How I read now

A nook at home where I read (on my phone) while eating breakfast most mornings.

A nook at home where I read (on my phone) while eating breakfast most mornings.

Here at my neighborhood café—cobalt stained glass studded with pale pink peacocks, borrowed canvas bag hanging from bright yellow straps on the back of my chair—I am thinking about reading, and how I read now. Reading is on my mind because I wrote about it yesterday, but also because it seems like everyone here is here to read. Some have Kindles, some have their noses in paper books, one has a book closed on the small table in front of her but is actually poking at her phone. I like best the couples who are here to read together silently.

I’ve read in all kinds of ways over time. As a kid in Ann Arbor, it was lots of library books covered in stiff plastic, and also—I’m sure—a lot my parents bought for us, too. In college, it was library books rebound in indestructible, linen-textured, somber tones; forest green is the one I remember most. Then, I started buying Kindles and getting Kindles as gifts, and I’ve had a lot of Kindles over the years. Right now, I have the nicest Kindle, but I don’t know where it is. I think it’s in a lumpy black bag in our room full of still-boxed belongings, but part of me is afraid to check and be wrong and part of me is completely fine with the way things are.

The way things are is that I read on my phone. At times, I’ve even had the Kindle app in the dock of my iPhone. “Bold move!” people said (or at least one person did) when they saw it there. Sometimes it’s aspirational, sometimes it’s real. It’s not in my dock right now, but this week, it’s real…which is probably why I feel like writing about it.

When Henrik and Lisa were working on Readmill, I remember Henrik’s insistence that mostly, people would read on their phones in the future. And mostly, I do. It’s distracting, but that goes both ways: sometimes notifications float in and distract me from the book I’m reading, sometimes a book distracts me from whatever else I was paying attention to or worrying about. Between books, I feel despondent. And it just occurred to me that this may be because the rest of the apps on my phone never let me down like that. Instagram and my email never run dry. (Though with email, it’s true, I’m often reading the same things twice. Checking to make sure they’re still there and still have a hold over me.)

Two other things about reading.

One is that I nearly always download a Kindle sample of each book first. Because Amazon and Apple haven’t agreed on a way for people to buy books in the Kindle app, I normally do this in a mobile web browser. If I make it to the end of the sample and still feel like reading the rest, I’m free to buy. But a lot of the time—probably half—I just don’t like it enough. Something about the writing style rubs me the wrong way, or it’s a self-help book that feels too harsh and intense. (I traffic in softness these days.)

The other is that I love Readwise a lot. It slurps up my Kindle highlights (there are many) and feeds them back to me as a daily email, which is the first thing I open most mornings. I highlight the most in soft self-help books, and the least in novels, but either way—it’s very encouraging to see the residue of past reading experiences return to me every morning like a boomerang. It makes me feel like a reader, which makes me more of one.

Diana BerlinReading