Reading in the car

Reading in the car

This is a day when a lot of us readers may be traveling by car…and perhaps taking longer trips than we usually do. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, so I can have some pretty long drives during my normal work activities (certainly, an hour isn’t unusual). However, today and tomorrow we are getting together with friends and family and will be driving to atypical destinations.

It may also be that you aren’t the one actually driving when you usually are, and instead you are a passenger (or vice versa).

While, naturally, you may have conversations and sing songs (in our case, we’ve done “West on the freeway, and over the bridge, to Grandmother’s house we go!”), you certainly may be reading, too.

There are two real ways you could be doing that. One is sight-reading, which is what most people think of as reading. The other one would be listening, either to audiobooks (pre-recorded by the author or an actor reading the book) or text-to-speech (software which reads the book in a streaming manner…not pre-recorded). Most people prefer audiobooks, which are true performances, like seeing a movie. I’ve certainly enjoyed some, but my preference is text-to-speech…unless I’ve already read the book. I don’t like the narrator interpreting the characters for me, so TTS feels more to me like sight-reading.

Let’s talk about sight-reading first.

Some people do have trouble reading in a moving car, and there was a time when people thought that was particularly an issue with some Kindle EBR (E-Book Reader) models. There was a thought that it had to with the area around the screen…it can be harder to read when you are aware of the world outside the words passing by.

I’ve heard less about that in recent years, and the appearance of the devices has changed, so perhaps that is less of a thing. I’d be interested to hear if you used to have that problem with EBRs and no longer do.

A sight-reading thing where an EBR can be much less disruptive than a p-book (paperbook) is with the lighting. My most comfortable reading experience has been with the

All-New Kindle Paperwhite, 6″ High-Resolution Display (300 ppi) with Built-in Light, Wi-Fi – Includes Special Offers (at AmazonSmile*) (currently on sale for $99.99)


Kindle Voyage (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

I assume the experience is similar on the Oasis, although I haven’t bought one because it hasn’t been available without getting an animal-leather cover.

Why does it matter?

The technology that these three use shines the light at the screen, not at your eyes from behind the words (which is what a tablet or phone does…that’s why those are called “backlit”). You are reading it by the light reflecting off the screen…the same way you read a p-book.

That tends to create less ambient light in the car…which is better for the driver (I assume you aren’t sight-reading when you are the driver…although I have seen people doing that on the freeway). More light in the car makes it harder to see outside of the car when it is dark. That’s both from light “glaring” on the window, and because your eyes will adjust to the brighter light by letting in less light, which makes it harder for you to see in the dark outside the car.

So, an EBR is probably safer in the car than a p-book and having the dome light on. 🙂

Now, in terms of listening (audiobooks and TTS are effectively the same in terms of technique)…you need a device which can do it, a book where the publisher hasn’t blocked the access (in the case of TTS), and you’ll probably want to tie it into the car’s audio system.

I usually listen on a now discontinued Kindle Fire HDX, but any of the Fire tablet models do TTS and audiobooks, including the least expensive one

Fire, 7″ Display, Wi-Fi, 8 GB – Includes Special Offers, Black (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*) (currently on sale for $39.99)

While none of the current Kindle EBRs have speakers or a headphone jack (which is how you use the Aux cable), the newest ones have Bluetooth (a short range wireless connection), so that’s an option with current cars.

You can tell if a book has TTS available to you are not on the book’s Amazon product page…it will tell you whether or not the TTS is “enabled”, which is misleading. Publishers don’t need to do anything to make TTS work…it just works, unless they do something to make it not work. That means I can (and do) listen to work documents and personal documents sometimes. There are also technologies which are designed for people with print challenges where the blocking doesn’t matter, but that’s not the majority of the population at this point.

How you connect it will depend on your car. Generally, modern cars will have Bluetooth which is fine.

You might also be using a cable to an AUX jack, and with some older cars…it gets more complicated. 😉

Obviously, multiple people listening to different books out loud in the same car could be confusing, so headphones may also be an option.

You might also be reading magazines on tablets…and you might borrow those just for that reason from

Kindle Unlimited (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)


Prime Reading (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

Regardless, have fun at your destination…and with reading, getting there can be half the fun (as an old ad for the Cunard cruise lines used to say)!

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

All aboard our new The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip at The History Project!

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

2 Responses to “Reading in the car”

  1. Man in the Middle Says:

    “While none of the current Kindle EBRs have speakers or a headphone jack (which is how you use the Aux cable), the newest ones have Bluetooth (a short range wireless connection), so that’s an option with current cars.”

    Possible correction: So far as I can tell in the Amazon listings today, only the cheapest basic new Kindle includes Bluetooth. If either the new Paperwhite or an upgraded Voyage did, I’d immediately replace my original Voyage, as I badly want the TTS of the Kindle 3 back. (Note: Didn’t check the Oasis, as it seems a solution in search of a problem – I prefer to read without having to also hold a screen cover.)

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Man!

      That’s a good clarification. The only model currently that has it is the one they just call a “Kindle”, the least expensive one. That is part of the confusing terminology Amazon has always used. I just double-checked: the Paperwhite, Voyage, and Oasis Amazon product pages do not mention Bluetooth: the least expensive one does. That’s part of why I used to call the least expensive one the “Mindle”, but I did ask my readers and they preferred that I didn’t use that name…so I don’t. 🙂

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