Let’s talk books for a bit. A few things:

  • I used to read a ton of books when I was a kid. This fell off during college and picked up a bit afterward, but I miss reading as much as I used to, and I’m making an effort to break the habit of opening Twitter or Facebook when I could spend quality time with a book instead.
  • I donated most of my books a couple years ago when I got tired of moving them from apartment to apartment, so my bookshelf is pretty scarce right now. I miss those books sometimes.
  • I’ve had a Kindle 2 since early last year, though my usage fell off after a year or so. I still really like it, but have become frustrated by some things, which I’ll get to in a bit.
  • I like marking up books. For the most part, I underline short passages or put brackets next to longer paragraphs that resonate with me. Sometimes, I’ll jot a short note in the margin, but not often.

The Kindle seemed like the perfect device: high-res screen, lots of books in one place, and you can highlight and make notes. But, it hasn’t really worked out that way.

  • Formatting is an issue for non-fiction. I tried to read I Will Teach You To Be Rich on there, but the text was a mess: what had been in sidebars or callout boxes in the print version was tossed in with the rest of the text. I’d be reading a paragraph, and some completely separate piece of text would begin and end right in the middle of it. In other books, a quote or phrase that’s highlighted at the beginning or end of a chapter will be repeated or appear in the wrong place. And of course, photos, graphs, and tables are a problem.
  • Getting highlights and notes back out is a pain in the ass. Yes, you get a nice little text file, but there’s no context: you can’t skim the paragraphs before and after it, for example. As far as I know, there’s no way to match up the position number from the Kindle with the page number in a physical book, which makes it difficult to reference a passage in discussion about the book.

My thinking at this point is that I will use the Kindle (or Kindle app on my iPad) mostly for fiction. I don’t read many novels, but there aren’t any formatting issues, and I almost never want to make any notes in them—if anything, I’ll occasionally highlight an interesting phrase or sentence. Non-fiction books are much more likely to have sidebar boxes and other formatting that might not work on the Kindle, and I make a lot more notes in them. As such, I’ll go back to buying hard-copies of those.

What I’m wondering is how other people handle this. Surely there are other avid readers who own a Kindle or other e-book reader and have figured out a way to work with the current shortcomings. Is there a way to determine what books are going to be problematic in that format? I know Apple’s iBooks was launched with some interactive books for kids. I haven’t purchased any books on there yet, but I just downloaded a few samples to see how they look, and it seems like it handles the formatting a lot better (granted, the iPad’s color screen certainly helps, as may also be the case for the newest Kindle, which I have not tried). On the other hand, it doesn’t look like there’s any way to get notes and highlights out of iBooks, so maybe it’s not so great.

I’d really love to hear what other people think of this one, because I’m reluctant to sink money into any format of books until I’m sure what I’m doing with them.