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How Do You Read Technical Books?

09.05.2008
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Over the last few years since joining Javalobby, I've become addicted to reading technical books. Although, after each book I read and review, I seriously consider giving it up. Within the next few days, I would have found yet another interesting book, and the addiction has continued. On an average I have been reading at least 3 books a month.

The way I read these books is also quite interesting. If I am writing a review for Javalobby, I take almost 3-4 weeks to read and also work out all the samples provided by the book; in many cases in spite of having used and also knowing the technical aspect thoroughly. In some cases, if there are not many samples to try out, I read and highlight things which need special mention in the review.

If I am not writing a review, I still take the same time to read all the chapters even if I know I won't be using it in the near future. Trust me, I have no clue how I got so addicted to these books.

Lately, I have started asking all the publishers to send me PDF versions, rather than the hard copy. I have to do my share to save this world, right? Another advantage of having the soft copy is that they are searchable.

Most of these books are also quite expensive; costing anywhere between $30-$60. What criteria do you use to buy these books? Does your company bear all the expenses? Is there a limit you set on how many books you read every month?

So, how do you all read technical books? Do you work out all the samples? What do you prefer: hard or soft copy?

Share your thoughts.
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Published at DZone with permission of its author, Meera Subbarao.

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)

Comments

James Sugrue replied on Fri, 2008/09/05 - 5:37am

Interesting article Meera. For a start, I much prefer hard copies of books - just to have them on the shelf. Also, I've found that I understand things a lot more by working through the samples, even though that takes more time.

True, books are expensive - I purchase based on other people's reviews, or if the author is well known. Of course there are those books that get such good recommendations from other developers I have to buy them.

I'm not sure I have your level of addiction :)

One drawback to technical books is that the API information can be out of date by the time the book is published...

Jose Jeria replied on Fri, 2008/09/05 - 5:47am

I prefer to have the hard copy, though a PDF is also nice, since you can search it.

Worst format is the Windows help file. You can't bookmark it, you can make the text bigger without starting IE and chaning the font size there, and it is a Windows only format.

Cicero Zandoná replied on Fri, 2008/09/05 - 6:07am

One thing I have is a roadmap of the technologies I need to learn. Before doing this I would read only the latest releases. I can read a maximum of 2 books a month, so planing is necessary.

 About the soft or hard copies, I think that books with samples and exercises are better in pdf format. Books about methodologies are more confortable in real paper.

Alexander Shirkov replied on Fri, 2008/09/05 - 7:00am

Always read PDF. Plus reading consists of 3 stages.

First - just quick overlook over content - usually I understand is there any reason to read this book more deeply (unfortunately there are a lot of crap books); second - first reading just to push information to brain. In process I usually making notes - it's greatly improves memory productivity. After month second re-read - here knowledge becomes solid and strongly grips into memory.

If book is perfect - then I usually buy paper book and have quick eye on them from time to time (Effective Java,  O'Reilly Head First series, O'Reilly Cookbook series).

Meera Subbarao replied on Fri, 2008/09/05 - 7:58am in response to: James Sugrue

[quote=jsugrue]

One drawback to technical books is that the API information can be out of date by the time the book is published...

[/quote]

I completely agree, James. But, companies don't immediately move to the new versions either just because they are out. Take for example JDK, I have worked with many clients who are still using Java 1.4.

So, these books do serve their purpose at least for a couple of years. 

Meera Subbarao

Meera Subbarao replied on Fri, 2008/09/05 - 7:59am in response to: Jose Jeria

[quote=Pepejeria]

Worst format is the Windows help file. You can't bookmark it, you can make the text bigger without starting IE and chaning the font size there, and it is a Windows only format.

[/quote]

I am not sure I have read any books in this format.  Strange.

Meera Subbarao

Alessandro Puzielli replied on Fri, 2008/09/05 - 9:30am

Important subject!

Generally I prefer the hard copy: I download from Internet the technical articles and books that I read as reference ( i.e. "Thinkin in Java" of Bruce Eckel). Also I don't buy book about programming language but about algoritms, data structure, architecture (i.e. the Tanenbaum's book about network systems, operating systems etc) because I have found often that the programming books are full of code, then it's better to coding directly :)

PS I try ever to buy the books not in english but in italian language :))))

JS Bournival replied on Fri, 2008/09/05 - 10:05am

I read both PDF and dead trees editions:  depend on how critical the subject is to my work.  The more critical it is, the more I buy the dead tree edition.  

Although this behaviour might seem strange, I would rather have all my IT books in soft copy, but for that to happen, I would need a very good e-ink reader.  All the devices I've looked at (Sony E-Reader, Kindle, Cybook's Bookeen) does a poor job at displaying PDF.

