An ebook reader standing against a pile of printed books

Subscription Models for Digital Literature

If you are someone who enjoys or is interested in digital literature, you probably know that there are a variety of ways in which you can experience it. Be it ebook or audiobook, the number of platforms you can choose from grows as time passes. In today’s blog post, we want to present you with a brief analysis of the current market for digital literature and its characteristics, trends, and platforms with the services they offer.

One of the main aspects that is necessary to understand about digital literature (and that is a particular characteristic of the subscription-based streaming era we are living in) is that unlike its printed counterpart, digital books are streamed, not owned. This is even true for ebooks that you buy, for example, at Barnes & Noble and on Amazon. You are not truly purchasing a file that you can later lend or give away or sell to someone else if you wish to. Instead, you are paying to gain access to a certain material on a dedicated platform with limited sharing capabilities.

As you do not own your copy, subscription services have to compensate by offering diverse and numerous libraries. Some of these backlist titles can be hard to access in a printed format but are readily available to subscribers of these platforms. Nevertheless, each service is different. The more traditional models, like Scribd, Kindle Unlimited, or the international Storytel, offer a robust library composed of ebooks and audiobooks that you maintain access to as long as your subscription is active, although it might not include the newest titles on the market. In Kindle’s case specifically, the subscription does not offer complete access to their Amazon library, and their book selection fluctuates as well, meaning that not all the titles are available at any given time.

Other models, like Audible (which is owned by Amazon), offer a big library of audiobooks with current releases, but you can only access a limited amount of titles at a time in exchange for a credit. The rest have to be purchased separately. This is a similar model to that of the South Korean platform RidiBooks, which has not been brought over stateside yet. This service offers ebooks and audiobooks but has the particularity that it heavily features serialized fiction that updates constantly, a type of literature that does particularly well on platforms like this or like Webtoon.

Another prominent subscription service that has risen in notoriety is Substack. The platform focuses on connecting independent authors and their audiences more directly, facilitating the process of independent publishing. This is a very tailored experience for both writers and readers. It gives the authors the ability to control how to publish their content—free, paid (minimum of five dollars a month), or a combination of both—where the author gets to choose to make certain posts available to entice the interest of the audience that might not be subscribed. On the audience side, it adjusts the experience to their own needs by offering a variety of filters while also providing the ability to check an author’s page before deciding to subscribe or not.

With subscription-based services on the rise, it’s possible to identify one notorious trend: it is not about providing the same experience as a regular book in a digital form, but rather to deliver an experience to their audience that is specially designed for them and that they could not get otherwise. Instead of trying to replicate what succeeds in the physical format, current models for ebooks and audiobooks services are trying to embrace what makes them unique. Because of this, the future seems to bring further diversification for digital literature and the models of distribution it uses.

Hand holding a mobile phone showing two rows of commonly used apps. First row: Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter. Second row: Chrome, Gmail, Spotify, and Messenger.

3 Insights Into Social Media for Authors

Many debut authors feel overwhelmed and confused by social media. Everyone, including your publisher, tells you that you should be doing it, but social media feels like an unnecessary distraction from the real work of writing. However, social media can be creatively adapted to suit the unique work you do as an author. Used thoughtfully, social media can be a powerful tool to strengthen your writing, readership, and career.

With modern digital marketing tools like social media, it is possible for authors with even a modest marketing budget to expand their reach and connect with enthusiastic readers effectively and in a more targeted manner than ever before. Social media can help authors connect authentically with readers and fans, organically expanding an author’s reach and increasing the visibility of their books.

How does an author use social media to market their books organically? These three ways are based on an approach to social media that book marketing expert Jane Friedman recommends:

1) Use social media as a natural extension of the work that you’re already doing

Social media doesn’t have to be an awkward thing that you do because you have to. It can be a natural outpouring of the creative writing work that you’re already doing day in and day out. For instance, you can actually use social media to share some of your writing work. Enthusiastic fans can help promote your work among their network through organic sharing, expanding your reach as an author.

