Taking Quotes from Paper Books

Photograph of a page from “I Shall Wear Midnight” by Terry Pratchett with a quote I would like to capture, prior to Acrobat’s OCR.

I love good quotations — which is one reason why I prefer to read unprotected ebooks: If I read a beautifully worded sentence, an interesting thought that makes me think, or something that makes me laugh, I can simply copy and paste it to a text file where I collect these quotes (and use them for mash-ups, e.g., in a book of quotations ;-)).

However, some books are only available as paper books (pbooks?) and that makes it hard to get the quotations. I have tried to fold the edges, but even with cheap paperbacks this hurts and only “bookmarks” the page itself where the interesting quotation is. Using a pen to mark the place in the book and circling or writing down the page number to find the page more easily only works with books that you would throw away after reading. I have also tried writing down the quotation while reading, but that makes reading a good story very hard: Should I continue reading while I am in the flow or should I stop and write down that line? And typing from a books is hard with some books that need a lot of pressure to stay open (which also breaks the spine).

However, now I think I have found the perfect solution: simply photographing the quotation.

Sounds ridiculous? It really isn’t. A cheap compact camera (or cellphone camera) is enough. In some situations flash might be needed. It captures the quotation as an image and you can quickly read on. Afterwards simply transfer the images to the computer and then either type the quotation or — if you have a lot of quotations — use Adobe Acrobat (not the Reader) to create a PDF from the images and use the OCR function (Document – OCR Text Recognition) to enable you to copy and paste the text you have photographed. If you photograph straight down without distorting the image and the resolution is high enough, it works surprisingly well (the image above is actually not a very good example — the page should have been more flattened but I was lying on my bed/back). You can then scroll down the pages or parts of the pages where the quotations are and simply copy-paste them to another place.