eBooks are our faceless friends

I love my Kindle. I’ve read probably a hundred books on it and will definitely read many hundreds more. I love everything about it: the convenience factor, the screen, the storage space, the form factor — everything.

I’ve read about a hundred books, but, if it wasn’t for Shelfari, I probably wouldn’t remember reading half of them. Not what the book is about, but the very fact that I’ve read this book. If I were browsing library shelves and happened to pick up some of the books I’ve read, I wouldn’t recognize them. Why is that?

The familiar and easily recognizable form factor of a Kindle makes the experience of reading one book virtually indistinguishable from reading any other. You may be reading a Lincoln biography, The Three Musketeers or the Holly Bible — nothing, absolutely nothing, changes. It’s the same black device with the same screen and the same black-on-white print. There are no pictures; the weight, the size, or the font of the book never changes. All those memory hooks that allow us to remember and distinguish things are missing. The books that you’re reading simply have no face. It’s like meeting a hundred faceless men at a cocktail party and having them tell you their name and their life story. You may remember the stories, but good luck telling which story belongs to who.

The same thing happens when I try to remember a specific paragraph or illustration from a book. The way memory, at least my memory, works, I remember that this specific paragraph was somewhere in the last third of the book, it was after this illustration but before that diagram, it was at the bottom of a page that had some other distinguishable sentences on it. I might have even highlighted it. In other words, finding something in a physical book is possible by just leafing through pages and setting off memory triggers. In an ebook all of that is missing: you can’t open a book in its last third and leaf through the pages to find something. You have to rely on the search feature, but you have to know what you’re searching for in the first place.

(Of course, there’s the highlight feature of a Kindle, but unless you make just a few highlights in a given book, finding a particular highlight is also not so straight forward.)

I find that using ebooks forces me to give up the natural way I remember things. It is forcing me to devise new ways, which don’t feel right and, frankly, don’t work for me. I’m yet to come up with a system for consuming all those highlights I made in all those Kindle books. I’ve tried importing my highlights and organizing them somehow in Evernote, but that, once again, forces me to have to remember what I’m looking for in the first place. I’m considering starting a good old notebook of handwritten notes. Seems like too much work though.

What do you do? Do you have a system for remembering or finding things in ebooks?

The Lazy Project Manager – Ridiculously Simplified Synopsis

The Lazy Project Manager is arguably one of the better project management books I read in a while.  It does not propose to teach your hard project management skills, the ones that being a PMP is all about: WBS, costs, schedules, etc.  Instead, it focuses on some of the softer skills, the ones that we often forget about, thinking that a good Gantt chart is all a project needs.  You probably have heard it all before at some point, but the book is a short, it reads well and serves as a great reminder.

As someone said on Shelfari.com, “Twice the taste, half the calories of regular project managers.”  And writing a simplified synopsis of it is easy — Peter Taylor provides it himself at the end of the book.

  • A project is thick, then thin, then thick again.  As a project manager, work hard at the start of the project.  Then you can rest in the middle of it and work again at the end to see it to a great close.  Kind of a variation on the old proverbs: measure 10 times, cut once; fail to plan, plan to fail.
  • Stay ahead of the game, start confidently, dress appropriately.  I especially like the dress appropriately part.  Dress appropriately for being in charge of a project, and not just for the organization you work for.  You don’t have to wear a suit everyday but being dressed a notch above everyone else won’t hurt.
  • Manage your project sponsor; know what’s in it for them.
  • Manage the project and scope creep.
  • Avoid communication breakdown.  But know when to communicate and how.  Multi-page status reports make for great documentation but, if nobody reads them, for poor communication.  As a project manager, sometimes you have to get out of your office and have a face-to-face conversation.
  • Have fun.
  • Stay calm.
  • Get the best team and retain them.
  • Don’t overload yourself.
  • And make sure to learn from each project.

I love books that can be summarized in a bullet list.

What are you reading?

LinkedIn now has a “Reading List by Amazon” application.  If you add it to your profile, you can let people see what books you are reading, have read or are planning to read.

Look through the recent updates of your network or of the entire LinkedIn for that matter. Look through their reading lists.  People read nothing but business, management, technical, self-help and an occasional biography  books — in short, non-fiction”smart” books.  Nobody, almost not a single person, is willing to  admit to reading a crime thriller or the latest paperback smut novel.  We are supposed to be too important, too busy to have time to read fiction, which will not help us advance in our professional development.  Or, LinkedIn being a “professional” social network, nobody wants to show their personal side and admit to reading for fun.

Most likely, it’s a combination of both.  Some are proud to be too busy to read, they certainly don’t have time to read for fun.  And that’s fine.

But if you do read for fun, why not share it?  What are you afraid of?  People won’t think less of you.  It is OK to show a bit of your personality to the world.  It’s OK to be defined by something other than your resume.  People may appreciate knowing a different side of you, something more than a list of awesome jobs you had and schools you went to.  And it just might make YOU stand out just a bit from all the people with the same titles, jobs and certifications as you.

So go ahead, if you’re reading something fun, let others know.  And let me know.  I’m always looking for a good book to read next.

P.S., now if only LinkedIn were to figure out how to tie their application to my Amazon account and pull my books from there.


Kindle, Shelfari and reading books in new year

According to Shelfari, I read 42 books in 2010.  That’s 3.5 books on average per month.  Today, on January 8th of the new year, I already read 3 books and am working through 2 more.  So I’m ahead of pace.

I credit my increased book consumption speed to my new Kindle and audiobooks.

I started the year with reading on a Kindle.  For a long time I foolishly resisted getting a book reading device.  I just didn’t want to give up that feeling of having an actual book in my hands, flipping pages, feeling paper under my fingers.  I read Jeff Bezos promises that his “top objective was to make the Kindle disappear” and didn’t believe it possible.  But Jeff was right.

The first time I sat down to read with my new Kindle, I quickly developed a headache.  It took me a little while to realize what was wrong.  I was trying read it like an LCD screen — a laptop or an iPad or some other handheld device — and Kindle isn’t that.  I can’t explain it, but my eyes were looking at it a little differently and it wasn’t comfortable.  Once I realized my mistake, I adjusted my eyes and started looking at the device just like I would at a book page and that made all the difference in the world.  After that, the device truly sort of “melted” away.  It no longer mattered what I held in my hand, all that mattered was the text on a page.

The form factor of the device is a definite plus.  It is smaller and lighter than most of the books I read, making it much more manageable.

I also found that I read much quicker on a Kindle vs. a regular book.  I attribute this to the size of the screen, the width of the page is narrower than most books I read and it allows my eyes to travel down the rows faster.

And the built-in dictionary is absolutely phenomenal.

All in all, Kindle is an amazing little device.  It is letting me read more and read faster.  It is making me spend more money with Amazon, but that side effect was to be expected.  And if you’re into the classics, there’s always Project Gutenberg, offering many classics in Kindle format for free.

The thing that’s missing for me is tighter integration with Shelfari itself, which is surprising in itself, since Shelfari is owned by Amazon.  I’d love to see my Kindle automatically update my Shelfari bookshelf with books that I’m reading or have read.  Anyone knows how to build it?

And then, there are audio books.  Again, something that I resisted for the longest time until finally deciding to give it a try.  And I’m hooked.  I’m using MyMediaMall through my local library.  Checkout a book, download and transfer to your iPod and enjoy.  I find myself driving slower (people who know me personally and have been in a car with me may find it hard to believe), prolonging my commute just so that I can listen longer to my book.

I’m looking forward to discovering more books this year.  Let’s see what my total count will be at the end of the year.