Reading and Listening to eBooks

After listening to a great lecture series on philosophy from The Great Courses, I thought listening to lectures and books (with the addition of films and games) surely replaced the ancient knowledge transmission through reading. And for the most part, I agree.

But there are still quite a few books I’d like to read, and in the Information Age, it seems the methods to get them are contrarily not so simple. Furthermore if one wanted to do research, then going to the library or building a personal one still seems the best way. Skimming through a bunch of eBooks sucks.

Recently, I bought a Kindle. It’s beautiful, but just too slow, I was unable to gauge the content of a books. It may be okay for literature, where one is likely to read the thing entirely, but for knowledge, research, or just general playful reading, it’s useless. I returned it, and instead ordered an iPad Mini.

The Kindle app for iOS is free, but the library can be expensive, and sometimes, the format is inferior to the actual book, missing pictures or linkable items.

Then I read somewhere that some eBook readers can link to Dropbox to read eBooks. Great! Then I found Voice Dream Reader. It is the best application I’ve found to read AND listen to eBooks. The application excels because both options are available simultaneously; The text being read is highlighted, and one can start and stop audio at any point in the text. This makes it superior to audiobooks, the Kindle, and real books. With audiobooks, one can’t gauge the contents, and skimming is fruitful, especially without any sort of markers (future feature of audio books?). Another great feat is that it keeps the original format and can convert the format on the fly to a more readable version similar to Kindle. The original formatting is nearly always superior, even if it doesn’t quite fit on the iPhone screen. The only time to use the readable version is for long-form reading, or passive reading of fiction. Lastly, it is superior to actual books because it offers the ability to provide audio, freeing the eyes.

The app has a slew of options and is quite customizable. It handles epub, PDF, and word documents (no Kindle formats though). The voice is pretty darn good, I feel happy at 250 to 300 words / minutes; Any slower and my mind wonders. There’s highlighting and notes, which is kind of a pain on iPhone because the text is so small, but perhaps better on iPad. Like the Kindle, one can highlight words and search it in a dictionary or wikipedia. It is indeed a dream. I can choose books from dropbox, skim through the original format like a Wikipedia article, begin listening to any part of it, or read it like a Kindle.

Though this is the best way I’ve found to read eBooks, I still find it inferior to a public or a personal library of books, but not by much. I used the Mac Kindle application to read The 21st Century Backpacker’s Bible because it was free on Kindle Unlimited (free for one month). I used Voice Dream Reader on iPhone to read some of Debt: The First 5000 years. I still haven’t received the iPad mini yet.

It’s still quite painful to find ePubs or PDFs. There a quite a bunch of online bookstores, free and not. Googling seems to be the best way to cover them all. Thankfully having access to Dropbox makes organization painless.

eBooks are important to me as I can’t have any books while traveling, they just weigh too much. Furthermore, from my experience in libraries and bookshops in Taipei, most selections are translated to Chinese. My goal was to devise a method of reading and listening while traveling, and it seems an eBook reader in conjunction of other medias, is the way to go.