Read a Fucking Book (on your phone)

Published: May 4th, 2021
Updated: July 19th, 2022 - Added note to bottom of post.

"I don't have time to read" is the lamest excuse I've ever heard for not reading. It's almost as bad as "I don't read books, I read articles". These excuses come from people who could easily find the time to read if they simply spent less time playing video games, watching Netflix, or doom-scrolling their social media feeds. I am a big advocate of reading books on your phone. I've read quite a few books on my phone and just recently finished reading Isaac Asimov's Foundation novel and currently reading the sequel. It's my view that it has never been easier to read books than it is now.

They say the best camera is the one you always carry with you (ie your smartphone), but this reasoning can also be applied to reading books as well. As modern humans, we routinely find ourselves in situations where we have to wait on things, whether that's a doctor's office visit, our takeout, riding public transit, or waiting for someone to arrive for a meeting. Convenience is a big factor.

The other big advantage is that you can carry your entire library with you and you can read at any time. Currently, I have 158 books on my phone - physically what would take up a bookshelf is conveniently shrunk down to something that fits in my pocket. Any typical smartphone from the last decade could hold tens of thousand of eBooks right on your device.

Of course there are drawbacks. Aside from the fact you need electricity to charge your mobile device, there's no doubt that smartphones are a huge source of distraction. As someone that has challenges with self control (sugar addiction), the key to reading effectively on your phone is to not have any apps installed that could potentially distract you, either from temptation or a from a pesky notification that breaks concentration. Removing social media apps from your device is a good first step (also think of the mental health benefits!), but also turning off non-essential notifications like email and messages is a good deterrent from distraction.

Many people also say that they can't read on a bright screen or that reading on their phone hurts their eyes. I think the obvious trick is to tone down the brightness on your phone or turn on night mode which inverts the colors so it's white text on a black background. There's also the ability to adjust the font and font size. There's also actual e-ink eReaders like the Kindle or Nook that simulates physical paper the reduces eye strain, but it kind of defeats the purpose of carrying your library with you everywhere.

Another drawback, albeit a totally egotistical one, is that you can't show off your library to show the world how well-read you are. How will your friends or colleagues during a Zoom call know that you're not a total dolt?

In order to actually read books, there are apps for normies like Google Play Books and Amazon Kindle, but I prefer to use the app Librera with my own collection of eBooks (although there's certainly the benefit of syncing between devices so you can pick up where you left off on your Kindle eReader). In terms of how to obtain eBooks, there is a huge library of books available in the public domain and Project Gutenberg is a fantastic resource to obtain them (and they're free of DRM). There's also websites you can obtain almost any eBook for free, though legally it's in a gray area. There's also legitimate websites that works with the publisher to sell a DRM-free ePub version of the book.

For me, I try to avoid platforms like Google Play or Amazon since you don't really own the book (or file), you just have rights to access the content which could be revoked at any time and for any reason (I'm reminded of that time when Amazon ironically remotely purged a version of Orwell's 1984 from their customer's eReaders). Using these services not only forces you, the end user, into that company's digital ecosystem (you can't take your books with you if you leave Amazon), they're terrible from a privacy perspective as well. Data like every note, every book download/purchased, every time you turn a page, and even how long you're on a page is recorded and stored to the company's servers. Most public libraries have eBooks available and have partnered with services such as OverDrive. Not only does this significantly expand the availability of books to read, it's also free and completely legal. The drawback here is that your have to wait to read the book if another borrower is reading it. That said, check in with your local library.

Ultimately, I think everyone should be reading more books period. So whether it's on your phone, eReader, or a physical copy, go read a fucking book!

Update: July 19th, 2022 - I've since changed my tune on reading on a smartphone. It's good in a pinch, but unless you've really trained yourself to not be lured by the temptation of distracting yourself, I don't think this is good advice for most people. Personally, I read almost exclusively on an ereader.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to send comments, questions, or recommendations to hey@chuck.is