My Next Reading Experiment: Project TBR

I have a book problem: I have a lot of them. I have a healthy amount of bookcases (one tall 5 shelf plus top, four 3 shelf plus tops), all of them filled, some with multiple rows. Yes, at least one bookcase (a Wayfair bookcase that was trouble when I got it and hasn’t improved any) is buckling under the weight, the joints pulling apart because apparently books and gravity exert their own forces that defy the laws of physics and incur penalties in this reality.

No, wait, I realize this isn’t a problem like “I think my leg is going to fall off, it’s kinda purple and green on one side” or “payday is a week away and my cat needs a liver transplant by Tuesday.” But I do have quite a few books, which in itself isn’t so bad, excepting I haven’t read all of them. I’m not even sure if I’ve read half the books I own. I think I have. Maybe?

I didn’t mean to get myself in this position. Sometimes, especially with ebooks, it’s because I spy a book I want to read on sale. I know I’m going to read it eventually, so I go ahead and buy it when it’s down to a buck or two. Other times, I find myself being a completist and buying the rest of a series I enjoy so that I can just continue reading [side bar: this habit has bitten me badly a few times, and saved me others. Not all book series continue as good as they start.]. There’s a third case, but I’d rather not go there. Let’s just say it ends with me and books. Not helping is learning that if I wait to buy a book, it might not be available any more. Too many of the books I enjoy go out of print, making copies of them harder and harder to find (and more and more expensive, begging the question of whether it’s worth having the physical copy).

Which leads me to my next reading experiment: Project TBR (To Be Read) (my last one was the Penguin Summer, which is still ongoing, never mind the actual season outside). I’ve got it in my mind that I want to tackle this mountain of TBR I’ve accumulated. It’s a rather large pile of books, both physical and virtual. Enough books, in fact, that I think I could have something to read every day without gaps.

The first part of my attack plan is to read two books at once (normal). One book will be from my “classics to read” list, the other a book from my mountain. If a new book comes to my attention, I will put it in a list I’m maintaining, with the idea that at the end of my experiment I will go through the list, re-evaluate what I’ve marked, and make a batch of purchases.

Obstacles? Oh, there’s plenty. The biggest is that I tend to read by mood. It hardly matters if I have a complete book case of unread epic fantasy (I might) if I’m in the mood for something a little more modern and horrific, or if I’m really ready to get a good space opera on. In fact, it is mood that is largely to blame for my TBR being the way it is.

In order to combat that mood issue, I am going to let myself get books from the library (“let myself.” Hah. Hold your mockery for now, please.). Although library books don’t entirely fall under the TBR moniker, they also don’t increase the clutter of books that is my life. I also can’t say no books that are gifted to me at the holidays, can I?

How long will I be trying this? I gave that question a lot of thought, and have decided to start with a three month trial, beginning September 1st (yes, days ago as I write this) and ending December 1st. If I haven’t completely abandoned the experiment and am still able, I will extend another three months to March 1st. At that point my birthday is only a few weeks away, and no amount of self inflicted control will be able to stay me from wanting to get a few books to celebrate.

And yes, I have the TBR to support this attempt for more than six months if I am good about it, have no fear. What about you? Have you ever tried to tackle your TBR? I’m of course assuming that if you’ve read this far, you’re either judging me horribly (fair), or you too suffer from an addiction to good reads.

A Penguin Summer

This past summer, I tried to have a Summer of Penguin. Here’s how it went, how it failed, and I how I didn’t understand what I was taking on. A follow up post will cover the iteration it inspired by accident.

When I was a teen (and, honestly, well into my 20’s), I worked for a public library system back in the Fredericksburg, Virginia area. I was fifteen when I started working in our tiny branch in North Stafford after school and weekends and quickly adapted to thinking of the library staff as an extension of my own family. One of the librarians in particular, LVK, offered me this advice once:

This summer, for every fun book you read, read one classic.

LVK

I, of course, scoffed. What did LVK know about me or my reading? I continued on my way, devouring a half dozen books a week, most of which I couldn’t recall the titles of now. But that advice haunted me, stuck with me, became a lamp post goal.

Until this summer when I tried it. I had grand plans, mind you – I average a week or so per book. Sometimes more if it’s a “thicker” read, sometimes less if I’m really into it. Surely I could knock off a half dozen books over the course of a summer?

With this in mind and the arrogant confidence of my teen years slipping through after all these decades, I bought a dozen Penguin Classics in hardback. They’re all books that are on the poster my oldest gave me, all books I want to read. How could this be a problem?

As it turns out, I can’t read them anywhere near as fast as I thought I could. Of the dozen or so books I set out with, I’ve read three so far. I’m still trying, and even that three feels like an accomplishment. The first book was Lord Jim, then Moby Dick followed (eventually) by The Picture of Dorian Gray. I really loved the Picture of Dorian Gray, which was a much easier read with a lot less whale bits. I read other books at the same time, and was often amused to see that most of them bore the Penguin imprint. I wish that had been on purpose.

