapen rubber soles. They held fast to my feet like vague memories of another space-time.

It’s a good reminder not just to travel–and travel light–but to pop a Murakami novel in your bag before leaving. A Wild Sheep Chase is a great choice.

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Friday, 6 November 2015

Is there anything to gain from reading a novel as sad as A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara?

I mentioned in my last article, 18 recommended books for winter, that I was reading A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. I've now finished it, and–to sum up my immediate thoughts–it was turmoil.

A Little Life is a painfully sad book, and I wonder if many other readers feel prepared for this. A considerable amount of them were probably, like me, drawn to it for its near-win of the Man Booker Prize 2015.

The novel has over 700 pages, and not a small percentage are filled with graphic descriptions of the physical, sexual and mental abuse suffered by the protagonist, Jude St. Francis.

Jude is one of the four bright and ambitious central male characters, who meet at college as randomly assigned roommates and remain crucial parts in each other lives. As they grow up, they become impossibly close, and are defined by their participation in the group as well as disorientated by its lapses.

By Jude's side there's Willem, a waiter with aspirations to become an actor; J.B., who has the confidence to believe he will become a renowned painter; and Malcolm, who struggles to balance his love for architecture with his father's wishes.

Perhaps unexpectedly and even unbelievably, each member of the group is successful professionally. However, while some characters surge forwards in their wider lives, others stagnate.

There's also the persistent burrowing of the past and its traumas into the plot. Despite being such a formidable and talented litigator, Jude is a broken man. With all of the terrible things that were done to him, it seems foolish to expect no repercussions. But despite this, A Little Life continues to hint at the possibility of a happy ending.

There's the home built by Jude and Willem that is surrounded by spring bulbs and wildflowers, as well as the beautiful art produced by the group. There's also the warmth of Jude finding his part in a family.
One weekend shortly after they had moved in, they spent two days making their way through the forests before and behind the house, planting lilies of the valley near the mossy hillocks around the oak and elm trees, and sowing mint seeds throughout. They knew Malcolm didn’t approve of their landscaping efforts—he thought them sentimental and trite—and although they knew Malcolm was probably right, they also didn’t really care.

The novel's cruelest moments are when happiness is suddenly extinguished for one character; the most devastation is found in the implications of these moments on the other three.

It's such an infuriating book, but I think that only a talented author could make me want to swear, weep, and shout about how cruel a book it is. It's not badly-written by any means, but the plot is exhausting.

A single trigger warning doesn't really suffice. Don't read A Little Life and expect an easy read with a happy ending.

However, it's worth noting that the novel does possess beauty, inspiration, and–at times–a glimmer of hope. It's a representation of life, albeit a very hard one, and I'm glad to have read it.

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Sunday, 1 November 2015

18 books for winter: a selection of feel-good novels, big books, and classics to enjoy during colder weather

With lazier days and more time indoors, winter comes with the distinctive benefit of having more time to spend with a good book.

Sometimes a long book - with a hefty list of characters and a inner universe that's hard to exit - is the ideal companion to while away the hours with. At other times, a mood-boosting and feel-good novel is a welcome antidote to the gloomy weather outside. Or you may be longing for the satisfaction of finishing a classic.

Whatever your mood and literary appetite, here are a few novels to get you thinking about winter reading plans.

Immerse yourself in the intricate world of a big book

With War and Peace being so high on my list of best-loved novels (a book I tend to read in summer), it's perhaps not unexpected that other big books follow close behind.

1. Stieg Larsson's Millennium Series, starting with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Normally seven minutes of another person's company was enough to give her a headache so she set things up to live as a recluse. She was perfectly content as long as people left her in peace. Unfortunately society was not very smart or understanding.

2 & 3. The Secret History and The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

The Secret History seems to be on every winter reading list. While it is an excellent novel to spark a hunger for classics and mystery-solving over the winter months, you could also give The Goldfinch - Donna Tartt's third, most recent, and very beautiful novel - a try.

I've been buried in this novel all weekend: a story of four young men who, having met at college, grow and navigate the realities of their past and present in a web fraught with difficulty, yet never far from art, beauty, and acquiring greater knowledge. 

It's painfully sad at times (at many times) and should come with a trigger warning, but the novel says so much about love, friendship, and what we dedicate our lives to. The novel was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2015, and arguably a good pick if you like Donna Tartt's novels.

One of the ultimate books about books, The Shadow of the Wind is a beautiful book - set in Barcelona - to read in winter, whether read in the original Spanish or in translation.
Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens.

6, 7, 8. His Dark Materials, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Harry Potter series

You could also delve into the expansive and magical worlds of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series, C.S. Lewis's wintery Narnia, or J.K. Rowling's Hogwarts.

Spend a cosy weekend with a lighthearted novel

9. The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

If the Queen of England were truly to stumble upon a mobile library while in pursuit of her corgis, Alan Bennett's imagining would undoubtedly be the result.
What she was finding also was how one book led to another, doors kept opening wherever she turned and the days weren't long enough for the reading she wanted to do.

10. Notes From a Small Island by Bill Bryson

A marvellous first-hand account of an American in Britain.
By the time I had finished my coffee and returned to the streets, the rain had temporarily abated, but the streets were full of vast puddles where the drains where unable to cope with the volume of water. Correct me if I'm wrong, but you would think that if one nation ought by now to have mastered the science of drainage, Britain would be it.

11. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

The Rosie Project quickly became a favourite lighthearted novel of mine when I read it in early 2014. Meet Don Tillman, a professor of genetics whose talent lies in cultivating order and certainly not romance. Follow his trials, failures, and transformations, and turn your life around a little in the process too.

12. The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson
There are only two things I can do better than most people. One of them is to make vodka from goats’ milk, and the other is to put together an atom bomb.
13. Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

In Maria Semple's Where'd You Go, Bernadette, the protagonist flees her trivial anxieties of everyday American life for Antarctica. This makes for a good plot to immerse yourself in while imagining your own winter escape.

Find wisdom in a literary classic

14. The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
Home is behind, the world ahead,
and there are many paths to tread
through shadows to the edge of night,
until the stars are all alight.

15. The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

As Holmes himself would probably encourage as it gets chilly, dedicate a few hours to getting as comfortable as possible, putting your feet up, and making some deductions.

16. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

A classic text for parenting, morality, and snowmen-building.
Atticus strolled over to Miss Maudie’s sidewalk, where they engaged in an arm-waving conversation, the only phrase of which I caught was ‘… erected an absolute morphodite in that yard! Atticus, you’ll never raise ’em!’
17. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

This is my favourite by Charles Dickens: a novel full of life lessons, although one that never fails to sadden me somewhat. I still come back to it time and again.
Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but - I hope - into a better shape.

18. Dubliners by James Joyce

Dubliners, a short story collection, is where it all begins for James Joyce. If I were to start my journey into Joyce's fiction once more, it would be cold outside, I'd have a lot of time to spare, and I'd have a very open mind. And perhaps a measure of whisky on hand. If you enjoy the experience, I have a lot of good things to say about Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man too.

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