How to optimize your reading experience.

Shocking but true: Once upon a primitive time, there were no ebooks. For the past 15 years or so I’ve read an average of 50 books per year, or roughly one book per week. Now, my annual average is close to double this number—all thanks to ebooks, and, more specifically, because of the Kindle reader app and the public library system.

If I buy a book, I’ll read it 20% of the time, since I always use the “I’ll read it tomorrow or next weekend” excuse.

If I check out a physical book from the public library, I’ll read it 50–60% of the time. This situation has an added bonus—since it takes time and effort to pick up and drop off the library books, I make sure that I only get the ones that I really want or need to read.

For the past six months I’ve been getting ebooks in the Kindle format, from both the public libraries in Manhattan and Brooklyn (for some odd reason they work as separate entities) and from Google and Amazon’s vast selection of free ebooks. I am reading them (and this means finishing them) about 80% of the time. So, not only have I doubled my annual reading productivity, but I am finishing 80% of the books I check out as opposed to 20% of the books that I buy.

Free ebooks

A few things might explain this surprising improvement. First, I carry the books with me all the time, either on my phone, tablet, or laptop. The Kindle Cloud seamlessly syncs all the books, bookmarks, and even highlighted sections and notes!

Second, since there is a set deadline for the book to expire (you can read Kindle books for seven or 14 days with NO option to renew) I am fighting against time and (mostly) read them in “chronological” order, which means that I read them by expiration date.

Amazon Kindle Cloud Reader

And third, the wait time to get Kindle books from the public library can be REALLY long, especially at the Manhattan branches. Sometimes there are 15 copies available and 250 people waiting for them. Since people can check them out for up to 14 days, the wait to get a book can take years, so it’s best to read it while I have it.

Reading on a tablet is visually compelling, and highly portable. Nothing beats the romantic vision of reading a great book on a rainy day while seated next to the fireplace in that cabin on the lake. But reality is quite different. Being able to read on long subway commutes or while waiting for a boring presentation to end is a godsend.

What’s your take?