Print, eBook, or Audio? Tips for Finishing More Books

My friend Bryan DeWire is like me in that he loves to read. He loves to read and loves to share his love of reading with others. While I’m finishing up my stint at Together for the Gospel, he put together this article for me–an article of tips on how to finish more books. Happy reading!

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Finishing 100 books in a year is not as hard as it might sound—if you put a little variety in your technique. Books are accessible to us in so many ways. Obviously, you can read the printed page. But you can sometimes read free PDF’s (think of Desiring God’s books). You can read eBooks on your Kindle, Nook, smart phone, iPad, and computer. You can read books on Bible software programs like Accordance and Logos. You can even get others to read to you on audiobooks!

Taking advantage of all this technology enables me to finish a relatively large amount of books. The key has been figuring out what kind of book matches up best with what kind of medium. Obviously, what works for me might not work well for you, and vice-versa. But these ideas might get your creative juices flowing and help you more strategically get through more ofthe many books you want to read. Here are some of the factors I think through when I decide if I want to go through a book on the printed page, electronically, or audibly.

Print Books

My default preference for finishing a book is to simply read a physical, printed copy. I love the feel and the smell of books. I love book covers that are tastefully done. I love marking page after page with a pen, compiling my own index of themes and highlights, and connecting various parts of the book. If I get free time by myself, it’s likely I will read a printed book.

Now there are certain types of books that will almost guarantee I choose the printed version rather than the e- or audio version. If it’s a book I know Iwant to mark up a lot—if I cannot NOT mark it up—then I will purchase the print version, even if it’s more expensive than the other versions. For example, I am very likely to mark up books by John Piper (like When I Don’t Desire God), C.S. Lewis (like Mere Christianity), and Sinclair Ferguson (like, most recently, The Whole Christ).

eBooks

That said, there are definitely still factors that will make me go the e-version route. For example, so many great eBooks are made available for very cheap or completely free—I’m talking classic after classic for free! I also love being able to easily hold big books—400, 500, 1,000 page books—in my hand. Perhaps you’ve been wanting to read a book like Jonathan Edwards: A Life by George Marsden or A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life by Joel Beeke and Mark Jones. And perhaps you haven’t done so simply because it’s so bulky to carry around. Then, I would suggest purchasing and reading the e-version.

On a related note, I have found that reading on an e-reader helps big books feel smaller and enables me to not get distracted. Who hasn’t had the daunting experience of reading through books with massive pages (like, say, The Works of Jonathan Edwards)? Sometimes you wonder if you’re evergoing to finish that page! But reading on an e-reader screen can help. (And how amazing is it that backlit electronic paper screens can be read in both pitch black rooms and beneath direct sunlight?) Likewise, if you’re looking to improve your attention span, consider the e-reader. My experience has been very similar to Alan Jacobs’s: 

“In short, once you start reading a book on the Kindle—and this is equally true of the other e-readers I’ve tried—the technology generates an inertia that makes it significantly easier to keep reading than to do anything else. E-readers, unlike many other artifacts of the digital age, promote linearity—they create a forward momentum that you can reverse if you wish, but not without some effort. . . .

“I found my ability to concentrate, and concentrate for long periods of time, restored almost instantly.” (The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction, pp. 81–82)

So, if there is a biography or some fiction or devotional you’ve been putting off—if you’ve been daunted by the idea of trekking through such books—consider reading the e-version.

Audiobooks

There are numerous options for listening to audiobooks. My aunt has given me a half-year subscription to audiobooks.com the past two Christmases, and I have enjoyed it. Similar to what I noted above, you can listen to many classics and other books in the public domain for free on LibriVox. A couple years ago, our family subscribed to Audible and we’ve really made it worth the investment (plus it’s the most user-friendly audio option I’ve found). We get books for our kids (like Charlotte’s Web—read by E. B. White!—and Winnie-the-Pooh). We get great stories for ourselves (like the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn—read by Elijah Wood!—and the Master and Commander series—read by Patrick Tull!). And I’ve heard fantastic feedback on the newly released Harry Potter audio series. Nothing makes long road trips enjoyable quite like a good audiobook.

But you don’t need a long road trip to enjoy audiobooks. You can listen while driving to work, brushing your teeth, and exercising. I listen to books while feeding our (sometimes screaming) 3-month-old. Last year, I started going for a 20-minute, post-lunch walk every day—and few things make me feel as productive as listening to an audiobook (on 2x or sometimes even 3x speed!) while walking. And while such opportunities are pretty rare for knowledge workers, I do even find “mindless” work each week where I can get things done while listening to an audiobook.

When I’m looking for an audiobook, I mainly try to think of bigger books I’m interested in, but probably won’t get around to reading anytime soon. So, I’ll choose books on politics, business books, or biographies that aren’t on my must-read list. There are certain book categories I’ve come across in The 2016 Reading Challenge that I don’t naturally gravitate toward, and finding the audio version has helped me knock quite a few of them off the list. (If you’re looking for an entertaining and edifying book, I would highly recommend listening to the brand-new book This Is Awkward by Sammy Rhodes.)

A Bonus Tip

You know how certain foods are so good for you that they’re considered power foods? Some examples include salmon, kale, avocados, raw honey, and so on. Think of this last tip as a power tip. It is a habit I just happened upon over 10 years ago, but it has greatly helped me become a better reader. At the time, I had read C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters a few times. But I had just recently gotten ahold of the audio version, so I started listening to it. But then it hit me—and this is the power tip: You can listen to a book while you’re reading it!

That insight might seem obvious to you—perhaps it is obvious. But I know it has worked wonders for me. How so? When I only read a book, the temptation is to go slowly, constantly re-read words, and get bogged down and, therefore, lose the flow of the book. On the other hand, when I only listen to a book, the temptation is to let my mind wander and focus on anything other than the audiobook. But by reading and listening to a book, I am able to both keep making progress (because the audio continues to play) and keep my focus (because my eyes are engaged with the words). This tip has helped me especially with books that are a bit heady (as C.S. Lewis joyfully tends to be). So, however you choose which books for which medium, I encourage you to get creative with how you engage with books—and thus finish more of them!