The Digital Plunge: My Three-Month Dive into Kindle-Only Reading

On March 1, 2019, I metaphorically set aside my library of 300+ physical books to prepare for a deep dive into the world of digital-only reading. Spurred by genuine curiosity, I read strictly on my Kindle for a full quarter of a year, ending on June 1.

As a former paper-only apologist, my 90-day excursion into Jambly McReadalot’s (I had to rename my Kindle after discovering I had about 50 different Kindle-enabled devices connected to my Amazon account, all with generic names) paper-white screen left me shaken to my core. Quite frankly, I enjoyed the whole experience with a few hesitations. Making the abrupt switch–and sustaining it for three months–fueled my newfound appreciation for digital books while simultaneously reminding me of the wonders of physical editions.

Along the way, I read a grand total of three books: Pet Sematary, There’s Seamen on the Poop Deck, and The Neutronium Alchemist. Typically I’d chide myself for low productivity after seeing those numbers, but 1) The third book was more than 1000 pages of dense Sci-Fi prose and 2) I never wanted to set a productivity goal for the project; instead, the point was to see whether good ol’ Jambly acted as a stimulant or a hindrance. Turns out I ended up at about the same reading speed in either medium.  

I understand there are factions of digital evangelists that rival paperback purists, but I want to be clear that this piece isn’t meant to sway anyone from one side to the other. I wrote this for the reader who has a Kindle gathering dust, subject to occasional utterances of “Maybe I’ll try that out sometime.” I wrote it for the other reader who’s afraid to bring a beefy paperback on that morning commute but won’t take the digital plunge. It’s an exploration of the ups and downs that inevitably accompany your chosen reading medium, and if you’re wavering even slightly, I hope I can give you the nudge you need open up to the best of both literary worlds.

The Coffee Table Effect (Or The Kitchen Counter Effect)

I devoured Pet Sematary just two weeks after embarking on my adventure with Jambly McReadalot, bolstered by the high of reading in a new way and reading my first Stephen King book. Following that binge and leading into April, I’d look down at my coffee table and see Jambly sitting there, idle, destitute, unused. During a three week stretch, whenever I had a bit of free time, I’d reach instead for my PS4 controller or the TV remote. Simply by virtue of being a device, my Kindle had a distinct disadvantage.

When I’m reading any book, it has a near-permanent space on my coffee table or kitchen counter. Somewhere visible, so it begs for my time. With physical books, this keeps me accountable and effectively steers me away from other content that fights for my attention. There are times when I stare at my bookshelf and just think about the possibility of reading all the tales within. My Kindle? Different story. That mental draw, almost a calling, to read a book contained within the Kindle’s plastic walls diluted to the point of near non-existence.

Eventually, this limitation subsided, perhaps sparked by my growing interest in The Neutronium Alchemist. Still, the psychological roadblock hindered my early interest in my little e-book library.

Train (or Car, or Bus, or Plane, or Boat, you get it) Brain

My morning commute usually gives me 25 to 30 minutes of built-in reading time that I previously used to play mobile games and listen to podcasts. As soon as I switched to digital-only and started reading on the way to and from the office, I doubled my productivity by filling my otherwise free time with a book.

As an added bonus, reading on the train conditioned me for shorter reading spurts than I was used to. I’ve always been a “big chunks” reader, plowing through books in irregular 100+ page bursts. Now, Kindle in-hand, I can easily knock out 20-40 pages during the time I’d otherwise frivolously waste on Clash of Clans. That shift has seeped into my other reading habits as well; now I’ll sneak a quick chapter before dinner or flip through a few pages while I wait for a friend at the movie theater.

The most challenging aspect of this monumental shift in how I read is returning to physical volumes during my commute. I’m just starting Peter Hamilton’s The Naked God, which, at 1300 pages, is a brick of a book. Reading on the train is comparatively clunky and taxing, but my longing for paper currently outweighs my need for convenience.

Progress At A Glance

I’m stuck in the mental purgatory of constantly wishing to know how far I’ve read while also hoping not to see unwelcome reminders of said progress. A physical book’s page numbers offer the tried-and-true solution.