Author Cassandra Clare recently ran a Twitter poll asking her followers which character “snippet,” or brief excerpt, they wanted to see from her upcoming book, Chain of Thorns. Clare regularly shares snippets of her upcoming books on social media, generating interest and enthusiasm among her fanbase so that they are more likely to purchase her upcoming releases.

Clare also shares art of the characters in her storyverse created by devoted fans. Sharing fan art is a smart way to engage your fan base as fans adore seeing beautiful art pieces of the characters they love while the sharing of fan-created art requires minimal effort on your part.

2) Use social media as a testing ground for your future books

Friedman explains that social media is a form of content and can be thought of as a micro-publishing platform. Often, these tiny pieces of work that you share publicly on social media can be the seeds for a larger work in the future. For instance, illustrators may post quick sketches on Instagram that later become a full-length print comic book.

Yung Pueblo posted brief reflections on love and relationships on Instagram as an unknown writer. Gradually, he gained a following and eventually published two books, one of which hit the NYT Best Sellers list.

You can also use social media to gauge how readers respond to your work. Paying attention to which posts garner more likes and comments will provide valuable insight into what content resonates most with your fans. This incredible intel can inform your work positively, helping to shape it into something people will be interested and excited to read.

3) Use social media as a way to connect with readers directly and authentically

One of the main premises of social media is that it is a tool to communicate with others. For authors, social media is a way to directly communicate with readers in a two-way conversation. Some ways authors can engage with followers include asking questions, expressing gratitude, sharing experiences, and even expressing frustration.

When authors respond to Twitter questions from followers or thank readers for praise of their books, they come across as more authentic to anyone who happens upon the exchange online. They appear less like a distant figure and more like a human being which leaves a more positive impression on followers.

For the author, it can be gratifying to see evidence of readers benefiting from and enjoying your book that you worked so hard on for years. Social media is a way for authors to discover small moments of joyful connection with enthusiastic readers, which can help fuel your excitement for the work that you’re doing today.

a computer screen with code

Free Resources for Every Step in the Ebook Creation Process

If you have ever written a book, you might have considered self-publishing, and probably creating an ebook version of your manuscript as well. But you might have run into questions such as: Can I create the ebook for my own manuscript? How do I even start?

While creating an ebook might seem a daunting and scary task, there are plenty of free tools and tutorials online that will make your task easier and more affordable. In this blog post, I am going to walk you through the basic steps of creating an ebook and the free resources that are available for every step.

Your first step in creating an ebook will be to convert your document into an EPUB file. There are many options and paths for the conversion, but it will all depend on where you have written your manuscript. The most common paths are the following:

  • If you have written your book in a Word document, you can use the tool Calibre to convert your file into an EPUB.
  • If you have written and designed your book in InDesign, you will be able to export it directly into an EPUB without any other tools.

There are obviously a lot more options to write and format your ebook, and I have only mentioned the most common ones, which are also standards of the industry. For an exhaustive explanation of how to format your ebook and which tools you can use, you can read the following article:

Once you have your EPUB file, you can move on to perfecting the aesthetic, format, and functionality of your ebook. To start, it is advised to open your ebook and browse through it. You can use any electronic reading software that you have available, such as Apple Books, Google Books, or even Calibre, and you should try to view it on different devices (phones, tablets, laptops, and ereaders).

At this point of the process, you might run into mistakes or elements that you want to correct and perfect, and you can do so by going directly into the code. These are some of the free resources available for opening your ebook and exploring the code:

  • Sigil. This is an excellent tool with which you can open your entire ebook and navigate all the files at once. It also has a second screen where you can see what your ebook looks like and how the different changes you make affect the layout. Moreover, all the changes you make and save will apply directly to the EPUB file you have stored.
  • Text editors. You can also use any text editor to play around with the code of individual files. These tools usually have color-coded tags and autocomplete features that will create closing tags for you. Some of the most popular text editors are Brackets, Sublime, Atom, and Visual Studio Code. If you choose to go this route, you will have to zip and unzip your EPUB file every time you want to work with it.

