Can’t get to a bookstore or library? Try e-books (many are free, no special device needed)

Can’t get to a bookstore or library? Try e-books (many are free, no special device needed)

Do you read every day?

Lots of people do, including me.

Some of us, who may find ourselves home for an extended period unexpectedly, are lucky enough to already have books in our homes. When I ran a poll last week, more than half of my readers reported having more than 100 unread books:

No internet, no delivery, no leaving: how many UNREAD books do you have in your house?

  • More than 100 |  56.52%
  • 51-100 | 17.39%
  • Other | 13.04%
  • 21-50 | 8.7%
  • 6-10 | 4.35%
  • 0 | 0%
  • 1-5 | 0%
  • 11-20 | 0%
  • I don’t know | 0%

Not everybody’s going to have that, though.

I used to manage a brick-and-mortar bookstore, and I’ve always loved going to bookstores and public libraries. I had regular customers who would come in just about every day…not even necessarily buying something each time, but just enjoying the experience.

If that’s the case, you may not have a large TBR (To Be Read) “pile”.

How do you get things to read if you aren’t leaving your home?

One answer is e-books.

I should start out with saying that I’ve always loved books. I literally have a floor to ceiling library in my home. I’ve had over 10,000 p-books (paperbooks) in my house (although I’ve been donating a lot of them recently, primarily to Loren Coleman’s

International Cryptozoology Museum

I managed a brick-and-mortar bookstore. Even in high school, I was the “librarian” for our science fiction and fantasy club.

The reason why I’m even mentioning that is to let you know that I love paper books. I honestly didn’t think I’d like e-books…but I got a Kindle as a gift, and after I tried it, I ended up really enjoying it. I say, “The more you love books, the more you love e-books.” I’m not going to rehash all that in this piece, which I mainly want to help people keep reading during these atypical times. My point now is just that it doesn’t have to be one or the other…it can be both, and you aren’t “cheating” on p-books to read e-books.

Let’s do this as a Q&A:


What’s an e-book?

It’s an electronic book. Basically, it’s a digital file, like a digital video or an MP3 music file…except that it’s of a book. You read the text, just like you would with a paperbook…a p-book.

Do I need some special kind of device to read it, like a Kindle?

Nope! You can read e-books on your SmartPhone, a tablet, or a computer.

Why do people buy Kindles, then?

It’s for the reading experience…it’s more like reading a p-book.

I don’t like staring at a screen, though, it hurts my eyes.

The main reason for that is that most screens, including those phones, tablets, and computers, shine a light in your eyes. What you are reading on those is lit from behind…it’s called backlighting. Kindles (and other EBRs…E-Book Readers) aren’t like that. It used to be that they didn’t have any lighting at all, so you read them the same way you read a p-book, from the light reflecting off it. Now, they are generally “frontlit”: subtle lights are in front of the words, and point at the screen, not at you. They make the book easier to read just like a booklight does with a p-book. My favorite way to read, including paper, is on a Kindle Paperwhite (at AmazonSmile*).

How much does that cost?

Right now, from the USA Kindle store, it’s $129.99…but I want to repeat that you could just use something you already have like a phone or tablet.

What do the books cost?

It depends on the book. Lots of books are available legally for free. That’s true for books which are in the public domain, not under copyright protection, usually because of their age. Copyright protection only lasts so long. Some authors and publishers also choose to give away some of their titles for promotional reasons.

What do other books cost?

Again, it depends on the book. Many books cost ninety-nine cents, but a new book by a well-known author from a major publisher is more likely to be between $10 and $20.

When I get the book, do I own it?

You own the right to read it.


It’s not like when you buy a paperbook and you own one copy of the book. You buy the right to read it. Let’s say your download the book to your phone and you lose your phone. If you lost your backpack with a paper book in it, you’d just be out of luck. If you lose your phone, you can just download the book again from Amazon (I’m talking about Kindle books here…other places could possibly have different rules).

Okay, let me make sure I have this straight. I don’t need to buy a Kindle, but I can if I want a better reading experience. I don’t have to pay for e-books, if I’m okay with reading older ones, but I can buy them if I want…right?

Right. Oh, and there’s also something called Kindle Unlimited, where you can pay about $10 a month and borrow all the books you want to read. It’s like Netflix, sort of, but for books and magazines.

Any book?

No, not any book, but tens of thousands of them, including well-known books from popular authors. Here’s a link for more information: Kindle Unlimited (at AmazonSmile*). If you have Amazon Prime, there are about 3,000 e-books available as part of your membership. Here’s that link: Prime Reading (at AmazonSmile*)

What if I just don’t want to get them through Amazon at all?

That’s fine. Amazon has a lot of features, like sharing books among people on your account and saving your notes and bookmarks, but there are other sources, both for those public domain books and current ones. If you buy a current book from someone other than Amazon, you might not be able to read it on your Kindle (if you decide to get one). Here are a few sites you can use to get the books. I haven’t mentioned this much, but you can read books online, in additional to downloading them…think of those as being like streaming video. You don’t have your own copy, you just read it at the host site:

Your public library probably also has a way for you to borrow e-books, and that’s another way to read contemporary books for free. Check their site: there are different systems in use.


I have been working on my own The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip for years (The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip ), and I have some links there, but it will slowly build up and the others one are probably better in this situation.

Hope that helps! If you have additional questions or want to say something about your experience with e-books, feel free to let me and my readers know by commenting on this post.

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

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

Bufo’s Alexa Skills

* 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 organizations, begin your Amazon shopping from a link on their sites: (

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