A modern reading process

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The best medium for books

There are pros and cons for both sides, reading a printed book vs using a device to read on.

I personally could never read longer texts on a “smart device”, like my phone, a tablet or even my laptop. Besides the suboptimal display, these devices come with a lot of distractions: notifications, other apps and access to the internet in general. Therefore I would highly recommend getting an eReader.

I own the first generation Kindle Paperwhite, for example, and I’m really happy with it. The display is comfortable to rest your eyes on, the battery lasts really long and it doesn’t come with any distractions (the webbrowser is pretty much unusable and while you can get access to a terminal or install applications like chess, it’s not something you will really use after testing out the possibilities for a while). What I prefer when reading on my Kindle, compared to physical books, is obviously the ability to carry all my books around, for example while travelling. But the greatest benefit in my opinion is the highlighting system. It’s easy to highlight passages of the text you’re reading and those will be saved in a plain text file on your Kindle, which you can then pass into grep and systematically get all of your notes on your computer to further compile or review. Also, especially in comparision to heavy books, it’s more comfortable to hold while reading.

However, I believe that sometimes printed books have their benefits too. For example, it’s easier to take complex notes, like drawing a table or some diagrams. It’s also nice to have them sorted in a bookshelf in your room, so you stumble upon them and are able to browse them more easily. Also it can sometimes just feel better to hold a physical book than an eReader.

How to consume blogs and other content online

Over the last few months, I’ve discovered several blogs that I absolutely love to read, e.g. sivers.org or We Can Solve This. Often a blog post is just the perfect medium to talk about a certain topic, as opposed to a whole book. I also really love the spectrum of perspectives different blogs can offer on a subject.

However, reading in a webbrowser is the worst thing one could do. It’s extremely distracting, and really not organized. It will lead to skimming and skipping, you won’t have track of what you’ve read, can’t find anything again and your notes are probably - if existent at all - a mess. I haven’t really found a better way of taking notes than copy-pasting snippets into random text files.

But there’s a solution to this problem. For saving random articles I’ve found online, I use Pocket. I can simply use a browser extension or the share functionality on my phone’s browser to save an article to it. The saved articles are formatted for easy readability and are available offline. But the best part is the combination with another great tool called P2K. It allows you to send your pocket articles to your Kindle. You can do so manually or automatically. When I have them on my Kindle, I won’t be distracted and can profit from the Kindle’s highlighting system. Both tools have a free plan which works fine for me.

Update on 22.06.2020: I’ve now started using the Push to Kindle app, as well as their browser extension, and it works basically the same, except I can now send individual articles and I can do so in a single step. It’s great!

How to take effective notes

I think taking notes while reading is really important. It will help you focus on the important information, memorize it and makes it possible to quickly review read books later on. You will have to find your own way of doing this, but for physical books I like to highlight passages with a pencil and sometimes write something next to those highlights. Then I’ll add the page number and a keyword to an index on the first pages of the book. When reading on the Kindle it’s even simpler, I just use the built in features and after finishing the book, copy the notes and highlights out of the Kindles clippings file and save them on my computer for later review.

Update on 22.06.2020: I’ve recently written a script that extracts and sorts my Kindle Clippings and converts them into markdown or HTML. I’m really happy with my process of reading and highlighting books and articles now. It’s less distracting and I create high quality notes on the go, that I can easily access later on.

Some remarks on audiobooks, podcasts and apps

Audio products have the great advantage that they can be consumed without requiring full attention. For example while driving a car, riding a bike, doing chores, going shopping or performing any other passive action (sounds paradoxical, I know). However, this advantage also contains the biggest flaws of this kind of consuming information: It’s harder to sustain focus and highlighting is pretty much impossible. So I can only find use for it when consuming less important information or listening to something purely for entertainment.

As a free app for audiobooks, I recommend Voice. Another interesting app I’d like to mention here is Blinkist.

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© Niklas Bühler, 2021 RSS / Contact me