On Forgetting E-Books

A few weeks ago, I commented on Twitter that one of my favorite activities is pre-ordering e-books:

preodering ebooks tweet

Most of the time, it’s a wonderful surprise when, like magic, a book appears on my Kindle.

However, sometimes the order arrives at an inopportune time, such as when I’m in the middle of too many other books, when I have too many deadlines at work, when I have too many personal commitments — or all of the above. If I don’t end up reading a book within a week or two of its arrival, odds are good it will join the ever-growing list of books I downloaded and then forgot I owned.

Is this type of forgetfulness more likely to happen with e-books than with physical books?

As Molly from Wrapped Up In Books wrote recently, “That’s the thing about Kindle books…without a physical reminder, I tend to forget I have certain titles.”

While I’ve been known to forget about books on my bookshelf too—I didn’t remember I had Francisco X. Stork’s Marcelo in the Real World* until Molly’s review encouraged me to dust it off—it’s certainly harder to forget a novel that is physically present in my home, even if it’s nothing more than decoration. With e-books, though, newer titles eventually bury the older ones and push them out of view. Plus, because I don’t spend as much money on an e-book as I do on a physical copy, I buy them more impulsively. I don’t feel the same “buyer’s remorse” that might compel me to read a physical copy. As a result, e-books might just be easier to forget.

Whatever the reason, a review of my e-book orders has revealed many titles I am still interested in reading, like Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (purchased 12/17/12), and others I am not, like Charles Dickens’ Bleak House (downloaded 9/27/12). For those that will remain forever unopened on my e-reader, it’s too bad that I can’t give them away.

*For my thoughts on this novel, see Francisco X. Stork’s Marcelo in the Real World: A Book Law Students Should Read. Really, everyone should read it.


  1. I am guilty of forgetting which e-books I have. Thank goodness both Amazon and Barnes and Noble tell me when I try to buy another e-copy of a book I already own. I am sure there are a number of titles I was so sure I wanted to read right away, and now have forgotten. Sad, sad.

    1. I know how that feels! Sadly, I’ve often clicked on the “buy now with 1 click” and THEN had Amazon tell me I had already purchased the book! I don’t always notice the banner at the top. This usually happens after I’ve read a wonderful review about a book and then I rush over to the site. When I buy traditional paper books, which come from a variety of different sellers, I put more thought into those purchases.

  2. I have so many e-books downloaded, and I never read them. I always end up going straight to the bookcase to choose my next read. I think they are much easier to forget about when it’s not physically these to see daily.

    1. Yeah, it would definitely help to see the physical copies on a daily basis. I’m forcing myself to review my e-book orders every couple of months from this point on. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. My mom used to buy multiple copies of paperbacks CONSTANTLY. She likes her kindle because if she tries to buy the same book twice, it warns her. That said, I totally have this problem. I’ve started a list in my kindle for stuff I haven’t read yet. It’s been working out pretty well to have the unread list instead of sifting through the books all the time. Stuff still gets lost, but not quite so often :).

  4. I have a to read folder on my e-reader and stuff all the books I do not have to read in there. Every time I visit my home page on my Kindle the number screams at me 🙂 It is easier to ignore though than my paper stack

  5. My book “problem” has gotten so bad that I’m starting to have problems remembering which books I have regardless of what format they come in, but eBooks are definitely harder. They’re way too easy to buy and bury under other easy to buy eBooks. LOL! I’m trying to enter them all into my Library Thing account so I can keep better track and not forget about those older impulse buys, but it’s kind of a project.

    1. I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one with this problem! I’m trying to cut back on buying ebooks until I’ve finished reading the ones I’d forgotten about.

    1. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who does this! I’ve paid for so many books I’ve never read. My bookshelves have always had unread books, but what’s on my Kindle is just out of control.

  6. I can certainly understand the allure of inexpensive books! The only books I really read electronically are on Netgalley, so I think I am avoiding that particular reader problem (at least for now!).

    1. Oh the joys of inexpensive books! Sometimes I think I’ve almost bought more books than I’ll ever have time to read (especially if I count all the out-of-copyright classics I downloaded for free)

  7. Strangely I ‘discovered’ a paperback yesterday by Malachy McCourt, Frank’s brother. Entertaining enough but not in his brother’s league. As for discarded or forgotten books on Kindle I find it hard to just ‘zap’ them – just as I’d hate binning a physical book. A pity there’s not a Charity Kindle Shop or something that you could give your old books to!

  8. I do the same thing! I also hoard free books – when someone posts on facebook that a book is free, i snap it right up. Then I forget that I did. The worst part is, it is so difficult on the type of e-reader I have (kindle paperwhite, and before that the original kindle) to remember the book because all I see is a list of titles, not the covers. So then if the title is unfamiliar I have to click open the file and try to remember what the book is about, what genre it is, what I was thinking when I downloaded it. And I can’t even tell you how many times I’m browsing amazon and it tells me “you’ve bought this before” and I’m like “what? when?”
    LOL I’m getting old 🙂

    1. I must be getting old too! It’s tough when all we can see are the Titles. I’ve often impulsively clicked on Amazon’s “Buy now with 1 click” and then had Amazon tell me I already purchased it. I rarely notice the banner at the top. Thanks for stopping by!

  9. I have a ton of books on my Kindle I haven’t yet gotten to. Some I’ve bought, some I downloaded for free. And sometimes I feel guilty knowing they’re there and I’ve yet to open them. “One day, I’ll have the time to sit on that porch and do nothing but read.” Except “one day” hasn’t come yet. I don’t even take time off on weekends.

    The worse problem is finally reading something and two months later, not remembering one thing about the characters or plot. That happens a lot in my genre (m/m); all the stories sound the same, which is why I now buy them infrequently. They have to come recommended or I don’t bother.

    1. Almost all of the books I haven’t gotten to are ones I purchased (I tend to avoid free books unless they are out of copyright classics). Apparently, the fact that I actually paid for them doesn’t help my memory much. As Donna from GWGT said in the comments, it’s just too easy to “buy now with 1 click” and forget about it. It would probably be different if I actually had to take cash out of my wallet and hand it over to a clerk.

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