Why Penguin? This goes back to college, when they were the publisher of choice for most of my Classics and Philosophy texts. I tend to enjoy/prefer their translators and formats.

Would I consider this a success? I think so. I finished this summer (school starts here on Wednesday) having read more from the classical canon than when I started the summer, and I do feel wiser for it. Will I continue? The pile of clothbound Penguin classics I bought in anticipation says yes.

But this also inspired me to try another reading experiment, the topic of a future blog post. Until then, keep reading!

Of Kobos and Kindles, a comparison

Over the last year I have come into possession of both the current Kobo Forma and Kindle Oasis models. If you are considering purchasing either, here are some notes I’ve made you might find useful.

Technical Details

Let me start by saying both devices are beautiful pieces of tech. When the Forma first arrived, it was the first time I had held a Kobo, and was awestruck by its smooth surface and huge screen. At 8″ of screen, it is certainly larger than the Oasis’ 7″, and you can definitely feel that 1″ difference. Both models excel in doing away with what feels like lost screen space that lower-tier models have – there is no thick border around the screen. Instead, your viewing space is almost the full size of the unit itself.

The Oasis has come a long way since the first generation Oasis with removable battery pack. It’s thinner and lighter than the first-generation model I was familiar with, and feels lighter in the hand than it’s Kobo counterpart. That is probably due more to center of gravity than physical properties – I doubt I am sensitive enough to note the 10g difference in weights. Or maybe I can.

I will save you some time on Reddit and similar mobile device forums, though. Kindles tend to have no out of the box issues. While I’m sure there are defective units, they are not the norm. Kobo’s are not so blessed. The Forma in particular is notorious for having either a bad dot on the screen (is it still a pixel on e-ink?) or a band on one side of the screen that is always….off. Not broken, just off color. I was fortunate with mine, I didn’t have any bad spots, and the bar on the side, though visible, isn’t distracting. But that brings us to the next topic…

Support

Amazon is a beast. At times, it is a nasty, evil beast, obviously bent on world domination one prime delivery at a time. But being a beast, they can afford to have a responsive support system. If you have a problem with your Kindle, you can call or chat and talk to someone just about any time of the day, any day of the year. Sure, the first tier folks are largely reading off a script, but you can at least get some basic interaction going right away.

With Kobo, there is a weird, small business mindset going on. From the limited interactions I’ve had and read about from others, in North America everything goes through the home office in Canada, which is only available during East Coast business hours. And even when you are successful at getting a hold of someone, the chances of a resolution are minimal. While the Kobo devices, and the Forma in my experience, are great with lots of wonderful features, they are very much a purchase that once you have it, it’s your problem. Even if that problem is with a faulty device, from what I’ve heard.

The Store, or, networking at all

You wouldn’t think this would be a bone needing picked, but it is important to note there is a difference in the stores for the two devices. And it’s not the fact they carry different contents. We all know by now that Amazon, with its Unlimited and internal publishing support for indie authors, has a huge library of books you can’t get elsewhere. This isn’t about that.

Amazon, as I have mentioned, is a beast. They are so big, and have grown so far past just being a book seller, that they actually have excess compute power that they started selling on the side. That became its own business concern, aka, AWS.

Kobo, not so much, and this is actually where I started to have a bone to pick. In the last six months, specifically in the last three months, the store has become unreliable and in turn exposed an infrastructure flaw in Kobo. Because when the store is down, it doesn’t just affect your ability to buy books. It’s obvious that either something on their edge is having issues, or they run all of their api’s through the same set of servers for both the store and the devices, because when the store is down you lose networking. You can’t access anything online, not just the store, until service is restored. And since we can only assume they have no overnight support based on how long the outages go on without any acknowledgement, that means your device is equivalently in local airplane mode until the store is back.

Ouch.

Which brings me to stability

My first Kindle was bought second hand in August of 2008 (thanks Gary H!). In all the years I owned Kindles, I never had to muck with them.

The Forma I’ve owned for six months I’ve had to factory reset twice now, losing all of the locally generated stats (because nothing is in the cloud except your network access). I suspect it’s the reliance on SQLite for a datastore on a device that is both open and frequently mucked with (Calibre is the defacto management tool for the device). Either way, something under the hood is easily corrupted, forcing a reset to start fresh.

What about battery life?

This is a place I think the Kobo shines. The Kindle is always on unless you put it in airplane mode. Newer kindles come with blutooth, which means even more drain on the battery.

Although a little clunky at times, the Kobo runs with all network devices turned off except when in use. It can mean a delay when you try to do something and it needs to connect to your wifi, but the trade off is the battery lasts a lot longer. The Kobo also has you set a schedule for what time of day you want it to do a synch, and that’s the only time it tries to do a full synch unless you manually start one. Very nice.

Sideloading and Uploading

Let’s talk briefly about getting books on the device without the store. Both devices support sideloading, aka, plugging the device into your computer and copying books onto it locally. Traditional sideloading means the book is only available on the local device, and not, say, a reader installed on your phone.

