Year ago, I chose to move from a a physical library to a digital one as a way to save on space both in my home and in a moving van. I’ve been keeping all my books in Calibre on my computer, making sure to download any purchased from Amazon. I generally read on my Kindle Voyager (but would probably prefer a Kobo now).

Library management

Tsundoku: the reading pile

My digital library is small, at just 65 books. But I still have slightly more unread books than read, ranging from history and human geography to classics and modern novels. These books represent interests and ideals and opportunity. Really, the unread are more valuable than the read.

To reflect this, I use Calibre’s Virtual Library feature; it’s basically a saved search. First, create a column that will hold metadata on whether you’ve read the book or not.

  1. Right-click the column headers, and choose Add your own columns.
  2. Click Add custom column, and use these settings:
    • Lookup name: “#unread”
    • Column name: “Unread”
    • Column type: “Yes/No”
    • Default value: “No”

After creating and populating the column, use the Virtual Library button to create your tsundoku. I created two virtual libraries this way—Unread (search expression: “#unread:yes”) and Read (search expression: “#unread:no”). In the Virtual Library menu, I selected “Show Virtual libraries as tabs” for easy switching.

In addition, it can be nice to add a short note on why you added a book to your tsundoku, since it might be a while before you pick it up again. For this, just add another column (type: long text). All custom fields can be edited by right-clicking a book, choosing edit metadata, and going to the custom metadata tab.

A brief note on annotations

Amazon makes your annotations accessible online, but the interface is not great and subject to change at any time. There is an Annotations plugin for Calibre that will fetch annotations from books that have been USB-synced and place them in a custom field. Haven’t used extensively but I highly recommend it as a way to control and backup your annotations.

Server setup

Calibre has a built-in web server for accessing ebooks (official documentation and DigitalOcean community tutorial). While some people just run it on their home network, I thought it would be fun to set up on my VPS. The linked articles were helpful, I just struggled with Apache and expanding my SSL cert a bit. If I remember correctly, something in my Apache configuration caused an issue with the certbot challenge, and I ended up adding a DNS record to get around that. Make sure to turn on authentication, as Calibre doesn’t have a great security reputation.

Future concepts

Currently, my local Calibre install is my main, since that’s what I use for USB sync. The web server has to be manually updated via SFTP. I think Kobo readers can be set up to sync with online Calibre libraries (in addition to great support for public libraries!), so I would love to explore that option. I’m also interested in connecting object storage to my VPS for blog photos and ebooks.

Have any tips to improve my setup? Is this a project you want to try? If you have a Kobo, what do you think of it?

Want to borrow that e-book from the library? Sorry, Amazon won’t let you. by Geoffrey Fowler (Washington Post)

Amazon is the only big publisher that flat-out blocks library digital collections.

“It’s not clear to us that current digital library lending models fairly balance the interests of authors and library patrons,” said Mikyla Bruder, the publisher at Amazon Publishing, in an emailed statement. “We see this as an opportunity to invent a new approach to help expand readership and serve library patrons, while at the same time safeguarding author interests, including income and royalties.”

I’ve mostly stopped using Amazon, except for my Kindle. This sort of behavior is disgusting; my next e-reader will have to be Kobo. While a library with Libby can deliver a book to your Kindle, Amazon is withholding their own ebooks and audiobooks from library patrons until it can develop a way to extract even more value from all transaction participants.

First off: if you’re the kind of person who loves paper books for the qualities that can only come from being dead trees that are beat to a pulp and then bound, I don’t think any review of any reading device is going to convince you otherwise. However, if you enjoy reading, don’t enjoy staring at a LCD screen all day, and love getting lost in many good books, a Kindle is right up your alley. With that said, here are my thoughts on the new Kindle Voyage (with 3G and no Special Offers) I got yesterday.

Setup

I expected it to come in a typical Amazon Prime box but it came in a yellow padded envelope. Of course it still had its own packaging: a very small, tasteful box-in-a-sleeve. By the way, I love Amazon frustration free packaging.

The set up process was easy, and the Kindle came about half charged. One thing that surprised me is that the screen already had an image on it, depicting where to find the power button. That’s a pretty cool use of e-ink technology. When you power Kindle on for the first time it takes you through setting up Wi-Fi and social media (Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads). It also introduces you to navigation and basic settings.

Within an hour of turning on the Kindle for the first time a software update started downloading; this update modified the home screen and navigation. At least I don’t have to re-learn anything.

Features

Previously, I had a hand-me-down Kindle Keyboard. I loved the physical page turn buttons, but the keyboard felt like a tack-on much of the time. In just a short time with the Kindle Voyage, I know I would’ve gone mad trying to use a Paperwhite. While the touchscreen is good and responsive, a touchscreen alone is inadequate on a dedicated reader.

PagePress

I recall reading doubtful remarks about PagePress. But I have to tell you, it’s pretty fantastic. I thought the haptic feedback would be along the lines of Android’s THUMP. But it’s even less intense than the sensation of 3D Touch on iPhone 6S. I’d say it feels like a light pluck of a string; and it turns out that this is the medium setting. You can turn it off completely if you want! You can also change the pressure level required to turn the page.

Built-in Lighting

I also recall reviews of previous Kindle generations stating that the built-in lighting was uneven at the bottom edge. The lighting on the Voyage seems great so far. I have auto-brightness turned on and it seems the light remains on most of the time. I’m interested to see how it does for evening reading (I turned on the Nightlight features which is supposed to dim as your eyes adjust to the dark).

USB Mode

If you download MOBI or PDF files from someplace else it’s easy to sync them to your Kindle. Download them on your computer, attach the Kindle via USB, then drag-and-drop the files to the Kindle (it shows up as an external drive). Keep in mind that the Kindle only has 4GB of storage. (What‽)

Download MOBI or PDF from not-Amazon

You can do this, too. While on wi-fi, use the Experimental Browser navigate to a website with MOBI or PDF files, and click the download link.

Screen

The screen resolution is fantastic. At 300dpi, it really is print quality. I also like that they included a font for dyslexic readers, though that’s not a personal concern. The refresh is also very good, and the Kindle seems to be improving at removing any ghosting.

But after reading for a while—once you get lost in a book—your thumb is likely to slip onto the screen, causing the page to turn unexpectedly. It is jarring, and annoying, and I wish there was a way to turn this off when PagePress is on.

Build

The “thinnest Kindle ever” is definitely thin and light, with the edges being thinner than the middle. At first, the power button seems oddly placed, but as you can see it’s pretty convenient. Though, with the battery life of Kindle, you don’t have to worry about using it.

The grippy finish on the back is okay, albeit oleophilic. But what is up with the glossy finish on the top section?

It’s nice to have a screen that’s flush rather than inset, although it was never a huge distraction or inconvenience to me on the Kindle Keyboard—perhaps because that wasn’t a touchscreen device.

Kindle Voyage Elevator Pitch

This well-crafted Kindle is the bomb because I can keep my personal library in my pocket, go to the bookstore anytime, and always get lost in a good book. Buy it on Amazon.