After you are done editing the code, you will have your complete ebook. But before uploading it to any platform, you need to validate it to make sure everything works and ebook standards are followed. And, of course, there are free tools for this step as well:

  • Pagina’s EPUB-Checker. This tool scans your EPUB file for any errors. If errors are found, they will appear in red and be listed with details of the type of error and the file where this is. If everything is correct, the items listed will appear in green.
  • Kindle Previewer. If you want to make your ebook available on Amazon, this tool is particularly useful because Kindle has its own specific guidelines. This tool allows you to execute a quality control and identify those elements that you need to change in order for your ebook to be accepted into Kindle.

Once your ebook is validated, it is ready to be uploaded. But do not forget to create a cover. Note that before uploading your ebook, you will need a separate file with your cover. If you still have not created one, a free and easy-to-use tool is Canva.

And now it is finally ready to become available to the public. Happy publishing!

Photo of narrator in sound booth

 Recording Audiobooks At Ooligan Press

The Audiobooks Department is heading into its second year at Ooligan Press, as audiobook production was previously overseen by the Digital Department. Audiobooks is now organized as a separate department because of the time intensive scripting, recording, and editing process required to produce audiobooks. I, Paige Zimmerman, am currently the second-ever Audiobooks Coordinator at Ooligan Press! My goal for this year-long role is to prepare as many of our books as possible for recording, and then set the department up for the future process of regularly recording audiobook versions of our books, which will improve the accessibility and availability of our books to readers.

Our ultimate goal as a department and press is to publish all versions of a book (print, ebook, and audiobook) on the same publication date. This has not been so easily accomplished in the history of the program, as we do not yet have our own recording space, and collaborations with recording studios can be expensive, especially for our student-run press.

This year, Ooligan Press is taking on its first attempt to record an audiobook without hiring the services of a professional recording studio and producer. We are starting with Faultland by Suzy Vitello: a compelling family drama set amidst a natural disaster in Portland, Oregon.

Last fall, the script for the audiobook was generated by students by taking the final manuscript and separating out different character voices from the narrator and tagging them with specific colors to signify a voice change to the narrator.

During the spring term, Ooligan students auditioned to narrate the manuscript. Then, similarly to other decisions made by our democratic press, students voted to choose the narrator of Faultland, and Jillian Bowen was chosen to narrate.

We are working with KPSU, Portland State University’s campus radio station, to record Faultland. The manager of KPSU, Ned Tillbrook, and the technical director, Carly, have assisted us with setting up the equipment we use for each session and finding the right spaces to work within the environment of the KPSU studio and offices. We are using Adobe Audition to record audio because Ooligan students already use the Adobe Creative Suite to create social media posts, book cover designs, interior book layouts, and other marketing and production documents.

Rather than use the same sound booth as the radio DJs, which only allows for one sound board operator at a time, we are utilizing a larger soundproofed room which features multiple microphones which have been used previously for podcasts and radio talk shows. While our narrator sits in the sound booth and reads through the audiobook script, I take the role of director and read along with the script on the other side of a window into the booth and provide clarity on pronunciation and line delivery as needed. Because the booth is soundproofed, the narrator and I use microphones and headphones connected to the same audio interface so we can hear each other. This audio interface is also plugged into my computer to record the audio.

Finally, once the process of recording the audiobook is complete, I will turn my attention to editing the recording to remove any extraneous sounds and errors in the narration. Once the audio is fully edited, the audiobook will be uploaded to distribution websites and will be available for purchase.

a person holding a notated script and sitting at a table.

How to do Audiobook Scripting Part Two: Formatting and Special Considerations

Photo credit to Ron Lach

Ever wonder what narrators do to avoid making mistakes while recording audiobooks? One of the answers is that they have scripts!

If you’re just starting to learn about the audiobook recording process, or already have some experience in the process, this suggested step may come as a surprise to you; but this step isn’t too widely talked about outside of the industry. This is part two of a series on audiobook scripting. In the previous post, I went over why you should make a script for audiobooks and how to do quality assurance for it. In this part, I’ll address how you can format the script and some special considerations for it.


