TL;DR: Buy a kindle already. Reading multiple books at a time is surprisingly productive.
I now read while I eat. There's a list at the end comparing the amount of reading I got
done before and after I switched to a Kindle
I love smelling books. I also like stacking my books on a table, or on a shelf, so that I can look at them from time to time and be pleased with myself. The stacks also double as cheap room decor – books make the room more me. Then there is the added social benefit of being able to show off to anyone who cares to visit that I have read Thoreau and DDIA*.
* Only half-way through. It has been a year since I purchased the (physical) book. Sigh.
Despite all this, despite arguing with my friends that books are more than just the sum of its parts (late realization: a book has only one “part” that matters – the text) and that smelling a book and then flipping through it is a huge part of the “experience”, I switched to a kindle.
Before you brand me as a traitor and proclaim me unworthy of all the paper books that I have ever smelled, let me assure you that I did not succumb to the dark side easily. I borrowed my dad’s kindle paperwhite and tried it out for an entire month. Then I went out and bought myself a kindle.
The anti-library argument
The number of books I have left partially read has skyrocketed after I switched to the Kindle. And this is a good thing! I have always been a one-book-at-a-time man – I used to carry around the book I was currently reading everywhere, and I would promptly pick up another book after I was done reading the current one. Fast forward to the Kindle era, I find myself reading multiple books at the same time. I had imagined that this would be counter-productive. I’m so happy that I was wrong. The ability to switch to a book on a whim has let me read more than usual since I am reading what I feel like reading now, instead of trying to finish a book that I happened to pick up a week ago out of curiosity. My (unintentional) reading pattern until a few days ago looked like this: Deep Work by Cal Newport during the day, when I find it easy to focus, The Fountainhead for reading on the bed, and The Prince (40% complete) and The rise and fall of the Third Reich (17% complete – this one is a tome) whenever I feel like it. I can confidently say that I would never have made any progress on the last two books if I had stuck to the one book at a time policy that paper books unintentionally forced me to adopt. I would have given up and moved on to the next shiny thing 3 chapters into a history book.
I might never complete reading some of the books that I have on my kindle (looking at you, Third Reich), but that is not the point. In his book Black Swan, Nassim Nicholas Taleb introduces the concept of an anti-library:
The writer Umberto Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who are encyclopedic, insightful, and nondull. He is the owner of a large personal library (containing thirty thousand books), and separates visitors into two categories: those who react with “Wow! Signore professore dottore Eco, what a library you have. How many of these books have you read?” and the others—a very small minority—who get the point is that a private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial mean allow you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.
Replace “unread books” with “partially read books” and you can immediately see how switching to the Kindle has benefitted my anti-library.
The “I now read more” argument
I have been reading on a kindle for about 5 months now, and I do not see myself going back. If there ever was a single compelling advantage that a kindle gave me over paper books, this is it: I read more on a kindle. Much, much more.
I now read while I wait, while I eat, and while I poop. Because the device pleasantly fits into my palm, I can now read while I’m having dinner instead of watching something on YouTube. You may think that this is not a big deal – but for me, it makes all the difference. Unlike finding time to read, finding time to eat is something that I must do in the interest of self-preservation. Coupling eating with reading is a win-win.
But can’t you just read on your laptop/phone while you eat?
Even if I gloss over the possibility of food on my keyboard, a laptop on the dinner table is just outright inconvenient. Reading on the phone might work. I really do not have a solid reason (apart from the LED screen) as to why I could not bring myself to read on my phone regularly.
I am going to deliberately avoid discussing all the other nice things about using an e-reader. I do find myself taking a lot of notes while I read – something I never used to do with paper books since I couldn’t be bothered to carry around a pen. It is also useful to highlight interesting anecdotes/quotes in a book and then later see them in a compact list. But IMHO these are fringe benefits.
Some raw data
Pre-kindle. List of books I read from September 2017- January 2019 (16 months), in no particular order. This includes both physical books and the few books that I had read on my phone :
- God of small things, Arundhati Roy (on my phone)
- Animal Farm, George Orwell (small book)
- Ministry of utmost happiness, Arundhati Roy
- Designing Data-Intensive Applications, Martin Kleppman (physical book, still reading)
- The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins
- Walden, Henry David Thoreau
- The old man and the sea, Ernest Hemingway (on my phone, small book)
- Catch 22, Joseph Heller
- The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga
- Meditations, Marcus Aurelius (on my phone, read a few pages here and there)
- Blink, Malcolm Gladwell (Read around half of it)
The post-kindle list, spanning the duration from February 2019 to May 20, 2019. (4 months):
- Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky
- 1Q84, Haruki Murakami
- Black Swan, Nassim Nicholas Taleb
- Antifragile, Nassim Nicholas Taleb
- The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand
- Stories of Your Life and Others, Ted Chiang
- Deep work, Cal Newport (44% complete)
- The Prince, Nicholas Macchiavelli (40%)
- The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, William. L. Shirer (17%)
- Aatujeevitham, Benyamin (36%)
- Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (17%. No intention of returning to this book)
- The New Evolution Diet, Arthur De Vany (28%, No intention of returning to this book)
Though I am not a “voracious” reader by any stretch of the imagination, you can see that when compared to the pre-kindle rate of 10 books in 16 months, 6 books in 4 months is indeed an improvement. Note that this is considering only the completed books – 17% of “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” is as long as some independent books -_-. I admit that the pre-kindle list is likely to be incomplete – I do not remember all the books that I have picked up and left halfway. Nevertheless, the lists should be able to convince you, albeit rather unscientifically, that I read more after I switched to a Kindle