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I finished 63 books in 2020, three more than 2019 but eleven fewer than 2018. Of those 63, only two of them were physical, paper books. Twenty five of them were audio books, but the remaining thirty six were on my Kindle Paperwhite.
I love my Paperwhite. It’s my second e-ink Kindle, replacing my Kindle Touch in July 2019, in preparation for our family’s DIY study abroad in Spain. My Kindle Touch was over nine years old and has since been handed down to my eight year-old, the only one in the family who hasn’t bought or been gifted an e-ink Kindle for themselves.
Reading books on my Paperwhite is one of my frugal hobbies.
E-Books through Overdrive
My number one source of books is the public library. Years ago, when I first bought my Kindle, I found the delight of Overdrive. Most public libraries with digital catalogs use Overdrive to fulfill patron requests. Once I found my library’s Overdrive website, I gained access to their online collection by logging in with my library card number and PIN.
Overdrive’s website isn’t bad, but their search could use some work. Sometimes I find I need to massage my query to find the author or book that I’m looking for. But often, their autocomplete helps guide me to what I’m looking for. I’ve found their author search can be particularly problematic.
After I find an e-book title that I’d like to read, I can do three things: put it on my wishlist for later, put a hold on it (if it’s not available), or check it out (if it is available).
I generally relegate books to my wishlist that sound interesting, but not enough to jump the queue. I have over three hundred books right now on my wishlist. My one complaint about the wishlist is that you have to manually remove something from your wishlist, even after you put a hold on it or check it out. I have never wanted to keep something in my wishlist after reading it, so I’m not sure why that isn’t the default behavior.
If a book isn’t available, I can put a hold on it. Generally this can mean several weeks of waiting, but often it can be months for popular titles. Interestingly, I can often put holds on pre-releases months in advance. My second oldest daughter and I will sometimes race to see who is first in the pre-release line. She usually wins.
If a book is available, I can check it out, usually with a choose between the Kindle version or the ePub version (iPad, etc.). I always choose the Kindle version. Fulfillment happens through Amazon, where I tell Amazon which Kindle (I have several I’m managing) I want the book to be wirelessly delivered to. But usually I choose to download the book manually as an AZ3 file that I can transfer to my Kindle over USB. This is actually my preferred method, which I’ll explain later.
Sometimes a book is not available in my library’s catalog. But if they are available in the Overdrive system, I can make a recommendation that they buy a license. If other patrons have requested the book, it’s highly likely that my library will buy a license to the book. Overdrive will even put the book on hold for me automatically.
A recent annoyance that Overdrive introduced is giving me three days to login and checkout a book once my hold matures. I suppose they did this at the request of libraries because many books were being put on hold and later checked out, but never read. That’s my guess. But it means that I have to be on top of things, checking the book out immediately and downloading it if I still want to read it.
E-books sans Special Offers
I bought my Paperwhite “with special offers”.
I’m pretty negative about advertising, targeted or otherwise. I aggressively limit my media consumption and I hate being manipulated into a “good-for-me, not-so-good-for-you” transaction, which seems to be the focus of a lot of advertising. I’ve seen some of the ads and they’re mostly benign and some folks find them useful. Not me.
But I never see “special” offers on my Kindle.
In the early days, I found instructions to put a read-only file into my Kindle Touch’s file system that would interfere with Amazon’s advertisement service. Amazon “fixed” that.
But then I discovered the secret third purchase option: Kindle-sans-WiFi.
That’s right. I keep my Kindle in airplane mode. All. The. Time. This prevents special offers from being pushed to my Kindle, but also leads to better battery life. I can get weeks and weeks on one full charge.
Coincidentally, I also discovered that not having WiFi enabled means that e-books from the library don’t expire like they would if I connected to WiFi. This takes some of the pressure off of finishing a book within the arbitrary expiration window. If I do connect my Kindle to WiFi with expired books, they will all immediately get deleted. I’m fine with that. I don’t own the books. But by keeping the WiFi off, I can get a bit of a reprieve.
But having WiFi turned on can be super convenient. Books get automatically downloaded without user interaction, which I admit can be nice. I’m trading one convenience (not having books automatically download) for another (no ads; no book expiry). Worth it. But it may not work for you and you might be better off just paying Amazon to get rid of the “special” offers or “suffering” through them.
One drawback about library fulfillment through Amazon is the constant upsell. First, when the book expires, Amazon sends a “personal letter” to my Kindle, letting me know that the book has expired. Second, they’ll send an email about the expiration, prompting me to buy the book. Having WiFi turned off prevents the first annoyance and setting up a mail filter that auto-deletes the email fixes the second.
After plugging my kindle into the computer, I can manually download the e-book file to the “documents” folder on my Kindle. But shortly after I started using my Kindle, I found a better way to do this: Calibre.
Calibre is an application that can run on either Windows or OS X and helps me manage my library of e-books. After I download an e-book file, I add the book to Calibre. Then, when I plug in my Kindle, I tell Calibre to send it to my Kindle. It takes care of putting the file where it belongs. It also can tell me what books are already on my Kindle so I don’t end up with a duplicate copy.
I’ve also used Calibre to edit e-books that I’ve authored myself. That’s a pretty advanced use of Calibre, but if you know a little about HTML and e-book formatting it can be helpful to make small edits. It’s a pretty impressive little tool. Additionally, if you’ve bought books with DRM and you want to remove it, you can find plugins for Calibre that will help you remove that DRM. To be clear, this isn’t ethical for library books. Paying an author for their work is not only the right thing to do, but aligns incentives so they create more for us in the future. I know I don’t go to work for free and I don’t expect authors to either.
When the first e-book readers came out, I was a bit skeptical. But after I bought my first one, I became a believer.
One benefit is taking notes and highlights. When I read a book for our family economic book group, I like to highlight passages that I want to discuss later. It’s super easy to go back and find those highlights for sharing. I can even add a note to help me remember what it was that stuck out to me. And I can download those notes and highlights to my computer.
Another benefit is the onboard dictionary. This makes it super easy to look up a word I’m not familiar with. And with a Spanish-English dictionary, I can read material in Spanish and find translations of words I don’t know. The later Kindles can also look things up on Wikipedia, but that requires a WiFi connection. Another tradeoff navigated.
Lastly, I can take hundreds of books with me to the beach. And I can read in the dark with it’s backlight.
There’s also audiobooks available through Overdrive. While they have a convenient mobile app, I choose to download the MP3s using Overdrive For Windows for a couple reasons.
First, out of habit. Until a few years back, I listened to my audiobooks on an old iPod Touch (2nd gen.) and it was just easier to manage the MP3s through iTunes. When I transitioned everything to my Android phone, I found it easier to use a third-party audiobook app, Android missing a dedicated application.
Second, while the mobile app automatically expires my audiobooks, the Windows app will instead popup a dialog prompting me to delete the expired audiobooks. Click “Ok” and the books disappear. However, click on “Cancel” and I get a reprieve. Again, I’m not advocating “stealing” audiobooks, just a side benefit from the convenience of the mobile app. Managing via MP3s does require a basic technical understanding of files and folders and how to put them onto your device.
I track the books I read in Goodreads. I’m not super social there, preferring to use it to track what books I’ve read and when I finished them. It helps me remember when I read something last. There’s a lot to complain about with the website, but it does the trick. I’d migrate to something else in a hot-minute if anyone has a recommendation.
I love reading. And I love doing it on my Kindle Paperwhite.
Do you use a Kindle? Any tricks or tips you’d recommend? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.