The difficulties of looking up a quotation in a paper book

The difficulties of looking up a quotation in a paper book

I love paperbooks! 

Okay, can I complain now?  😉

I publish quotations pretty much every day (among other things) in one of my other blogs, The Measured Circle

I’ve collected those quotations over time.  Back in the day, I didn’t have a computer, just a…what were those called?…oh yeah, typewriters.  😉  That meant I couldn’t do things like italics and bold, so I tended to use all capitals for those (that was before that meant shouting on the internet, although it did communicate emphasis).

One problem, though, is I don’t know which one it was in the original work.

So, I was setting up a quotation for publication several days away (I’m going to have less computer access from July 5 to July 9, due to a family thing…I still expect to have a post a day in ILMK, and my guess is that I will stay on top of things…but I’m going to try to write ahead a bit).  I wanted to go back and confirm the quotation.

I had the source listed as Gulf by Robert A. Heinlein. 

First, I didn’t know which book that was…I knew it was a short story.  If I’d had that book on my Kindle, I could have searched for it, but that wasn’t an option. 

Fortunately, I could look it up at

which I highly recommend.

That told me that it was in Assignment Earth.  I went into my library in my house and had no trouble locating it (my books are alphabetized, which probably won’t surprise you).

My copy is an old Signet paperback (it originally cost twenty-five cents…I think I paid a dime).  It’s a November 1954 first edition paperback…in lousy condition.  🙂  It’s literally falling apart…only the back of the cover is even attached anymore (the front and the spine are there, but they are hanging loose).  The ends of the pages are shredding.

When people talk about being worried about their e-books being available to them years from now, this is the kind of thing I want to show them.  Paperbooks, especially ones that were thought of as ephemera (and I read a lot of those), decay.  Yes, I have hardbacks that are over one hundred years old, but paperbacks are often not printed to last. 

So, I had the book, I had the story name.  I gingerly opened the book, and started flipping through…page by page.  I’m a good skimmer, so it didn’t take that long to go through 45 pages to find it.  I also had to put on my reading glasses from the Dollar Store.  🙂  I don’t normally wear glasses or carry them around with me, but this text was small.

Once I found it, I had to carefully balance it open (so I didn’t degrade the book any more than necessary) and compare it.

Needless to say, that was a lot harder than doing a search, clipping the section, and copying and pasting.  🙂

I love paperbooks, but I do have to treat them somewhat like fragile invalids…lovingly, but with caution and recognition of their special limitations (and strengths). 

In my opinion, academia and research generally will be greatly advanced when e-books are used more extensively.

Disagree?  Like putting those little sticky flags in paperbooks to mark things?  Feel free to let me know with a comment to this posting.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.


6 Responses to “The difficulties of looking up a quotation in a paper book”

  1. Sherri Says:

    Not even all hardbacks are built to last. The paper may not yellow like mass market paperbacks, but the bindings don’t always hold up very well, particularly old book club editions. And there’s a price to keeping that hardcover around – it takes up space in your house, and if you move, you have to pay to move it. People afraid of ebooks talk about paper books as if they’re somehow immutable; they never have pages torn, they never get wet, you never decide that you don’t need that book anymore and get rid of it only to decide you do need it after all and be unable to find it again because it’s out of print.

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Sherri!

      Absolutely: I always tell people they need to calculate how many square feet are being used by bookshelves in their homes (and books in boxes, of course), and figure that in to their rent/mortgage/property tax.

      You also left out fire and flood…two things that can wipe out a paper library. They could wipe out a Kindle, but not your Kindle library…that can be downloaded to a new device.

      Yes, hardbacks vary a great deal in how well they were constructed. Particularly omnibus editions, like you buy in the bargain section of bookstores…they tend to be printed with inexpensive materials, in my experience (I’m a former bookstore manager).

  2. Tom Madsen Says:

    So are you getting some of these books for the Kindle then? Updating your quotes, and adding notes.

    What is your impression of the new “View Popular Highlights”?


    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Tom!

      Well, one of the big problems for me with getting the books for the Kindle is that I’ve read a lot of fantasy and science fiction. While St. Martin’s does publish quite a bit of it, most of it probably comes from Random House (with quite a bit of Penguin). Both of those publishers block text-to-speech access for their e-books…and because of that, I don’t knowingly buy (or link to) any of their products.

      The other issue, honestly, is I’m not a big re-reader of fiction. I want to read more and different things…and I’m reading many free books (which are often books which I haven’t read before). Honestly, I couldn’t afford to begin systematically re-buying books I already own in paper. I do buy some books I own in paper. One reason is reference: the first book I bought for my Kindle was a fact-filled book (and one of my favorites). The ability to look up references to, say, California is great! I’ve also bought some omnibus editions: all the original 14 Oz books for ninety-nine cents, for example.

      As to View Popular Highlights:

      For fiction, I’d rather not see them while I’m reading fiction the first time. I might turn it on out of curiosity after I’ve read the book, and check the list. I can see why it could be very useful in non-fiction.

      I do like reviewing the popular highlights at . I’m really big on avoiding spoilers, so it’s not so much for fiction (again).

      As to participating, I don’t mind at all. It’s just aggregate data: no different than my purchases affecting the bestseller list.

  3. ArtWench Says:

    You have no idea how much I empathize with you on this. I am a bibliophile from way back and have collected excessive amounts of DTBs which I am reluctantly weeding out now that I have the Kindle.

    Prior to the Kindle, I had to wrestle with that horrible dilemma… Mark up my DTBs so that I could find pertinent quotes in the future? Or maintain their pristine beauty for as long as possible? The advent of sticky notes helped some; however, still left me worrying about acidic residue which could damage the fragile pages of my DTBs.

    With my wonderful Kindle, I can underline and footnote to my heart’s delight with no worry about damaging my investment! LOVE MY KINDLE!

    Oh… and as a footnote… I long for the day when all of Heinlein’s books are available in eBook format. Sigh…

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, ArtWench!

      I never marked them up or used flags. I might tear a piece of paper up and stick a small piece into a book…that was about it.

      You usually couldn’t tell I had read a book afterwards. 🙂

      I love, as I put it, “annotation without degradation”!

      I’m waiting for the day when all books are available to all readers. 🙂

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