Reading academic books in the Kindle

I love my Kindle as much as I am able to love a physical object, and I honestly prefer reading in a Kindle than reading a “real” book. Ever since the first time I ever heard the idea of e-readers, I already knew that I would love them, and it never even crossed my mind that I would have any kind of longing or nostalgia for the smell of a real book in my hands, the colors of the cover, the weight of the paper, or anything like that.

However, now that I am reading academic books in the Kindle (not just articles, but whole books), I am starting to feel a bit at a loss. Not that I think that Kindles are not up to the task, but I am searching for a way to make the task of reading critically more productive in my e-reader.

What is good about e-readers

In my opinion, there are three main and two bonus reasons that make me think that e-readers are better than “real” books:

1) It has a embedded dictionary. As a non-native English speaker, I can’t even begin to express how much the dictionary has helped me with my vocabulary. I think I have an acceptable English vocabulary, but by reading fiction I noticed that I still lack so much! I am learning so many new words now that I don’t need to do anything else than to hold my finger on the screen to see what those words mean. Before, in the “real” books time, I would just guess from the context and move on. And although I haven’t been reading books in my native tongue, I am pretty sure there are plenty of words for me to learn in Portuguese as well.

2) It is able to synchronize with my phone. I don’t even need to take my Kindle along with me to be able to read anywhere. I just sync the books on my phone and I can keep reading wherever, even during those five minutes waiting in the supermarket line. Very handy with those books that I can’t put down.

3) It holds all the books I need at any given time. I can have more than one book with me at once. No issues with having to leave books behind because they were too heavy or thick to fit in my purse or suitcase.

Bonus reason I: reading in the dark. I am the happy owner of a Kindle Paperwhite, and I just love to be able to read in bed in lazy weekend mornings, while my dear SO is still asleep. I get to enjoy my book without disturbing him at all. Other couples have mentioned this benefit when one likes to read in bed before going to sleep and the other one gets disturbed by bedside lamps.

Bonus reason II: “Time remaining” feature. In the beginning I was a bit annoyed with Kindle’s “Locations”, because I had no practical way to figure out how much I had left until the end of the book (I never really got used to the mental calculations needed to convert locations into pages), but now my Kindle shows the time left to finish the chapter and the book, if I want. I found that a very interesting and useful feature (especially now that I know how to reset the reading time, if I feel like the estimation it gives me is wrong). In fact, I actually miss that feature now that I’m reading The Glass Bead Game in the “real” book format!

What’s not so good

But now we come to the part I don’t like about reading in the Kindle. For fiction and those very linear non-fiction books, I think the Kindle is just perfect. You start and keep reading until the end, stopping eventually to do things like eating and going to work. When it comes down to academic reading – those books full of self references, tables, images, footnotes – going back and forth is very impractical. And yet, going back and forth is required if you want to understand the author’s arguments.

I am trying to figure a way around this shortcoming of the e-readers, so that I don’t need to print the 300 pages of the book I’m reading now in order to understand it.

Highlights and notes have been my friends, just like in university times. In addition, I found that the Kindle exports my notes and highlights in a text format, and it is easy enough to extract those notes to other tools such as Evernote (my favorite note-taking software), and then I can search them very easily. It would be even easier if Amazon let us see the notes online also from books that were not bought at their store but rather uploaded directly or sent to the Kindle.

Just the fact of highlighting and commenting on the text already increases my understanding rate, but by no means it is enough. I’m now going to experiment in making summaries from the notes from each chapter and printing them out (or having them in my computer or tablet beside me), to help understanding the argument in the following chapters. If anything good comes out of that, I will write about it here.

3 thoughts on “Reading academic books in the Kindle

  1. Pingback: Liberating annotations in Personal Documents from the Kindle | Maira Carvalho

  2. Brent

    Have you discovered any useful strategies for reading academic books on the Kindle?

  3. Mark

    The are times where I have to or desire to reference two seperate planes of information at the same time. This was also a problem before I got a second monitor. As I have been reading several writers trying to give an experience or academic reading on e-reader vs paper book, I realized that a book is often beside a pad of paper that has on top of it a stack of cards or post-it notes, each an individual plane for writing. There is an interaction between each media and its purpose. For me there is an iterative process between and circling the ideas that come to mind. At some point there is the moment where an idea is understood, or clarity found, or just progress made. I tend to need this dialectical process in hand to achieve these outcomes and am not certain that e-reading will allow this to happen.

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