The Highlight Function on Your eReader: Love It or Hate It?

It’s a little ironic: technology meant for convenience in our ever-faster paced world actually invites me to take my time.

When I first started reading e-books, I was puzzled, then curious, then annoyed by the paragraphs that appeared with lines under them stating how many people had highlighted a particular passage.

For starters, it broke my reading stride. Furthermore, why did I care about what, say, 150 other strangers deemed worthy of highlighting? Did it matter whether or not I, too, found or didn’t find the same text to be notable? What was the point in this collective sharing? Apparently, I wasn’t alone in my annoyance.

A quick poll of my Facebook friends yielded comments like:

“It distracts me when I see passages that have already been highlighted.”

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“Never use them. Get annoyed when I turn on by mistake.”

“I don’t use it, and I don’t want to see it. I only want to see someone else’s highlights if I’m not prepared for a test. And yes, it does make me pause and I lose where I was and wonder why it was highlighted.”

“I hate the highlighting feature! I never use it and never highlight . . . it’s the worst when you are reading on your phone and accidentally turn it on.”

To be fair, reading has always been an extremely private pursuit for me. I never cared what Oprah chose to read, and while I was in three book clubs when book clubs became all the rage, I only stuck around for one or two meetings of each. I scoffed at my mom’s book club, which seemed to exist only as an excuse to drink wine and have discussions about their own lives and how they related to the book.

Yet I never liked the antithesis of that type of club either: book industry people like myself getting together to one-up each other’s trenchant comments or discuss the book with a cerebral, critical eye. I’d had my share of those kind of discussion in creative writing and English classes in college, and if I wanted critique I’d read a review. The only person I really ever discussed books with was my best friend and, even then, in small doses.

Ironically, when books started getting reading group guides, I was one of the first copywriters to pen them. While I put a lot of thought into the questions I asked – both of the author and the reader – I still always wondered why anyone would want to talk about any of it.

The experience of reading something another person had written – of entering into a kind of contract with them, of giving over hours of my life to enter the lives they’d created – felt extremely intimate.

The thoughts and emotions that came along with that experience, too, never seemed like something I wanted to share. It’s so rare in our world to have a secret; my reading life was one of mine.

All that said, I recently started using the highlight function on my e-reader.

Not because I have any desire to have my favorite passages quantified, to be part of the masses. Instead, I use it to take pause when something in a book moves me: whether it’s because the writing itself is so wonderful or because it resonates with something within me or my life.

After highlighting, I tend to read it a second time and think a little more deeply on it. It slows me down and allows me to savor the words. It’s a little ironic in a way: technology meant for convenience in our ever-faster paced world actually invites me to take my time.

I like to imagine that I might one day cull some of these choice highlights into a collection for myself, though I doubt I will. Will they, more likely, just live on in the gadget itself, like so many photos on our smart phones?

Or maybe I’ll remember something years from now that I’ll want to share with my daughter, or find words that I’ll turn to when I’m facing something momentous in my life: a loss, a joy, a sea change.

How do you feel about the highlighting function in your eReader? Do you use it? Love it? Hate it?

About Kira Walton

Kira Walton

KIRA WALTON has been stalking books all her life as a college English teacher, bookseller, book club consultant, author, and editor.

  • Christina Oseland

    I don’t use the highlighting function at all. Didn’t even use highlighters in textbooks.

  • Bonnie Franks

    I have never used that feature. I have enough trouble remembering to “charge” my book.

    • Nicole Sprinkle

      Hey Bonnie,
      I totally hear you on that.

  • V Taylor

    I no longer use the highlight feature and really don’t like seeing other people’s highlights while I’m reading. I prefer to bookmark a page if there’s text I want to remember for book discussions and/or blog reviews.

    • Nicole Sprinkle

      That’s a great idea. I might start doing that now instead!

  • Gigi Ann

    I use my highlight feature as a bookmark. When I return to my reading I remove the highlighted text. Since I read on my iPad, iPhone, Nook and Kindle, the highlight feature keeps me updated, so no matter which one I choose to read it always takes me to where I left off on the other e-reader. I love it for that reason, not because I want to save a quote of sorts.

  • tammy

    Don’t use it. would never use it. I could care less what other people think about the book I am reading.

  • YvonneJ

    The only time i use the highlight feature is to mark something I may want to come back to in the future. I wasn’t aware that my highlighting was apparent to other readers.

  • ceblain

    I don’t have an e-reader so couldn’t comment on liking it or not. My husband just got a Kindle but we have not even had time to figure out how to use it. Maybe one of these days we will find time. Not tech savvy or inclined to be. 🙂

  • Bee Yu


  • S. Smith

    I’ve never used the highlighting function, not even when I have regular books. If anything, I’d use them in textbooks occasionally. Besides, in my kindle I have no idea where to find it, and even if I did…I wouldn’t. Gets in the way of my reading.

  • The Book Wheel

    I use the highlighting feature all of the time, but not because I want to share with other people but because sometimes I need to be reminded of things/places/quotes that I want to include in my review. I actually went from the keyboard to the regular Kindle and now I miss my old one!

  • Only use the highlighting feature when I’m reading to review and I want to be able to look something up when drafting my review. Often it’s something that relates to the author’s ability to develop characters, the use of dialogue, etc. Other than that, no highlighting.

  • Sharon

    I use highlighting all the time. I use it in place of a book mark or dog-earing the page that I want to reread.

  • pjv

    Don’t have a e reader, but please highlight away! You may want to share them with your Daughter or she will discover them like a treasure she will cherish. My Daughter left behind lots of books with pages turned back and highlighted and journals with favorite thoughts highlighted. I will read and reread as needed when I want to remember the beautiful person she is and because of her love of reading from such an early, early age, that helped shape her. She carried books to bed before one year old, and was saying octopus at eleven months. I am proud of who she was and the many people she touched in her 30 years as a teacher and photographer.
    Samantha 8/22/80-6/13/11

  • Curtis

    I rarely use the highlighter on eBooks. An exception is what I would consider spiritual scriptures, like the Bible, or ACourse in Miracles.

  • The Book Wheel

    I love it! I use it all of the time so that I can makes notes for my reviews.

  • Topazshell

    I’m not crazy about the highlighting thingy. Sometimes I just won’t highlight.

  • Vicki Valenta

    I use it to highlight quotes I might want to find again or something I want to review later. I think it’s very convenient. I also use it for my book club books to note anything I want to be sure comes up in discussion.

  • Lisa from Iroquois

    Did not know it existed. On the other hand, I use little post it highlight strips as I read real books. When I’m finished the book I often write a brief review, and capture those marked passages.

  • 160kf45

    Never use the highlight feature on my Kindle reader. I have it turned off.

  • guest

    written 14oct2014: Nicole, I found this blog / site doing research to find if any or all ereaders have this function, the way I want to use it…in effect, what I would expect from new technology bringing added features to an old experience. Any serious book I read has innumerable dog-ears where I’ve ‘marked’ passages for me to go back to; so, the only feature that would entice me to buy an ereader would be a convenient highlighting feature, that I could then use after finishing to go back and re-read all of my own hightlights. The problem as I’ve found, is that no one who is a user, could answer my question on whether their reader can do this (unbelievable!), AND there’s no easy way to find out how any product actually performs the function they provide. Now, further, you’ve brought up a whole new scary, annoying, topic that I never conceived of them doing…laying on the social sharing of highlights. Good grief !
    So, a couple questions: 1) Of any product that does this, what’s the default ?, i.e,, can I have my own local highlighting w/o any sharing either way ?, and 2) Do you have any recommendations on how to learn what ereader will perform the way I describe?

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