The Kindle offers various methods of progress tracking. The percentage measure seems to reign supreme based on my limited research, and I assume the option exists to turn off any progress meter completely.

During my readings of Pet Sematary and There’s Seamen on the Poop Deck, I welcomed the percentage meter because it rose steadily at a reasonable pace. When The Neutronium Alchemist entered the fray, the soul-crushing reminder that I hadn’t even ticked that meter up by 1% after what felt like 20 pages wore me down. It’s simple math, of course, but seeing my progress felt more like an obstacle than an encouragement.

Buyer’s Boredom

Purchasing a novel on a Kindle is the book-buying equivalent of a one night stand. It happens quickly, gives you a fleeting jolt of satisfaction, then leaves you feeling empty.

This gripe, in all likelihood, is personal to me, but buying any book on Jambly McReadalot left me feeling vapid. Half of my love for reading stems from trips to the bookstore with the anticipation of a new literary discovery. I can remember where I bought most of my books, the others I considered purchasing, and why I chose the book at hand. The Kindle makes this experience robotic, and I felt drained, rather than excited, after buying a book and waiting for the download meter to reach 100%.

Best of Both Worlds

By no means an expert after three months, but now seasoned enough to make some sort of judgment, I’m happy I’ve started to explore the possibilities of digital reading. I’ll put it as simply as I can: reading Kindle-only for three months took me from my extreme paper-only point of view and opened up a new, convenient option with its own inherent benefits. I may not be an e-book radical, but I’m certainly warming up to the possibility.

6 thoughts on “The Digital Plunge: My Three-Month Dive into Kindle-Only Reading

  1. I have a very similar “out of sight, out of mind problem” with Kindle buys. I have 30 or 40 purchases on my Kindle that I would very much like to read….if I could only remember that I had bought them to begin with. Physical books give me baleful glances from the shelves or try to trip me from the stacks I have piled in my room. Maybe I need to just start printing covers and hanging them around the room……

    I will always prefer the feel of physical books, but the advantage of being able to read a book at home, then pick up where I left off on my phone while I stand in line at a store is too good a perk to pick up. I’ve also accepted that some books are just TOO BIG. I’m getting through Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archives, and having seen that the books are thick enough to kill someone with, I’ve just accepted my life will be easier if I have it in a digital format.

    Thanks for your thoughts, it was an interesting read!

    1. Thanks for reading and for sharing your thoughts, too! Your note about “baleful glances” from books on your shelf is exactly how I feel! They practically beg to be read.

      At one point, I put the physical copy of The Neutronium Alchemist under my Kindle on the coffee table just to encourage my near-future self to pick it up. Gotta trick the brain into it sometimes!

  2. I’ve found the biggest benefit of a kindle is traveling. As much as I love to physically finish a book, its quite nice to only carry a small device that can have as many books as I want, instead of trying to fit 3 books in my backpack which I might not even read. I like that I can decide how many books I want to read as I see how my trip pans out. The only downside is that I’m an avid *cough frugal* book borrower, so it’s much easier to grab 3 books out of my roommate’s bookcase than to pay for books to download on the kindle. (Also, my sunscreen while on the beach doesn’t ruin the pages of a kindle like it does the pages of a nice book).

    1. Travel is a huge bonus! The most reading I’d ever done on Jambly McReadalot (outside of this stint) was on a Europe trip. Side note, I have lent you three books now and they have all come back without any sunscreen. I expect this trend to continue 😛

  3. I make a difference between books designed for multiple purposes to which I will come back on a regular base and books for recreational reading. From the first category I’ll buy a physical copy and the second category I borrow at the library or Kindl Unlimited. In rare cases, I’ll buy a digital copy. Buying paper copies of books designated for recreational reading to which you’ll never come back, is just collecting clutter on your bookshelves. It looks impressive to a casual visitor, but it clogs your working place and your mind.

  4. Being a “subway reader” (my daily commute is around 45-50 minutes twice a day) I can understand the joys of a small device that can hold many books – especially big volumes – and allow me to read and turn pages with one hand while I hang with the other to the train’s supports 🙂
    And since I’m a chain reader (which is like chain smoking with books – and better for one’s health…) I also appreciate the joy of finishing one book and being able to start another immediately, no matter where I am.

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