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Reading an academic book on Kindle

Last year, before I went to Australia, I bought a Kindle so that I could load it up with books for my trip and thus reduce the weight of my luggage. I've found it very amenable for leisure-type reading, but today for the first time I tried to use it for academic reading, and found the experience utterly frustrating and tedious.

Reading in a linear fashion is fine, but of course that is not the reality of much academic reading. Kindle books are well set-up to support footnotes - they pop up at the bottom of the screen, and you can also move back and forth between the 'page' you are on and the footnotes section with a single click each way.

The problems kick in when you want to flick back and forth between the text and the bibliography (e.g. to check the full title of an abbreviated reference in the notes) or between the index and the text (e.g. to see what the author has to say on a particular topic). I do understand that I can move back and forth between different parts of the book either by memorising a location number and using the 'go to' function, or by using that view where you can see nine pages at once and there's a slider at the bottom. But both are much slower and more cumbersome than the traditional method of having one finger in the bibliography / index and the other in the text.

For similar reasons, I also struggled to get an overall sense of the shape and trajectory of the book. I could see the table of contents, but without page numbers I couldn't see how long each chapter was, so it wasn't easy to see how much space the author had allocated to one or the other topic. Nor could I find the plates referred to at various points in the text. Plates aren't usually paginated, so wouldn't be listed in the table of contents or list of illustrations, but at least in a physical book you can see them, just by looking at the fore-edge.

Theoretically, the Kindle's capacity to highlight passages and annotate them should be super-useful for academic reading, but again in practice I found both processes so cumbersome that I stopped bothering, and just took notes on my computer, the same way as I would while reading a paper book. It did occur to me at the very end of the day that that particular problem might have been resolved by using the Kindle app on my tablet, rather than my actual Kindle, since the tablet has a much more responsive touch-screen (which would have made the highlighting easier) and the keyboard which pops up when required is larger (which would make the annotating easier). But even then, the other frustrations described above would still remain.

If you've used a Kindle for research-focused reading, what have your experiences been? Are there hints or tips which I'm missing, or is it just always like this?


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