There are tons of ways to format your script, and unfortunately there is no set standard because every book and narrator are different. You can borrow a lot of principles of formatting from genres such as screenwriting that you see for film, but understand that it is not a straight cross-over. There are a couple of reasons why:

Different way to annotate: Some narrators may want their characters’ changes noted by color, some by underlining, some by bolding. (Though I would avoid italics as they are generally used in the text itself to indicate interior thoughts.)

Dialogue tags: This is probably the number one reason why you can’t convert a book straight into an audiobook script using basic screenwriting formatting. Unlike a traditional script, where the speaker is naturally indicated by the formatting, audiobook narrators have to read dialogue tags to match the book itself.

  • For example, the narrator would have to read this full sentence, “‘He said, “I hate eggs. They smell disgusting to me.”‘” And the narrator would most likely have used two voices for that, the narrator and the voice of the character, we’ll call him Walter for this example.
  • In a typical script, the sentence would have read, “Walter: I hate eggs. They smell disgusting to me.”

On a related note, the point of view of the book can drastically change the formatting of a script. Depending if it is first, second, third person, or even with narrative frames like the unreliable narrator, it can drastically change the look of your script, how dialogue tags are handled, and how you would want to annotate it.

Depending on the scenes in the book you may see that you end up unintentionally revealing surprises earlier than you would in the book in its traditional format.

As an example, in Lord of the Rings, narrated by Andy Serkis, when the characters Gimli, Legolas, and Aragorn come across who they think is Saruman. If the listener is paying attention, they realize it is Gandalf (spoiler alert: who everyone thought was dead) due to Serkis’ acting. This revelation happens several lines before it is actually revealed in the book.

Special Considerations

Depending on what the book is about, and what elements there are to telling the story, there may be some other odd things to format in the script:

  • Texting/email bubbles
  • Lots of internal dialogue, hearing voices, or telepathic conversations.
  • Sound effects and songs (which you may not get the rights to).
  • Signs, pictures or visuals

I know that may be a lot to take in and keep in mind when making an audiobook script, but just remember, take it one chapter at a time. Not all of these special cases or logistics may apply to you and your audiobook. You’re also not in this alone. Have a conversation with the author and narrator, see what they think and what preferences they may have. It may save you a lot of work in the end!

a person holding a notated script and sitting at a table

Audiobook Scripting Part One: Why You Should Do It

Photo credit: Ron Lach

Ever wonder what narrators do to avoid making mistakes while recording audiobooks? One of the answers is that they have scripts!

If you’re just starting to learn about the audiobook recording process, or already have some experience with the process, this suggested step may come as a surprise to you, but this step isn’t too widely talked about outside of the industry. Here we will go over why you should make an audiobook script and some of the logistics of it, including why you should make a script, the importance of quality assurance, how to format a script, and some special considerations. This will be part one of a two part series explaining this subject. In this part I’ll address why you should make a script and the importance of quality assurance.

Why should you make a script for an audiobook?

If you’ve ever edited audio before, you know that mistakes and retakes are an inevitable part of the process. But have you ever wanted to do less of those? Of course you do! That is when scripts can help.

You may be wondering why the narrator can’t just read the book out loud when recording. And that’s a fair point. Some narrators might even have that as their preference. But, the advantages to making a script are as follows:

  • It’s easier to read. The spacing between words and lines of dialogue are easier to read than in a traditional book, and therefore easier on the eyes, which means fewer mistakes.
  • The extra space also allows the narrator to use the script to study their part(s) however they see fit. They can color code, underline, highlight, or annotate the text however they like without it becoming unnecessarily overcrowded. And the less overcrowded the script is, again the easier it is on the eyes.
  • If some of the characters have accents, or use difficult words, you can insert pronunciation notes into the script versus having to make a separate document.
  • Words like “in this book” can easily be changed to “in this audiobook.” If your book includes a lot of pictures, you can insert phrases like, “please refer to Appendix A, figure 1 for the diagram.” This will help in the overall navigation of your audiobook.

This all being said, if your narrator prefers to have no script and just to read from the book, then go with what they prefer. After all, they’re the ones that will have to stare at it for hours on end to study the material and then record.

If your narrator would like to have a script, here are some things to keep in mind. Quality Assurance, Formating, and some Special Considerations.

