Shelf is a new note-taking app that allows you to save your thoughts about books right on your phone. It’s simple to use: Search for the book you’re reading, save it to a queue (books are listed by title, with their cover images) and type notes as you’re reading. Once you’re done reading, mark the book complete, and it moves to a separate queue. That’s about it.

First, a confession: I’m not sure I can get on board with using my phone to jot notes. Reading, gloriously, is a low-tech pleasure, and after a day staring at the basilisk glow of a computer, I like the lightless ease of a printed page, a salve for strained eyes.

But I tried. First problem: Books cannot be arranged alphabetically in their queues or by subject, such as science, history, philosophy.

Second problem: Seeing a striking line while reading, I had to pull out the phone and type my thoughts. This distracted from the flow of reading. Maybe taking a picture is a better solution, especially for more maundering passages that require much typing? Nope. Shelf did not access my phone’s camera.

I did add a few favorite quotes from books I’d already read, lines I’d love to have handy whenever I need them, such as this from Sigurd Olson’s “Reflections From the North Country,” among the wisest books in my personal library:

“One cannot run from a challenge without losing. To flee is signing a death warrant to dignity and character, and, having run, there is no return; one is a weakling forever. Meeting a challenge, though one may be defeated, gives strength, character, and a certain assurance that regardless of outcome, one will survive or go down fighting.”

It took a while.

Shelf was helpful building a wish list of books to scout for at used bookstores (to do that, you have to use either your current or completed lists; there’s no way to add another). I listed a number of books that I’d like to read, including Fiona MacCarthy’s biography of William Morris, the Victorian textile designer (which I found the day I added it. Huzzah!), and Volume 2 of Jonathan Sumption’s history of the Hundred Years War. The next time I’m browsing a bookshop, I’ll have the list and, important, images of the covers.

But not all the books I hoped to put on the list were in Shelf’s database, which doesn’t seem to favor out-of-print titles. I would have appreciated the ability to add Jim Perrin’s biography of British rock climber John Menlove Edwards and Edwin Way Teale’s travel classic “Wandering Through Winter.” A little crowdsourcing, please.

Shelf’s simplicity seems less virtue than hindrance. Are you going to be happy with typing out the occasional striking line from a book, as long as it’s in Shelf’s database? Then it’s a good choice for you. But with a few tweaks, the app could be a welcome friend for book shoppers.


NAME: Shelf

COST: Free


CREATOR: Samir Ghobril

USER RATINGS: No ratings.

REVIEW’S BOTTOM LINE: It’s intended for notes. It’s better for shopping.