Unexpected realisations from reading books on a phone

All my reading happens on the phone. Books, articles, the lot. It taught me a lot about reading, thinking, and my relationship to books. It changed what and how I read. Writing this opening paragraph about the choice keeps triggering further realisations. Causing many rewrites.


Choosing to read books on a phone is a practical brutality. Compromise is too gentle a word. It saved my reading time from getting snuffed out by life’s other priorities.


The biggest drawback is subjective and impossible to qualify. It makes me seem an anti screen reading snob – which I am.

The feeling of reading off paper is a different reality.

Those fancy Kindles can’t compete with real paper. Any other format (text to speech, audio books) are lesser experiences. Work requires a lot of screen staring, adding to my bias. Which is backed up by a sharp reminder of loss on the rare occasions I read a few paragraphs off a paper book. I know I’m not alone in this.

The benefits

Reading from paper books need solid blocks of distraction free time – at least half an hour. With easy access to your pile of books. I have no such luxuries.

What I got are snatches of time scattered through the day. I used to Nibble Write in these five minute ‘time crevices’. Building up blog posts a few words/sentences at a time. Since I took the screen reading plunge, I use them for reading. The writing has taken a hit.

‘Nibble reading’ is possible because I carry a library in my pocket. I can pull out a book in seconds if I have to wait for anything. Palm sized pages makes chunking the reading easy. Book marking is effortless.

Yet the killer features are highlighting and taking notes. I never did that with paper books. Paper books are too precious for the highlights and notes of my dim mind. ‘e’ books are free from such vandalism.

The process

Beyond the mechanics of reading is the mental experience. Thin slices of reading time increases focus on the palm size bit of text before you. It creates a hunger for digesting complex ideas. Propelling an instinct for sentences delivering understanding. It evolves a sense of what to highlight, what to note.

The first reading’s aim is to grasp WHAT the writer is saying. Notes and highlights are to guide a second reading. The second reading has an analytical focus. It’s aimed at pulling:

  • Broader concepts from the text
  • Identifying actions/practical next steps to apply/practice

For the finer details, check out the ‘How to Read a Book’ post on the Farnam Street website.

The second round readings haven’t started because I jump between books. It’s easy to do on the phone. At the time of writing, my thin reading time is smeared across three books. Nonfiction books need deeper study to absorb.

Which brings up the question: should you focus on one book ? Read it several times until it’s ‘absorbed’ before going on to the next? Or progress through several books in the same time frame. I’m still unsure about this one. I approach it as a personal choice dictated by what you read.

What you read

Deciding what to read is a strategic choice. Not only for the time starved. Book reading on the phone pulls me towards non fiction. Books heavy on concepts and their practical application. I won’t call them self help. They have one thing in common. Ideas that seem simple to grasp yet difficult to practice without closer study.

How have your reading changed since ‘going digital’ ? Both in how and what you read. What’s your answer to reading many books at the same time? Or focusing on one book at a time?



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