Holiday reading for 2009

Now it’s time to head-offline to actually read something, rather than just scanning, sorting, saving links, removing unread articles from my desktop, more scanning, etc.  Yes, I’m downing tools and going on holiday.

Packed in my bag are a couple of books and unread newspapers.

And, yes, amongst everything else is my laptop. I’m taking it along mostly so I can read feature articles and to decide if I’ll print out a few e-books I’ve downloaded over the last year.

Making reading more appealing on a computer is a big ask, but I’ve found a few ways to make things more pleasurable. Of course, for Mac users we’ve had the nifty Tofu application for ages: simply paste a story in the box and the text is converted into columns. Each column is only as high as your window so it’s a bit like reading a paper.

Even more like reading a paper is the PressDisplay database offered to Wellington City Library patrons. Open the browser based programme and you can read any one of hundreds papers from 80 countries exactly as it appears in print. That means all adverts, page numbers, cross words, weather forecasts, as well as the actual articles. Editions are often available on the day they’re issued. Zoom in, select articles for printing, make comments. Brilliant – thank you librarians.

Although the New York Times isn’t amongst papers in the PressDisplay collection, they do have a new tool for reading the paper. Called the Times Skimmer, you are presented with one page snapshots of articles from the paper’s 17 main sections. At a glance on a single screen you can get a sense of the top stories – it’s not like looking at a webpage at all. When you do want to read something, you dive back into the website proper, where fortunately there is plenty of whitespace around the actual article text.

Whitespace isn’t always obvious on many websites – busy, crowded, distracting are words that come to mind. Installing the Readibility bookmarklet solves this unforgiveable affront to readers. After finding a page or article you want to read on any website, click on the bookmarklet and you’ve got a clean, immensely readable view. All adds, navigation and other clutter are remove, leaving you with just the text you want to read. Thanks to Miraz for pointing this out – I’ve been using it heaps.

Aside from mentioning the ever popular and contentious Guardian top 100 websites (released 9 December), which is likely to induce more surfing than actual reading, I will throw in a mention of Zotero. I’m really taken by this tool which sits inside Firefox and is designed to help people organise their publicatin collections. Mine include manuals, reports, guides, case studies, newsletters, etc. (Okay, so this one is not strictly about holiday reading).

When I apply myself, I’m sure the documents I use reguarly will be well sorted, easy to retrieve and provide reference citations at the push of a button. References of any sort can be entered, both electronic and print. With hundreds of documents scattered across folders on my computer and in manilla folders it will take a fair amount of effort. I’m going to pace myself, as I’ve tried before and made little headway. The my classification will be organic, but I’m pretty sure the search function using tags will be more searchable than what I’ve currently got (even with the powerful Spotlight).

It remains to be seen if I end up being as virtuous as make out I’m going to be. Given a sunny day you’ll probably find me reclining under a shady tree, book tossed aside and eyes closed.

Happy reading. See you in 2010.

PS To see what I’m reading in print, here’s a recent booklist I started on Goodreads.