Quality Assurance

In terms of where this process happens during the book production, you will have to wait until the copyedit is done to start on the script. Optionally, you may want to do a quality check to make sure the script matches up with the book. But even if you still do this step and you have recorded the book, you will have to make sure you do one more quality assurance check to make sure your audio matches the book. As always, when one messes with a completed text, it is always possible to introduce errors in each new format it takes.

If you do go through the trouble of making a script, your narrator should be expected to study and use it. If they don’t study it, it defeats the purpose of making one to reduce possible errors when recording.

In part two, I’ll go over how to Format a script and some Special Considerations for scripts.

secret door bookcase

Literary Easter Eggs

Artists, programmers, and other professionals have been known to hide signatures in their work. In computer programming, it’s the “easter egg” you find in many video games; for example, there’s a reference to Star Wars in Skyrim if you know where to look. Authors and publishing professionals are not immune to this urge to leave their mark on their work.

Lewis Carroll left the name of the person who inspired the character of Alice in Alice in Wonderland hiding in a poem within the novel. But it’s not obvious to everyone who reads the book—it’s a little hidden secret left to be found because there is simply a joy in finding these little references.

Every Stephen King novel references at least one other Stephen King novel. For fans of the author, it can be a fun detail to spot in each novel, especially since they are stand-alone novels that can be read in any order.

Another literary easter egg highlights a friendship between authors. In her book, King’s Cage, Victoria Aveyard names two guards “Caz” and “Brekker.” To those who aren’t a part of the readership overlap between Victoria Aveyard and fellow fiction writer Leigh Bardugo, these names likely seem like odd fantasy names. Within the overlap of their readership, it’s an obvious easter egg pointing to Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows character, Kaz Brekker. There was excitement and questioning from fans over this easter egg, but it was confirmed by the author on her Tumblr.

I experienced my first dose of literary easter egg excitement recently, which is what got me thinking about the idea in the first place. I spent my spring break reading Christopher Paolini’s To Sleep in a Sea of Stars. Having read the Inheritance Cycle novels that he had written at the start of his career, I spotted something that really connected with me: a reference to a character from his earlier novels, Angela.

As a reader, I see literary easter eggs as a little signal to the fans. It’s like an inside joke. A way to let their readers know, “Hey, I see you.” Or at least that’s the feeling I get when I spot them.

As the Digital Manager, I primarily work in computer coding, though I can say that it’s easy for me to hide little jokes in the code for other programmers to find. There’s a joy in creating easter eggs in our work, just as there is joy in finding them. To all my fellow authors and publishing professionals, have fun with the little marks that you once worked on that piece, even if it’s only for you. There’s a real joy in it.

Digital Skills Empower Publishing Professionals

In a digital skills class for Portland State University’s Book Publishing Program, the graduate students create websites from scratch, host and manage a domain, and practice collaboration, courage, and innovation as we make choices about the content and style of our personal and professional websites.

As a preteen, I played games on MS-DOS, saved hundreds of megabytes of angsty poetry to 3.5-inch floppy disks, and Mavis Beacon taught me to type. I dialed-up to access the web in order to download music from Napster. I liked computers and was good at using them. Unfortunately, computers were largely regarded as a hobby for guys who liked to tinker around in musty basements. In high school, I was never advised to take courses in computer sciences; all things tech were marketed toward men and boys.

Computer science has evolved into a critical skill in the twenty-first century, and educators have known for decades that digital literacy empowers learners. As a former elementary school teacher, I provided students with digital tools and took the time to teach basic coding skills. I watched them create interactive stories and video games with nothing but a text editor and the internet. Students’ commitment to their projects had everything to do with the satisfaction and enjoyment they got from their work. That same empowerment can, and should, be realized by publishing professionals.

Historically, publishers have created printed matter like books and newspapers, but today what and how we publish is largely digital. Karen Christiansen, founder of Berkshire Publishing, wrote that “anyone employed in publishing today should understand how code is written, and even know a computer language or two.” She talks about meeting “experienced professionals who feel like dinosaurs because up till now they got by doing things the way they always had.” Honing digital skills will increase the value you add to the projects you work on as a publishing professional.

