Why I Read eBooks Almost Exclusively

Why I Read eBooks Almost Exclusively

The value of a portable library with greatly improved search, archive, and recall.

I have a mind like a sieve. High school provided ample opportunity to become quite adept in the art of last-minute cramming, acing the exam, then being as ignorant a week afterward as the week before. Unfortunately, old ways die hard.

So now when reading, these are my two objectives:

  1. Learn as much as possible while reading the book.

  2. Make recalling what was read as easy as possible.

Given my incredible ability to forget important information, and given the fact that research suggests retention of content is higher for printed books than digital texts (Szalavitz, 2012), and the decline of digital books (Alter, 2015), why do I read ebooks almost exclusively? Five reasons (offered by way of testimony… descriptive, not prescriptive, and all that):

  1. Library Portability — I love paper. In a technology age, I joyfully use notebooks and pens because they are fast, effortless, and tangible. But when it comes to books and the copious amounts of literature that I need to read, the value of having my entire library with me on my Kindle Paperwhite far outweighs the beauty of physical books. I am frequently reading several books concurrently, including the Bible, a devotional book, a theology book (all usually first thing in the morning), as well as an audiobook when working out, and a handful of other books ranging from history to innovation to classics. (Full disclosure: that last one has proven to be more aspirational than actual fact.)

  2. Search — When connecting the dots between research and findings from different domains, by many authors, across multiple books, the ability to search for a particular word or phrase is invaluable. Usually, I will remember enough of the topic to be able to search the book within the Kindle app, or the archived highlights.

  3. Highlights — When I read, I highlight extensively. My intent is to create a synopsis of the most important points of the book in a way that can be easily archived and searched. I highlight, extract, and archive highlights from all of my primary sources of digital text: Kindle ebooks, PDF documents using Zotero with Zotfile, and Instapaper. This is very helpful for reviewing the key points and locating important concepts. When I need to review a book, it is easy to look through the highlights that are stored as a note with the corresponding record in Zotero.

  4. Charts and graphics — I also take screenshots of important charts and graphics and archive them with the extracted highlights.

  5. Notes — I find it very helpful to be able to make (searchable) notes as I am reading, both for tying the concepts in the book to experiences in the real world, as well as noting down points of disagreement with the author’s assertions or conclusions.

In spite of all the advantage listed above, there are times that I miss reading paper books. I should probably do more of it… especially while my Kindle is rebooting.


Alter, Alexandra. “The Plot Twist: E-Book Sales Slip, and Print Is Far From Dead.” The New York Times, 22 Sept. 2015.

Szalavitz, Maia. “Do E-Books Make It Harder to Remember What You Just Read?” Time, Mar. 2012.