Kindle does go one step further, though, and offers email uploading of documents. Documents sent to kindle (and here, document is a loose term – pdf, mobi, etc.) are then part of your account and available on all devices. Including, I should point out, the reading position in the document. When I was using the Kobo, that was something I found myself missing immensely.

Ads

This is even briefer. Kobo doesn’t shove ads down your throat. The device is ad free without extra fees. Amazon calls the ad experience a way to lessen the price, but reality is the base unit comes with ads and you need to pay extra to remove them. It is all about perspective, I know, but still.

Perks not mentioned yet

I’ve mentioned some of the perks the Kindle has. The addition I would add to the above is the ability (at time of purchase) to have 3G enabled. My experience is that the 3G isn’t good enough to download some of the larger books I buy, but is great for keeping the reader in sync on the road. I thought with the pandemic that I wouldn’t need this feature as much. Then one of our kids started going in for testing for Celiac’s (confirmed) and other related problems and I had to sit in parking garages a lot. 3G let’s me switch from phone to device and back again without losing my place. This is a feature the Kobo simply doesn’t offer.

But I don’t want to give the impression the Forma is a bad device. It’s not, and there are a lot of great perks on the Forma that the Oasis (and Kindles in general) are sorely lacking.

Because Kobo uses epub formats, they can easily display (and do by default) how many page turns in both the current chapter and the current book in real time. This sounds spurious, but anyone who has tried to get through a book that was restricted to Amazon’s largely useless “location” markers will see the beauty of this right off the bat.

Kobo also comes with native Pocket integration, letting your read any article in your account. I emphasize article there because what’s available is dependent on what Pocket’s algorithms classify as an article. Not everything you save to Pocket is an article, and that means they don’t show up. Also, while you can read all of your articles on the Kobo, you should be aware that it is presented as just one long list, screen after screen, of articles in the order they were saved. Filtering and organization is not for the Kobo.

The Forma in particular also comes with Dropbox support. I’ve tried it, it works, but you should not go into this thinking you can just hook up your Calibre library to Dropbox and be done with it. Calibre stores a lot more than the epub (or kepub) file and uses a hierarchical directory structure. Navigating that in e-ink is painful for a voluminous library of ebooks. It’s actually easier to just copy the book manually to Dropbox once compiled.

A silly feature I’ve also enjoyed is that the Kobo lets you set the lock screen to the cover of your current reading material. Unfortunately, with a magnetic lock cover, I only catch a glimpse when I open the cover before the device unlocks, but still, it gives the extra ambiance of dealing with a book than Amazon’s stock screensavers.

Over on the Kindle side, we have the usual integrations with other Amazon properties, namely you have access to your Audible books from the Kindle, as well as being able to update your Goodreads profile directly as you read a book.

What about Library Support?

One of the big draws of the Kobo is that it links directly with Overdrive. There’s no need to use an app like Libby, or go to your Library’s web site. Plugin your Overdrive information and off you go. You can place holds from the device, browse the catalog (really, the store, but Library options are displayed on books that are available in your system), and read library books without ever logging into another device. When a hold is available, it automatically shows up in your available books. When it works, it works great.

Kindles, on the other hand, will require you to use another device. It’s not that it’s onerous, at least not in the US (other countries, I’ve heard, do not have these options) – if you use Libby on your phone, for instance, you can click to get your book from Amazon and it will redirect you the book page on Amazon. Select your device and complete the transaction. The book will appear on your Kindle in moments.

Recommendations?

I would recommend either, but it depends on your needs. And sometimes, I’ve learned, it’s hard to know what those needs are until faced with them.

Get a Kindle – if you’re looking for a well-supported device, don’t mind that it comes from Amazon with all of that baggage, get the Kindle. If you can splurge for the 3G addition, despite the limitations on file sizes it can download, I still find it super handy. The Kindle is also the only choice if you want to be able to load your own books and read them seamlessly on multiple devices with them staying in synch.

Get a Kobo – if you’re looking to break from Amazon and want a mature device, get the Kobo. The features of the Kobo are all geared towards the reader. But be aware, the Kobo is a standalone experience by and large. If you need to be able to pick up where you left off on any device, you will only be able to do that with books purchased in the store. Everything else is local only. The Kobo is the hacker’s dream device. There were posts this week of someone getting Xwindows running natively on the device. You don’t need to jailbreak the device to hack on it, because it comes to you ready to be played with.

Both let you buy the latest book releases. If gift cards are important, it is pertinent to point out that in the US only Wal-Mart has distribution rights for gift cards (purchased online in $50 max increments). Amazon, however, is always happy to take your investments.

That was quite a post

I’m sure there’s more I could say about both devices, but then this post will never be published as I continuously tweak and edit. I know they are both the high-end models- like I said, circumstances let me be able to make this comparison. If there’s anything I didn’t touch on, feel free to hit me up in the comments. Even as I review what I’ve written, I see rumors about features in an upcoming(?) Forma 2 that includes audiobook support. Just showing you can never get ahead of the ball until you learn to accept what you have now.