While we are busy checking the weather, looking for love, and consuming book reviews, algorithms are coded to keep us on these platforms as much as possible, resulting in what Professor Shoshana Zuboff coined to be “surveillance capitalism,” and the exploitative “profiling and targeted advertising” detailed in a report put out by Norwegian organization, Forbrukarrådet. Zuboff says that “unequal knowledge about us produces unequal power over us.” In acquiring a basic understanding of the language lurking behind the scenes of the web, we can take back some of the control. One of the most responsible and accessible ways to push back against this blatant consumer manipulation is to intentionally work toward understanding the language of the computer scientists who create it.

After sharing “The Scary Power of the Companies That Finally Shut Trump Up,” Dr. Kathi Berens opened up our digital skills class for a discussion about the complexities surrounding digital media platforms, synthesizing the article with her belief that “basic code literacy is an extraordinarily empowering skill set that…gives users a level self-control and freedom that people don’t have if they rely entirely on third parties to represent their public speech.” Her point parallels one made by Michelle Goldberg in the aforementioned article: while she agrees with the decisions made that ultimately de-platformed the former President, she also states that people “don’t have a constitutional right to have their speech disseminated by private companies,” and that it is “dangerous to have a handful of callow young tech titans in charge of who has a megaphone and who does not.” We are not political leaders, but publishers are global leaders; how, and on whose terms, we use our voices matters.

I set a goal to reach proficiency in HTML and CSS within twelve weeks using for three hours a week. Comment on this post with your digital literacy goals, and perhaps we can inspire each other to hold ourselves accountable!

I hope you will set a goal, though I acknowledge the many ways reality can interfere with this quixotic hope. There is a gap between the haves and have-nots regarding digital inequities. The Brookings Institution reported last July that “tens of millions of American households cannot access the digital economy due to physical gaps in local broadband networks, unaffordable subscription plans and personal devices, and a lack of digital skills.” COVID-19 has exacerbated this divide. The absence of reliable technology significantly impedes access to the empowerment of digital literacy, leaving those who have-not—particularly those groups that are already marginalized—unjustly vulnerable.

Single Narrator or Full-Cast in Audiobooks—Which Is Better?

You’re probably reading this article because you either have a book that you’d like to make into an audiobook and are wondering how to go about it, or you’re just curious about the factors that go into deciding what an audiobook will sound like.

There are two logistical factors that should be considered first: budget and the experience of the editor.

Large full-cast productions can become pretty pricey, not just because you have to pay the individual actors, but also because you will spend a lot of time casting and splicing together audio files during the editing process. Of course, all of this depends on the overall logistics of your project. You may also have to factor in that your editor may not have the skill level to complete all of these tasks at the level they need to be completed. If they are up for the challenge of learning this process, they will most likely need extra time to complete the tasks, so that needs to be taken into consideration as well. I recommend taking a hard look at these factors before even considering if you want to do a full-cast or a single narrator for your audiobook. You can check out this article for some more guidance on the logistics for casting audiobooks.

If you’re still contemplating a full-cast versus a single narrator audiobook, next you should consider your genre, target audience, and personal taste.

In terms of genre, most people prefer to have nonfiction books read by a single narrator, not only because the genre tends to use the third person, which lends itself naturally to this type of narration, but also because it provides a similar feeling to being read to or attending a lecture. This is an experience that the reader is usually familiar with.

Fiction, however, is a little more tricky. This genre is where factors such as target audience, personal taste, and narrative style comes into play.

There is a lot of debate among readers, producers, and reviewers on the preference of a single narrator versus a full-cast. The points of contention between the two mostly revolve around if characters of a different gender than that of the narrator are voiced well/badly, and if a full-cast audiobook sounds too much like the audiotrack of a film instead of a book.

To clarify these two points, those who are fans of a single narrator are usually fans because it replicates the feeling of being read to like we were as children. It also provides a more traditional book experience—it feels like an extension of the reader’s own inner voice is narrating the book. Those who are opposed to a single narrator usually worry about things like having a male narrator who isn’t able to do feminine voices convincingly or vice versa.