So, I would like either one of two things to happen:  1) editors produce books in a e-reader friendly format OR 2) device manufacturer fix the PDF rendering problems.

 Only then I'll switch exclusively to soft copy.

Meera Subbarao replied on Fri, 2008/09/05 - 10:05am in response to: Alessandro Puzielli

[quote=alepuzio]

PS I try ever to buy the books not in english but in italian language :))))

[/quote]

I had no idea that the technical books are published in Italian as well.

Meera Subbarao

Meera Subbarao replied on Fri, 2008/09/05 - 10:11am in response to: JS Bournival

[quote=jsbournival]

Although this behaviour might seem strange, I would rather have all my IT books in soft copy, but for that to happen, I would need a very good e-ink reader. All the devices I've looked at (Sony E-Reader, Kindle, Cybook's Bookeen) does a poor job at displaying PDF.

So, I would like either one of two things to happen: 1) editors produce books in a e-reader friendly format OR 2) device manufacturer fix the PDF rendering problems.

Only then I'll switch exclusively to soft copy.

[/quote]

I would love to have one of those devices. As you said, not one of them are good for technical books.

Meera Subbarao

Bryan Canonica replied on Fri, 2008/09/05 - 10:40am in response to: Alexander Shirkov

[quote=sgdread]

Always read PDF. Plus reading consists of 3 stages.

First - just quick overlook over content - usually I understand is there any reason to read this book more deeply (unfortunately there are a lot of crap books); second - first reading just to push information to brain. In process I usually making notes - it's greatly improves memory productivity. After month second re-read - here knowledge becomes solid and strongly grips into memory.

If book is perfect - then I usually buy paper book and have quick eye on them from time to time (Effective Java,  O'Reilly Head First series, O'Reilly Cookbook series).

[/quote]

I totally aggree with you.  I don't have a ton of time to read books Thoroughly the first time through.  So I try to do an under 30 minute skim of the book with minor notes for a high level understanding.  I usually don't come back to the month for a full read in a month, but wait until I have something in a project or an idea for something that I can use the books content for.  This helps me when I am on a project and I have  an instance that the book will help with.  This is the most efficient way for me to learn as a developer since their is so much technical content out there these days.  I have tried the thorough approach and I rarely end up finishing the book.  

Bryan Canonica .Net Developer Philadelphia, PA Area

Serge Bureau replied on Fri, 2008/09/05 - 12:15pm

I also read a lot, but not all related to work.

I need a hardcopy as I can read in the metro, I cannot read more than 10 pages on a computer ;-(

I am addicted to buy many ;-), I buy much more than I can keep up reading.

I must confess I do not do enough of the examples

So keep up reading, there is a lot of good books ;-) 

Meera Subbarao replied on Fri, 2008/09/05 - 12:22pm in response to: Serge Bureau

[quote=SergeBureau]

I need a hardcopy as I can read in the metro, I cannot read more than 10 pages on a computer ;-(

[/quote]

I like the idea of reading in the metro. I am stuck in the traffic nearly 2-3 hours everyday, but since most places I work are not metro accessible, I feel I am wasting my time listening to XM rather than reading books.  

Meera Subbarao

Gian Franco Casula replied on Fri, 2008/09/05 - 12:22pm

I favour hard copies over e-books.

But I'm always thinking twice before buying, fortunately not because of the expenses, but more the fear that the ratio shelf life/reading time might asymptotically reach infinity: as it is doing for some of the books I allready bought...that's a pity.

Gian

 

 

Stephen Robillard replied on Fri, 2008/09/05 - 3:52pm

Hi my name is Steve and I am a book addict. Now that we have all admitted our addiction there are only 11 more stepds to go. I like the dead tree version, because I have arthritis and need to change position frequently - and I can read them away from the computer - in a more  comfortable position.

Geertjan Wielenga replied on Fri, 2008/09/05 - 3:56pm

I also prefer the dead tree version.

Meera Subbarao replied on Fri, 2008/09/05 - 4:47pm

Steve, Geertjan,

Do you prefer the same for books with more than 600 pages also? 

Stephen Robillard replied on Fri, 2008/09/05 - 5:05pm

Yes, I still prefer it no matter how long the book I have one of those computer tables (the ones that look like a hospital tray) and a book rack made from a few spare parts from IKEA that i can rest a book on, and a book weight so no matter how big, if I don't want to or can't hold the book comfortably, I can still read.

 Don't get me wrong I do have my share of ebooks,  especially APRESS titles as they have daily ebook deal for $10. It makes the decision to buy a book that may not be that great or that you haven't checked out at the bookstore easier.

