I’ve seen several articles lately that offer tips for those whose New Year’s resolutions include reading more books. A common thread: suggestions for what to read, or who to follow to get ideas what to read.

That’s not the problem I have.

I have stacks of books I want to read. The problem is time, not inclination. The problem, I’ve started to realize, is that I want to set aside large blocks of time to read properly, but I don’t have large blocks of time that don’t have something else that needs to be done. That, and overcoming inertia when I’m already distracted by the internet, where all the articles and streams are more suited for short blocks of time (but include a hook at the end to keep you going).

What I need to do is just grab a few pages here and there when I can. It may not be as satisfying as sitting down with a book for an hour or two, but at least I’ll get through it.

Usability researchers like Jakob Nielsen have long contended that people read differently online than on paper: they tend to skim, follow links, and jump off quickly if they don’t find what they want. (Rather than being judgmental, Nielsen simply advises that you tailor your online writing to this.)

Now the Washington Post reports that people are observing a spillover effect, with online skimming habits interfering with concentration when it comes to more in-depth reading…even when reading print.

Sadly, the article mostly distinguishes between two modes of reading:

  • Online skimming of casual articles and social media on screens.
  • Serious reading of novels and in-depth content in print.

There’s nothing to distinguish, for instance, reading on a dedicated e-reader (without the siren call of Facebook or hyperlinks) from reading on your laptop. Nor is there anything to distinguish casually reading on your phone’s tiny screen from reading at your computer, or sitting on the couch and reading on a book-sized tablet.

A tablet and a breaking paperback.

Personally, I’ve found display size to be the biggest factor in maintaining attention. I get tired of reading on my phone, and I tend to skim on a desktop or laptop, but a handheld tablet (I have a Nexus 7, which is close to the size of a paperback book) works out about right. I’d much rather read a long article on that tablet than on a computer, even with the browser window sized for optimal column width.

So yeah, it’s much easier to concentrate on something long in a book than on a desktop or cell phone…but an ebook reader or a tablet is a lot closer.

There are still tradeoffs: My Les Misérables re-read changed drastically when I switched from a paperback to my tabletnot because I couldn’t concentrate on long passages, but because my method of notetaking changed. My reading actually sped up, but my commentary slowed down. (It did ultimately take me longer than I expected to finish the book, but only because I had so many other books I wanted to read, and ended up taking breaks and reading them instead.)

The main problem I do have with a tablet isn’t continuing to read, but starting to read. Even without a wifi signal, it’s tempting to catch up on email, or saved articles in Pocket, and before I know it, I’m done with lunch and I haven’t even opened the book I’d planned on reading.

(Via Phi Beta Kappa)

I’ve been using Pocket lately to offload “Hey, this looks interesting” articles from times when I really should be doing something else to times when I have, well, time.

  • It syncs a copy of the article to each mobile device, which means I can see something in the morning, save it to Pocket, then read it on my tablet at lunch.
  • Feedly talks to it easily. I’ve even linked it up with IFTTT so that tapping “Save for Later” on the tablet will add an article to Pocket.
  • Speaking of IFTTT, I’ve also set it up so that saving an article as a favorite in Pocket also adds it to Delicious.
  • The Android app will accept shares even if there’s no network connection, then sync up when it’s online. That means I can look over a newsletter in Gmail at lunch, save the links that look interesting, and archive the email. Then I can read the article at work or at home…or the next time I’m out somewhere, after it’s synced.

I’ve also started using the text-to-speech feature to listen to articles in the car while driving to and from work. The voice is fairly decent despite the usual flat tones and lack of natural rhythms, but there are a few oddities that take getting used to.

  • # is always read as “hash.” This makes it really odd for comics articles, which frequently talk about issue numbers. “Batman Hash 123” just sounds wrong.
  • Italics are…always…emphasis, and presented by…pausing…rather than changing tone. This makes it…awkward…for anything involving lots of titles.
  • It parses words, rather than using a dictionary, and can’t always figure out whether initials should be read individually or pronounced as a word. This usually works fine, but occasionally leads to phrases like “tah-kay-down notice,” (takedown) “link-uh-din” (who knew LinkedIn rhymed with Vicodin?) or “pohs terminal” (POS as in Point-Of-Sale) On the other hand, it figured out “I-triple-E,” so I imagine it’s got a dictionary for special cases.

Last week I finished re-reading Les Misérables. I’ve been working on this off and on for most of the year, taking breaks to read other books along the way. I don’t feel finished yet, though, because I set myself the challenge of commenting on the whole thing as well, and I’m way behind on that.

As my series on re-reading Les Misérables grew, I realized it needed its own space. The pages that once held my long-defunct fan site, hyperborea.org/les-mis, seemed appropriate. I’ve moved the whole series there, along with the reviews of the show and movie, and some of my meta-commentary. With any luck it should be easier to find and navigate now.

It’s been slow going, but I’m determined to finish the book — I got through the end of Part Four (of five) last night, almost 1000 pages — and the commentary by the end of the year.

Read on for the commentary as Gavroche rescues his brothers* and his father in the same night…but no one recognizes him, and even he doesn’t even know the younger boys are his brothers.

*Yes, brothers. I thought I’d remembered all the Thenardier children, but it turns out there are five in all.