My Reading Strategy: Kindle versus Physical Books
I read a lot. I read books on all sorts of subjects: nutrition, science, physics, history, evolutionary psychology, anthropology, paleoarcheology, biography, business and others. I read mystery novels for fun. And I throw in a contemporary (non mystery) novel here and there as the mood strikes me. Although I’m a political junkie, I don’t read many books on politics. I feed that addiction through a number of daily news feeds.
A survey just came out showing the average British home contains 138 books. I probably have 138 books just on my nightstand (shown below). I have never counted the total number of books I own, but I would estimate it’s in the 8,000-10,000 range.
My Reading History
I’ve loved to read since I was a kid. I haunted the public and school libraries of every place we ever lived while I was growing up. And we lived a lot of places. I attended twelve different elementary schools from first grade through sixth, two junior high schools and three high schools. To say my family was peripatetic is an understatement. I was always the new kid in school. I usually hated it. And I buried myself in books as a consequence.
Although I attended a multitude of different schools, there was always one scenario that occurred in each, all the way through high school. Back then, all schools gave what were called achievement tests–i.e., standardized tests used to compare student performance against the test database of students. The faculty used them to see how their students compared to the national average.
I’ve always had a bent for math, so I did well on the quantitative parts of these tests. And since I read so much, I did well on verbal sections. I was routinely near the top, if not at the very top, of these tests in whichever school they were given. Problem was, I wasn’t a particularly good student overall. My grades were average or a little above average at best.
The huge disconnect between my test scores (allegedly showing my ability) and my grades (showing my performance) was huge. Which inevitably resulted in a call for a parent teacher conference.
They went something like this:
Teacher: As his achievement tests show, Mike is a very smart kid.
My Parents: Yes, we know.
Teacher: But his grades are mediocre. He’s not performing up to his ability.
My Parents: So we’ve been told many times.
Teacher: He does pretty well when he takes tests in his classes, but he falls down on his homework. He’s usually late with it and gets his grade docked. Sometimes, he doesn’t turn it in at all.
My parents: Yes, he’s had that problem at other schools.
Teacher: Usually in these cases, the student is watching too much television. So, I would recommend limiting Mike’s TV time to maybe an hour or so a day on school days. How much TV does he watch?
My parents: Almost none.
Teacher: (After a bit of silence) What does he do then?
My Parents: He reads.
Teacher: (Long silence) What does he read?
My parents: Anything he can get his hands on.
Teacher: Hmmm. I’ve never encountered this problem.
So my lust for reading, developed at an early age, made me an average student, but developed skills allowing me to read fast and with good comprehension. And made reading a relaxing activity for me instead of the chore it is for so many people.
How I read now
Whenever people come to my house and see all the books, the first question they invariably ask is, “Did you read all these books?” Followed shortly by, “How do you have the time to read so much?”
Last question first. I have the time, because I make the time. I often retort to this question by asking my interlocutor, “How do you have time for sex?” The obvious answer is that we make time for that which we enjoy. If reading isn’t an enjoyment, why would anyone make time for it?
I steal every moment I can to read. I have books in my car in case I’m stalled in traffic. When MD goes to the grocery store, I wait in the car and read. I read here and there throughout the day, and I read especially at night when there are no distractions.
I have a system for nighttime reading. I usually have a number of books going at any time, so I start with the most complex. I read till I’m sleepy. Then I grab the next one that’s a little less complex and read it till I’m sleepy. Then the next. And on down the line till I hit a novel I’m in the midst of, which goes down easy and often keeps me reading another hour or so.
And I read on airplanes. MD and I just flew on a long multi-city jaunt (Santa Barbara to LA to NY to Philly to Chicago to Detroit to Santa Barbara), and I got a ton of reading in. On the LAX to JFK leg (almost five hours) I read a handful of medical papers, a couple of chapters in one book and another cover to cover.
We were sitting in the front bulkhead seats in coach (seats 11 D and E). About two thirds of the way into the flight, I walked to the back to hit the restroom. As I walked back up the aisle, I counted 61 of the 72 people in the coach section watching an inflight movie. That’s about 85 percent. I would bet at least half of those people, if not more, had at sometime said that they just didn’t have the time to read. Yet there they are, stuck on a plane, with no cell phones, no distractions, and they make the choice for passive entertainment instead of reading.
The biggest problem with being a voracious reader is dealing with all the books. We have multiple libraries throughout our houses and still have books stacked everywhere. We’ve long ago run out of room for more books, but they still keep coming in.
When the Kindle came out, I was confronted with a real problem. MD, who feels as if she’s being buried in books, took to the Kindle like a duck to water. Now she sulks if she has to read an actual physical book. She has refused to read a number of books unless we get them on Kindle. The daily newspaper is a different matter entirely for her, which she prefers in the old fashioned paper form to the electronic version.
I, on the other hand, didn’t take to the Kindle as easily as she did.
Part of the problem is that I enjoy the physical presence of books. I love to flip through them, go back and forth to check stuff I’ve already read or to look up references. I had a few bad experiences with non-fiction books on the Kindle, so I limited my Kindle reading to fiction only, or at least mostly.
