New ways of reading

Though I keep up with technology, in practice I’m fairly far back from the cutting edge. But I’ve recently adopted some new reading technologies that fit together in an exciting way.

I hadn’t used a bookmarking service (for its intended purpose, anyway) until I learned about Pinboard from Alan Jacobs. The design is simple enough that something clicked for me, and now I use it to save a link to any webpage I might possibly want to refer to in the future. The feature that sold me was Pinboard’s archiving capability; for $25/yr it will make a copy of the pages you bookmark, preserving the contents automatically in case the link goes dead later.

Jacobs recommends saving sizeable text excerpts as comments, which can be then be searched. If I can somehow develop the habit of tagging entries when I bookmark them, that plus search will make it a very useful database for me.

Next I discovered that Pinboard is nicely integrated with another simple web service, Instapaper, whose sole function is to take a webpage and reformat it as clean, readable, ad-free text. I use two buttons, one that immediately redisplays the page I’m looking at in minimal format, and the other (Read Later) which save a link to the current page in my Instapaper account.

I click the Read Later button when I come across a page I don’t have time for, e.g. a long magazine article. Later when I do have time, I go to my Instapaper account and choose articles from my list to read. When I’m done, if I decide it is something worth keeping I click on an icon to have Pinboard save it for me.

This new setup made me very happy for a special reason: I love long form journalism. While some folks might lose themselves in a novel, I like to immerse myself in a lengthy nonfiction magazine article. This recent New Yorker article on Scientology pleased me no end with its endlessness. And now with my magic Read Later button I found that I was no longer hastily skimming those articles as I came across them, but rather saving them to savor at a more convenient time.

The only problem was in the savoring. The time needed to read the articles would come up now and then, usually at the end of the day—by which point I was sick of sitting at the computer and not especially excited about settling in for another hour or two for a long read. Meanwhile, a little button on my Instapaper home page kept nagging me: Kindle. I had no idea what that button did. Finally I took two minutes to find out, and things changed.

What that little button does is package up all your Instapaper articles into a Kindle-readable file. I downloaded the Kindle for PC application just to try it out, and sure enough, when I clicked that button it generated an instant, customized magazine just for me. And then the lightbulb lit up: if I had a real Kindle, I could be reading my instant customized magazine in a comfy living room chair. Or wherever else I happened to find myself. So I bought one.

There are plenty of other reasons to own a Kindle, and I plan to avail myself of some of them. Not buying eBooks, though. I have no attachment to physical books, but since I can get the books I want through AbeBooks or Better World Books for $4 including shipping, I don’t see any advantage in paying $10 or more for the e-version.

But that customized magazine is a new thing, something I love, one I can’t get anywhere else, and aside from the cost of the Kindle it is free. For now.

As always, check back in six months to see if its promise was fulfilled for me. But for now I find my Kindle delightful: easy on the eyes, small and lightweight, free of distractions like email and web browsers. I don’t find it much different from reading a book—which I still find very different from reading on a computer, even a laptop. I’ve been able to concentrate, even lose myself. I’ve made myself some nice little books from goldmines I’ve found on the internet, e.g. a series of forty short essays by William Zinsser, one of my favorite writes, which he posted as weekly blog entries. And those books and magazines are available to me anywhere I can take my Kindle; this afternoon I spent half an hour reading the Scientology article as I waited in the parking lot for the UPS customer center to open.

(If you enjoy long form journalism as well, you’ll want to know about longform.org, a free site that collects links to what it considers the best long newspaper and magazine articles on the internet. And if you have an Instapaper account, there is a convenient button for saving particular articles to read later.)

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7 thoughts on “New ways of reading

  1. If you haven’t already found these you might enjoy them in addition to longform:
    http://longreads.com/
    http://essayist.tumblr.com/
    http://givemesomethingtoread.com/

    The last one was the one I decided to keep in my “check regularly” folder the last time I forced myself to prune it back to a small number of links.

    Actually now that you’ve called my attention to instapaper, I see that the givemesomethingtoread site is actually subset of
    http://www.instapaper.com/browse
    selected by one of the editors.

    I hadn’t paid attention to the “read later” links, and I’m not sure I need an electronic pile of things to read later in addition to numerous physical piles of things to read later, but an excuse to buy an electronic gadget I couldn’t previously justify is definitely hitting one of my weak spots. Now if only the local library could loan books via Kindle.

  2. dj,

    Wow, thanks for the links!

    I hadn’t paid attention to the “read later” links, and I’m not sure I need an electronic pile of things to read later in addition to numerous physical piles of things to read later …

    What I like about these long form articles is that they are substantial enough to fully capture my attention when I want to escape for awhile, but not so urgent that I feel bad about never getting around to reading them. I tend to have a few collections on the Kindle at any time, deleting the older ones without regret as fresh issues start to crowd them out.

    I also like having the Kindle with me when I know I will have some time to while away reading but not enough for a book I’m working on. When the time comes I can just flip through the contents until I find something that matches my mood.

    Now if only the local library could loan books via Kindle.

    I bought a Kindle because I wasn’t feeling adventurous. Other devices are probably just as good or better, including the ones that will allow you to borrow library e-books, but I didn’t want to do the research.

    Strange that the key feature of the Kindle (instant purchases of e-books from Amazon) doesn’t interest me at all. But I do appreciate that they have free books for instant “purchase.”

  3. Are you aware that you can load eBooks downloaded from other sources onto your Kindle? You can download the legions of out-of-print books available at sites like Project Gutenberg and email them directly to your Kindle. Before I got my Kindle, there were a number of books on P.G. that looked interesting, but I couldn’t stand the thought of reading Courier font off a computer screen. My eyes get enough strain from ordinary reading and writing. I’ve also got a few from http://www.manybooks.net – I discovered that in many cases they basically offer the same Project Gutenberg eBooks, but their site is easier to navigate.

  4. I love Instapaper and use it with my Twitter account. I also enjoy long journalistic articles in addition to fiction. I recently purchased Cutting for Stone for my Kindle app for only $5.00. I have yet to purchase anything that costs more than that for the Kindle. Even bestsellers occasionally go on sale and sometimes authors offer their books free for one day only. I was trying to listen to audiobooks at ball games but that was off-putting to others. I find if I read in a traditional or Kindle way I can at least easily change my attention if someone wants to talk.

  5. Love the stuff you have brought about the kindle and very similar my own thoughts. The creating a personal view of things pushed to kindle I find very interesting. Gonna have to check that out!

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