Life The Stats Guy: It’s almost Christmas and the reading season is upon us

The Stats Guy: It’s almost Christmas and the reading season is upon us

Simon Kuestenmacher
It's that most wonderful time of the year – time to read, writes Simon Kuestenmacher. Photo: TND
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The year is slowly coming to an end and the most wonderful season of the year is upon us. I am, of course, talking about reading season. Officially the Christmas break might be about family, walks on the beach, disconnecting from work, but for me it’s simply a great opportunity to finish a few big books.

As a reader of this column, you are clearly familiar with the concept of reading. My goal today is to encourage you to pick up a good book over the coming break.

If you are like me, you are reading nowhere near as much as you’d like to. Try out a new way of reading over the break.

Read physical books

Your local library is an almost endless source of reading delight. Photo: Getty

The traditional way of reading starts by walking into a brick-and-mortar bookshop. The experience of browsing a good bookshop (especially a second-hand one) is a true joy in and of itself. You pick a book, you pay for the book, maybe you end up reading the book. Easy. You can type in your postcode and find your local independent bookstore on this website.

Your local library is free – plenty of books there. Your membership might be expired, or you might never have gotten one. The library is worth a visit. I am almost certain that you will get a membership in a couple of paragraphs when we start talking about audiobooks.

There are so many lovely little street libraries around that are full of wonderful reading material. Most are beautifully designed, some are lovingly curated and are always stocked with interesting books, all are worth glancing at. I always enjoy stumbling across a new one. Many of my regular book boxes are listed on the street library website. Next time you walk past one just have a look inside.

The quickest way to acquire a free physical book is to just walk to your bookshelf and pick one of the many unread books that you already own. My wife has a couple of shelves designated to unread books and occasionally asks me to randomly pick her next read. My picks are never completely random, of course …

Read digital books

Digital books are my choice when I want a newly published book right away, when I want to read foreign language material (hard to get in Australia), or when I travel for an extended period.

Most of my reading is non-fiction. My books have post-it notes everywhere, I scribble in the margins, underline text, flick back to tables – all these tasks are easier in a physical book. For fiction I prefer digital books. I read fiction for pleasure and don’t take any notes. Reading on my phone or Kindle is more comfortable.

If you decide to buy an eReader, one of the lower priced models will likely do. Sure, the latest Kindle is super light, waterproof, and has a lovely warm light but $350 for a device that many people don’t end up using much is a bit steep. The basic Kindle for $120 will do the trick for most readers.

Curl up with a good book … digitally. Photo: Getty

Or maybe you want to experience digital reading outside of the Amazon universe altogether.

Considering the endless amount of free reading material available on the Gutenberg Project, through your local library, or purchases directly from the publishers, an eReader that deals with open formats better than Kindle is preferable.

Amazon’s Kindle steers you towards paid books and doesn’t allow you to borrow books digitally from your local library. If you want to read free books, Kobo would be the most popular eReader in Australia. Kobo comes in a basic version for $150, a fancy version for $270, and an insane version for $600 (handwriting detection, optimised for reading and annotating pdfs) that should only be considered by hardcore users who read and work through tons of academic papers and pdfs.

About a decade ago I wanted to read more books. I downloaded an eReader app on my phone and read Moby Dick, Robinson Crusoe, and The Count of Monte Cristo in all those microbreaks that suddenly appear during the day. Previously I might’ve jumped on social media, played a game, or looked at a sports website. Reading was a wonderfully productive way of procrastinating. All these wonderful classics that I always wanted to read but never got around to were available for free on the wonderful Gutenberg Project website. It’s a great resource for students – no need to spend money on your Shakespeare, Austen, or Dickens.

Listen to books

Maybe you still struggle to make the time to read any kind of book, be it a physical or digital one. In that case let me remind you of audiobooks. Some purists still don’t consider listening to an audiobook as reading. I love audiobooks. I listen to books when I exercise, travel, clean up, or brush my teeth.

There is a heated debate over whether you retain the same amount of information when you listen to a book compared to reading the book. I am not interested in the general debate since I found a balance that works for me.

Audiobooks can be convenient and relaxing. Photo: Getty

The audiobook market is dominated by Amazon’s Audible. No wonder. It’s super convenient, membership includes a big catalogue of “free” audiobooks, and at $17 per month (which includes a token for any audiobook) it’s relatively cheap. You can, for example, binge on every single Sherlock Holmes story read by Stephen Fry over the break. That’s what I did last summer – 72 hours of Sherlock Holmes and every second of it was brilliant.

The free alternative to Audible is even more amazing to me than the Gutenberg Project. On LibriVox volunteers record themselves reading books in the public domain. It’s like Audible but for free! Sure, the selection of 16,000 (!) audiobooks skews towards fiction but if you want to catch up on the classics (here is a wonderful reading of The Count of Monte Cristo), LibriVox is the place to be and it comes with a handy iPhone app.

Your local library also offers thousands of free audiobooks. I cannot stress enough that you should go get a membership at your local library and access their audiobook catalogue.

I hope I could whet your appetite for the reading season. Enjoy a good book, whatever format it might come in. Please let me know if I missed an option. Happy reading, you deserve a bit of a distraction after 2021!

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