The way I read books quite possibly makes me the worst person in the world. But I have a system that works really well for me, and maybe it will for you too.
Firstly, I only read books on the Kindle app on my phone. If that sounds awful – and at first it did to me too – think about how you read pretty much all the articles you get through on a daily basis. On your phone screen, right? And you don’t think “wow, this screen is tiny and useless,” you just read and roll your eyes at the ads.
The Kindle app is just like that, but without the ads. Plus you can change the font size to suit you, and put Dark Mode on (although, annoyingly, any book with illustrations or decorative flourishes will have bright flashes of white background that totally dazzle you at 2am. Sigh).
Also, you can press on a word you don’t know to see the definition, highlight stuff in four colours, TEXT SEARCH ENTIRE BOOKS, and screenshot amazing quotes to tweet later (I do this constantly).
I used to have a proper physical Kindle, but having to charge it and carry it separately to my phone just seemed like overkill. I like having my book on my phone with all my other stuff, and I genuinely don’t notice the screen size, just like I don’t when I’m watching Netflix on my phone or whatever.
Since I use the Kindle app, that means I get my digital books via Amazon. I appreciate some people object to using Amazon entirely and I understand why – but at the moment unfortunately it’s the only large-scale supplier for new and existing digital books (that I know of – feel free to put others in the comments, but they need to be available in the UK or they’re no use to me!).
However, using Amazon’s app also has one giant upside.
The great thing about Kindle books – and no one seems to know this – is that you can download a free sample of any book before you decide if you want to buy it. You wouldn’t just drop £10 on a book without having a flip through it in the shop, right? Digital books should be no different.
Free samples for everyone!
To download a sample, go to the book’s page on Amazon (either on the app or your computer, it works either way) and click the ‘Send a free sample’ button on the far right.
Yes, I have too many Androids
If you don’t see it, make sure you’ve selected the Kindle version of the book: it won’t show on paper/hardback/audiobook.
Somewhat annoyingly, the length of the sample varies enormously by book. I downloaded one by Viktor Frankl yesterday that was literally just the table of contents and no actual contents, but thankfully that’s very rare. Usually you get at least the first chapter, often a couple, and almost always enough to decide if it’s something you want to read the rest of.
Samples as a service
There’s another upside to samples besides saving money, though: they act as a sort of to-read list.
Whenever I see a book recommendation on social media, in an article or in another book I’m reading, I go to Amazon and download the sample (it goes straight to the app on my phone, even if I’m using Amazon in a browser on my PC). Then, whenever I get to the end of a book, I don’t have to hunt around for something else to read – there are usually 3 or 4 promising samples waiting in my Library already.
And when I want to recommend some books, I only have to look at my Amazon orders to see what I’ve read recently. Mega handy.
Like I said, this method won’t be for everyone, but I’ve been using it for a few years now and it means I never run out of things to read. You just have to get into the habit of grabbing the sample when you see something that sounds good.
5 books I’ve recently enjoyed using this method
All bought after liking the sample – try it yourself!
1. Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh
If you don’t know the name Hyperbole and A Half , you almost certainly know the ‘DO ALL THE THINGS!’ meme from the webcomic of the same name. Allie Brosh is the most ridiculously relatable cartoonist and storyteller, and although this book gets a bit more dark and serious in the middle than her first, it’s still mostly really daft stories about being a person who is weird and awkward to their core and also wants to know why they keep waking up to horse poo all over the house.
2. The Dark Side of the Mind: True Stories from My Life as a Forensic Psychologist by Kerry Daynes
One of my favourite genres of book is the career memoir – it allows me to step into a job I’ve never even thought about having and feel like I basically get what it would be like. This one’s all about how dangerous criminals think and what it’s like for Daynes to sit opposite them as a health professional, an expert witness, and in one case, a victim.
3. Make Time: How to focus on what matters every day by Jake Knapp
If I spent all the hours I’ve used reading productivity books on actually doing stuff, I wouldn’t need productivity books. Nonetheless, this one, by the Google alums who came up with the idea of a ‘design sprint’, is pretty great.
4. The Body: A Guide for Occupants by Bill Bryson
Everyone loves Bill Bryson, and while I’ve been disappointed in the past by some factual inaccuracies in his writing, there’s no denying he’s amazing at making arcane subjects accessible, fascinating and funny. This tour of the human body is a great example, and I learnt a lot (although I had to fact-check it all after).
5. We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby
I’m always skeptical of “books of essays” like this, because it seems like a bit of a cop out – “I couldn’t think of an idea for a book so I mashed some articles together.” This isn’t one of those. It’s like spending a few hours in a bar with your funniest friend. I LOVED it.
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