A Pragmatic Approach To Choosing A Format For Reading

If you're a voracious reader, it's worth creating a framework for choosing a format for reading books. Here's the framework I use, feel free to copy/pasta and change as much as you'd like!

#Format Options

There are 3 formats:

  • Paperback/Hardcover (physical/visual)
  • eBook (digital/visual)
  • Audio Book (digital/auditory)

I've found that it's best to pick each format based on three criteria:

  • the genre of the book
  • planned level of focus
  • likelihood of taking notes/highlighting

#Paperback/Hardcover Books (Physical)

  • Genre: technical (specifically w/ code samples/diagrams) in nature, "evergreen" personal growth, "essentials list" books
  • Planned Focus: Deep
  • Likelihood of Taking Notes/Highlighting: Strong
  • Pros: easy highlighting, easy bookmarking, consistent formatting, easy sharing
  • Cons: physical nature makes it harder to carry more than a few and requires physical storage space

#eBook

  • Genre: personal growth, business, fiction
  • Planned Focus: Deep to Shallow
  • Likelihood of Taking Notes/Highlighting: Strong
  • Pros: portable, scalable, highlighting saved online, instant gratification on purchase
  • Cons: dependency on device battery life, limited consistent formatting, harder to search than paperback

Note: It's important to address why I don't like to read technical books as eBooks: code samples and diagrams are often crafted with the physical copy of a book in mind, not eBooks. If you've ever read a technical book on an eBook, you've likely found that diagrams don't scale properly (often even bleeding off the page or being so incredibly small you need a reading loop to make sense of it) and that code samples don't fit on the page properly or worse extend off the page and can't be read.

#Audio Books

  • Genre: fiction, non-fiction requiring no action
  • Planned Focus: Shallow
  • Likelihood of Taking Notes/Highlighting: Unlikely
  • Pros: portable, scalable, passive, multi-taskable
  • Cons: dependency on device battery life, highlighting non-existent or kludgy, hard to focus, impossible to "search" for keywords or quotes

Almost exclusively fiction. The only time I generally listen to audio books is when I'm doing something else that requires attention but isn't deep work. For example:

  • driving long distances (anything more than 20 minutes)
  • walking the dogs
  • doing yard work
  • grocery shopping

I can listen to a fiction and pay attention while also "fully" tending to the other task I'm doing without feeling the need to concentrate or worse, hearing something I want to highlight or write down because it resonated with me.

#Note on Books (Why I use Libby and save money)

I hope that this approach has at the very least given you a sense of how to pick formats of books yourself and at best given you a framework to figure your out your own approach. Happy reading!

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