Monday, February 16, 2009

Thank you, Tim Sanders

I grew up with the idea that you never, ever write in a book. Unless you're correcting a mistake. (The book never "gets it" except when the book deserves it.)

But I was wrong. Tim Sanders fixed me. His book, Love Is the Killer App: How to Win Business and Influence Friends, in the section about Knowledge (page 82) just saved me a few hours. Tim recommended to me that as I read, I should tag and cliff within the book itself. His advice made me uncomfortable, because it made good sense, but I do not write in books.

So, I was just wrong. I didn't summon the courage to tag or cliff Tim's book, but I resolved to tag and cliff the next few. And wow, it's a Good Thing. It's basically the act of creating an index for stuff you want to find later. I just saved myself a couple of hours looking for a passage in a book that I found in about 30 seconds because I had tagged it inside the front cover. My tag told me the page number and the concept I was looking for, and—poof!—I snapped right to it, there it was. That's index access by rowid for the brain.

Now I write in all the books I read. It works, and I highly recommend it.

Thank you, Karen Morton, for giving me the copy of Tim's book.


petercmoore said...

Hello. I'm probably being incredibly stupid, but... Isn't that why books already HAVE indexes?

Serious question.

Cary Millsap said...

I know, but...

A lot of non-technical books don't have an index to begin with. For example, my copy of The Soul of a New Machine... no index at all.

And most technical books I own have indexes (I know, indices—too many years of Oracle), but not very good ones. I think for most books, the index is an afterthought, kind of like performance testing an application: everything's behind schedule, everyone's tired of the project and just want it out, and the index suffers. (Pet peeve: I hate it when books don't at least index the names of people to which they refer.)

The tagging and cribbing that I'm talking about, though, gives you more than the original index. It's more personalized. It's what will enable you to find that particularly well-stated sentiment or that little story that the author or indexer didn't view as all that special, but that resonated deeply with you, and now you'll actually be able to find it again.

petercmoore said...

Aha. Cool. Thanks for expanding on that.

Lise A said...


Probably a stupid question. But - does "tag/cliff/cribb" mean anything other than "create personal index"? Like, do you also write something on the page referred to in the index?

Cary Millsap said...

Here are some examples of tags I wrote inside the front cover of Denise Shiffman's The Age of Engage:

p145: Why host a site you don't control?

p153: FedEx furniture story

p158: Insular companies fearful of giving outsiders (and employees) a voice are at a disadvantage as their competitors create extended communities and loyalty

The p153 one I could have found in the book's index. The other two, not.

I'm still new at this... I'll probably evolve to writing more in the margins of pages I find interesting. Now, though, I commonly only mark with a vertical line in the margin the sentence or two that I know I'm going to want to find quickly later.