One of the huge benefits of Kindle is that I can carry hundreds of books on my iPad Mini when I travel. Used to be, I would load down my briefcase and another carry on (and sometimes the checked bags) with books. I would typically buy one or two more on the trip, and end up with books out the yang that I had to schlep back home.
I would much rather read a real book than a digital book, though the digital books have a terrific advantage, which I’ll go over in a bit.
I’ve resolved the problem by purchasing both the physical book and the digital version for most of the books I buy. I justify it by telling myself that Amazon discounts the physical books enough to make up for the price I pay for the Kindle version. Therefore I get both books for the full retail price of a physical book. It’s my way of supporting the publishing industry, which I do not want to see die.
What is a Kindle?
For those of you who know, skip on down. A Kindle is a device sold by Amazon that allows you to download and read the digital version of most books currently published. When this technology was first developed, all that was available were the Kindle devices sold by Amazon. Then when iPhones, iPads and other smart phone and tablet technology came about, Amazon developed a Kindle app that could be downloaded free. I wasn’t a big fan of the actual original Kindle when it came out, mainly because it wasn’t backlit and so was hard to read at night when I read a lot. But I did (and do) like the Kindle app and can download books to my iPhone, iPad and even my laptop. I do almost all of my Kindle app reading on my iPad Mini. Occasionally, I’ll find myself stuck somewhere without a book, so I’ll read on my iPhone. My entire digital library is in the Cloud, so I can access it on any device that has the Kindle app.
I like to mark up and make notes in all my books. When I was a youth, I handled all my books carefully and made notes on note cards and random sheets of paper, all of which invariably got lost. I did this because I thought the books I was buying might have more value in years to come because they were pristine. Then, overcome by hubris, I persuaded myself that someday I would be famous, and any books I owned and had notes in would be more valuable than those without simply because I had owned them. Hasn’t really worked out that way, but it did get me to begin underlining and keeping notes in all my books.
I was delighted to discover I could actually mark up digital books just like real ones. And better yet, I could keep all those notes for any given book in one place, so I didn’t even have to hunt for the book to find them. (MD was thrilled not to have to live with dozens, nay hundreds, of random scraps of paper lying about with my important scribbles on them.)
Here are a couple of screen shots of underlining in a digital book on my iPad Mini. The first is from a great book on a new way of determining how best to see which parts of the golf game really contribute the most to lower scores. I underlined this bit because it described the confirmation bias well. How many golf books address the confirmation bias? Not many, I would venture.
Here is another line I underlined in An Officer and a Spy, a terrific novelization of the Dreyfus Affair, written by Robert Harris, one of my favorite authors.
Your own Kindle page
Most people don’t realize it, but when you purchase digital books through Amazon and download them on either your Kindle device or through the Kindle app, you have your very own Kindle page on Amazon. How do you get to it? Click the link below:
You will be asked for your Amazon account info, then taken to your own Kindle page.
Your Kindle page will contain every book you’ve ever ordered digitally through Amazon. And what’s more, your Kindle page will save all your notes and underlinings from all the digital books you’ve read.
Here is my Kindle page showing the quote from the golf book mentioned above.
And here is the one from An Officer and the Spy:
So, you’ll have all the things you thought important or of interest in any given book archived for you in one place.
Whenever I have a long excerpt from a book I want to copy and email to someone or drop into a blog post, I always underline it, then go to my Kindle page for the book in question and copy the excerpt. Saves me from having to type it all in. One of the disappointments for me re the Kindle app is that you can’t copy anything and email it. But the Kindle page is the next best thing.
But it gets even better
Sometimes I pick up a book and riffle through it and wonder whether it’s really worth the time to read from cover to cover. I always wish I had a way to skim the highlights to see if the book is worth a complete read.
Now there is such a way.
Amazon gathers all the underlinings of all the people who read and underline their digital books. By some algorithm, the most common underlinings of any given book are then shown in the text of the book. These show up in the book as hashed lined underlining. See below from Smarter: The New Science of Building Brain Power.
Where this comes in handy for me is that when I see a book I’m wondering about reading, I can purchase it through Kindle for a few bucks, then go to my Kindle page and see all the aggregated underlines from all the other people who have read it. Takes me about 10-15 minutes to go through an entire book this way, just zipping from one peak to the next of what other readers thought was important. I can then make a more reasoned choice as to whether to put in the time to read the whole book or just get by on what I’ve learned from the underlinings of others.
Here is a look at a few of the Popular Highlights on my Kindle page for the book Smarter mentioned above. Based on what other readers underlined, I decided to read this book.
When I find a book I think I might want to read, but don’t want to get it now, I put it on my Amazon wish list so I don’t forget about it. I go through this list periodically and grab a book or two. And it’s there for any gift giving occasions should my family want to get something for me that will be appreciated. As you might imagine, I get a lot of books for birthdays and Christmas. If I keep this list updated, I’m easy to shop for, and I always get something I want.
Here is my Amazon wish list should anyone be overcome by a strong urge to send me something. 🙂
That’s about it on all my reading tips and tricks.
If you have tips and tricks of your own, please share in the comments. I would love to learn any and all.
Just for grins, here are the last 20 books I downloaded via my Kindle app.