Fans of full-cast audiobooks like the added immersion and suspense of having multiple voices, which makes the experience seem more life-like. This can also add some clarity to the story for books that use multiple perspectives, timelines, or unknown narrators. Those who oppose full-casts usually feel like the line between a book and a performance are blurred too much for comfort; they feel like the audiobook sounds more like a play or movie instead of a book.

It’s understandable if you still feel confused on what to do about casting for an audiobook. With that being said, there are some trends in publishing that might help steer your decision: fantasy and science fiction titles seem to gravitate towards full-cast audiobooks, as do younger readers such as millennials. Older readers, however, seem to prefer a single narrator. Whether the story is told in the first person versus third person also makes a considerable difference, with the former usually done by a single narrator and the latter being either/or.

All in all, the decision to do a single narrator versus a full-cast audiobook is dependent on the project and the company, as well as to the taste of the author. If you are still unsure of what to do, you could always go for the happy medium of having a male actor for male parts and a female one for female characters.

How Goodreads Helped Me Find My Memories

An unsettling thing happened when I went home to Colorado for the holidays last year. While my family sat around a fire in Summit County, trading stories and recent news, my sister asked me about a time she and I had shared that she remembered vividly.

“You don’t remember that?” She stared at me emphatically, as if asking the question would light the match to the memory that had clearly grown cold and damp in my mind. No such luck. In fact, I couldn’t recall even a portion of the memory she described to me—a memory that wasn’t from too long ago, but distant enough that it’s not tangible anymore, something vaguely familiar.

I don’t know when I started noticing gaps in my memories of things, but it became more pervasive and embarrassing in my early 20s. Large swaths of time suddenly go dark, dissolve from within me. It starts small, with a drive home from a late shift that I couldn’t really describe, to a song that sounded like something I knew but couldn’t pinpoint who it was. People waving and saying, “How are you?” who I didn’t recognize or couldn’t name. Then more of those questions:

“Remember that time?” “What year was that?” “When did you get that tattoo?” Significant portions of my own timeline were missing. I became skilled in leading conversations away from my frustration and increasing anxiety over these lost portions of time. I started leaving myself notes around the apartment.

“Don’t dry the tan, wool shirt!” “Remember your sister’s birthday is on the 13th, CALL HER.” “There is spinach in the fridge, if you don’t eat it, it will go bad and you will feel like a failure again.” While some of these were reminders about small tasks, I started to wonder if this was how my life was just going to be now. The problem for me wasn’t just why I couldn’t remember, but how I could get these memories back.

My partner and I were talking about books we had read in 2019; books that blew us away and books that we wished we had put down sooner. I knew I had read stellar books last year, but I couldn’t pinpoint those titles. I reached for my phone, as many of us who need to remember something right away do, and opened my Goodreads app. My “2019” shelf sat, neatly and chronologically ordered for me to peruse. Month by month, the books I had slogged through and the books that shone brilliantly awakened in my memory, but something else happened too. I began to remember other parts of my life in those months, what I was doing while reading The Song of Achilles, or where I had been sipping a particularly delicious sticky rice tea in Sellwood while devouring La Fronterra in June. One by one, my memories filtered back in, and as I looked further and further through my Goodreads archive, pieces of 2017 and 2016 came together before me.

It turns out, it’s not just me; our memories are getting worse and that’s largely due to the
Google effect, in which the ability to look up or search is so readily available to us that our minds have “decreased dependency on internal memory storage.” I can’t recall the amount of times I’ve been thinking of a word for something or a fact about so-and-so and just Googled it. While I was briefly euphoric at the discovery that Goodreads had carefully catalogued the past three years of my life for me with dates and metadata to support the timeline, I wonder about the accuracy of archival memory. It’s unsettling to consider that memory may become something that lives on a server farm somewhere, susceptible to be infiltrated, altered, or vanished. But there is a rather simple solution: write more. Research has shown that writing things down is essential to memory retention. Perhaps the digital cataloguing of the books I’ve read in some way has captured those memories within the pages of those books. In rereading the titles, I am able to relive those parts of my life with more clarity, and to engage again with my life through the “written” lists of how my past was spent.