how to read stuff posted online

Very few sites on the internet are meant to facilitate reading — most are, in fact, designed to inhibit reading. Imagine watching a movie and having the image regularly shrink to a tiny size, overwhelmed by a much larger advertisement which also plays its sound at double the volume of the movie’s sound — that’s what reading a corporate site is usually like. (I hope you will have noticed that I try to make this blog easily readable on large and small screens alike. Also, perhaps, that I have recently added a button to enable dark mode.)

So what to do? Well, most browsers now offer some kind of reading mode, which helps a lot — though I have not found one that works on every site. Or you could use a read-it-later service like Instapaper or Pocket. I do these things. 

Sometimes, though, I come across a long story or article or essay that I want to read without any of the distractions of being online. In that case I choose one of the following options: 

(1) If simply attentive reading is the goal, I often use a service called Push to Kindle. It does a superb job of converting webpages so that they’re perfectly formatted for the Kindle. For instance, someone recently recommended to me a long SF story called “Folding Beijing” — that’s a perfect candidate for Push to Kindle. I downloaded it and will probably read it in the next day or two. When anything is over 2500 words or so I get really uncomfortable reading it on my computer, so I often use this service for the lengthy reviews in the London Review of Books — to which I subscribe, but the print in the paper edition is uncomfortably small for my aging eyes — and their extended analytical essays like Perry Anderson’s three recent reflections on the European Union — totaling 45,000 words, longer than my most recent book — are also best-suited for the Kindle. 

(I’m trying not to buy anything else from Amazon, but I continue to use what I’ve already bought, putting off the Day of Decision until my current Kindle dies.) 

(2) But if I need to interact significantly with the text — highlight and underline — then I use a different service, Print Friendly. It converts webpages to PDFs that can be saved and/or printed. I use this all the time when I want to make PDFs to send to my students, or when a post really demands critical attention. Example: Ada Palmer’s long post from last year on the ways in which the Renaissance was worse than the Middle Ages

There’s a lot of great stuff on the internet. Not much of it is presented in ways designed for serious reading. But as you can see, that’s a problem that can be addressed. 

April 24, 2021

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