Richard D. Jackson replied on Fri, 2008/09/05 - 9:50pm

Yes, I think you almost have to be addicted to books to be in this buisness. But I approch it a little differant. In stead of wasting my money on buying all of those books I belong to Safari where I can scan through most anything I want. I do the cheap subscription as I can only scan through 4-5 books a month. If I find something I really want to read indeapth then I buy the dead tree version of the book. But I do use Safari for referance type of books as you really can't beat having it right there wherever and when ever I need them including (Searching there entire book lib, Attaching notes to specific book/page, ect..) I have been using Safari for about 2-3years now and I don't really know what I would do with out it.

I'm also thinking of getting an eePC the 10' one specificly so I can have my books anywhere I go. 

 

 

Mohammad Nour El-Din replied on Sun, 2008/09/07 - 9:45am

Hi Meera...

   For me I like to have both hard-copy and soft-copy of the technical book I am reading. I use the soft-copy to read and the hard-copy as a reference. For choosing a book I usually depend on reading book reviews on the Internet, to get new books news from sites like DZone and TheServerSide.com, my colleagues and last but not least my company's library :D . For reading, I like to read everything in the book, specially if it is a new thing that I learn, and I like to try all examples in the book, I even try to write them myself and not to use the accompanied CD to copy the examples from. I like to feel the examples by writing them myself :) .

Meera Subbarao replied on Sun, 2008/09/07 - 12:24pm in response to: Mohammad Nour El-Din

[quote=nourm]

and I like to try all examples in the book, I even try to write them myself and not to use the accompanied CD to copy the examples from. I like to feel the examples by writing them myself :) .

[/quote]

I agree completely with you here. I just have to get all the examples working, that's so important when learning any new technology. I have worked with so many authors also when the samples were just not working. 

Meera Subbarao

Meera Subbarao replied on Mon, 2008/09/08 - 8:41am in response to: rouletteroulette rouletteroulette

[quote=amir75]

3 books a month is a hell-of a lot. Perhaps you should start building a database of Meera's book reviews? It might provide another focal point for your obsessive behaviour :)

[/quote]

Hi Amir,

I guess that's why Geertjan rightly called me "Bookophile Meera". I have most of my reviews at Javalobby and Book Zone published. I do write some at my company's web site at testearly.com and also my personal blog.

However, I write reviews for those books which get a good review. I somehow don't feel like writing a review for books which get 3 or 2 star ratings. I know how much effort the author would have put in writing the book, so I just leave those books alone.

I should say, you do have a nice suggestion there.

 Meera Subbarao

Angie Tan replied on Tue, 2008/09/09 - 6:03am

I prefer both, where I can refer to the PDF copy during development time while hard copy is good for those books where I get ideas from.

Of late, I've been picking up books on software development design techniques as well as software development management which is worthwhile to read in hard copy form. I don't think I would like to have a hot laptop on my lap while reading those in PDF. ;-)

Anyway, most of the books I have to pay out of my own pocket but that's because I get a nifty tax rebate from it! :-)

However, in terms of PDF books, I'm trying to figure out a "library" system to hold my PDF titles and able to search for it easier... Hehehe... Google Desktop comes very handy for this. :-)

Aside from technical books, I think as software developers, we need to pick up some soft skills book like leadership, or management if we're in that role. 

Dind Smkda replied on Wed, 2008/09/10 - 8:57pm

Hi meera,

thanks for sharing the informtions, your post are always intersting and i have been following you on your peresonal blog and dzone,

I am beginner programmer and wanted to read lots of books but i find its hard to finish single book a month if book has lots of pages, how you are able to finish 3 books a month, is there any tips for such fast reading. normally how many hour you read in a day.

Meera Subbarao replied on Thu, 2008/09/11 - 10:13am in response to: Dind Smkda

[quote=simk318]

I am beginner programmer and wanted to read lots of books but i find its hard to finish single book a month if book has lots of pages, how you are able to finish 3 books a month, is there any tips for such fast reading. normally how many hour you read in a day.

[/quote]

Hi Dinesh,

I have been travelling a lot lately, and so have ample time to read while travelling. If not also, I do keep almost an hour or two everyday before going to bed to read books, write articles, visit other blogs. As I said earlier also, if I find a book interesting and it has lots of working examples, I download the same and work on them. I usually carry my laptop everywhere; and that's the reason I like soft copies. I can read them anywhere. 

Meera Subbarao

Mohammad Nour El-Din replied on Thu, 2008/09/11 - 12:49pm in response to: Dind Smkda

Hi Denish...

  It is all about practice and keep practicing the more you read the, more you will get the skill of defining what you really need of the book you read and the more you can read faster and understand faster :).

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