Amazon Kindle devices and books (which can also be read on non-Kindle devices running the Kindle application) have become widespread. My nonagenarian grandparents even have Kindles. Most people seem to relatively easily figure out how to purchase books and download them to the Kindle and, occasionally, even how to organize them (if allowed by the device). Amazon has many more tricks up its sleeve that it does not make obvious or easy, but a little know-how can make an Amazon account and Kindle books a lot more interesting and handy. I wrote this post because of the number of people who say, “I had no idea you could DO that!”
Note that more options are available for an actual Kindle device, but the Kindle application (available for every platform I can think of—just download and install, then log in to your Amazon account and your books will sync) still offers plenty of functionality. For clarity, in this post an asterisk (*) will appear next to Kindle device–only instructions.
Some Kindle devices allow grouping of books into collections. This has to be done from the device itself, and the process differs for each Kindle; head to your user guide if you own a Kindle to see how to do it.
If you do not own a Kindle and are using the Kindle app, your options are limited currently. The best bet if you have a large e-book library to organize is to use the application Calibre on a Windows, Linux, or Mac computer. Calibre is comprehensive but complex and allows organizing and tagging of huge libraries. It does not have an easy way to import existing Kindle libraries, so if you do not own a Kindle you face manual data entry. If you do own a Kindle, Calibre supports importing via USB cable.
Finding the List of Books You Own
Amazon complicates finding and organizing a list of books you own. One way is to open a Web browser and go to https://kindle.amazon.com. Log in. Click “Your Books,” and there you have it: a list of all your stuff. If you click the dropdown menu at the right, you can pick “Kindle Only” or “All Books,” so you can supply a reading status and rating for “dead-tree” books you’ve purchased, too. This page allows you to indicate which books you’ve read, stopped reading, mean to read, and are currently reading; make this information public; and indicate whether, for public books, you want your highlights and notes made public.
Highlights and Notes
Kindle devices and applications on third-party devices make highlighting and annotating easy, and the notes and highlights can be viewed from the device. Sometimes, though, it would be nice to have them all collected in one place. From the kindle.amazon.com page, click “Your Highlights,” and there they are—the most recent highlights appear at the top, synced from all your devices. You can add notes from this page as well. The “Daily Review” link brings up a box with notes and highlights from one book per day. Click the arrows to move back and forth through each note; you can also select “Review another book” if you want. This is a fun way to laugh again over funny passages or ponder deep ones anew.
Sharing Highlights and Reviews
Your notes and highlights can be shared with the public either via the “Your Books” page, as described previously, or via clicking the name of a book on the “Your Highlights” page and clicking the “Make Public” button on the resulting page. Also on this page is a box where you can write a review about the book and share it to Twitter and/or Facebook, if sharing has been enabled through the “Preferences” page (located at https://kindle.amazon.com/home/preferences).
Confusingly, book pages viewed on these pages, through kindle.amazon.com, are not the same as those viewed through the Amazon.com Kindle store; you don’t get a synopsis, purchase links, and so on. But you can get to the Kindle store by clicking “See this book on Amazon.com” from kindle.amazon.com.
To continue the confusion, you can access your list of books in another way: via Amazon.com –> Your Account –> Manage Your Kindle. From this page, you can tinker with various options and settings for your Kindle or other devices, and you can also access your list of books (at the top of the list, “Your Kindle Library”). From this list, different options are available compared with the list presented on kindle.amazon.com; here, you can delete books from your library entirely, send them winging to a different device, and loan books to other people. This is a cool feature because one major complaint lodged against electronic books is the inability to loan them out.
Unfortunately, lending is not enabled for all books, and Amazon provides no easy way to see which of your books are available for lending. To find out, from the Manage Your Kindle/Your Kindle Library page, hover over the dropdown “Actions” menu. If “Loan this title” is there, lending is enabled. Click it and fill in the information. The person you’re loaning the book to will receive an e-mail with instructions. Loans last 2 weeks, and during this time you cannot read the book—just like loaning an actual book. If you borrow a book, highlights and notes from borrowed books are still in with the ones you own, even after the loan expires, so annotate to your heart’s content.
Readers who have both a Kindle device and an Amazon Prime membership ($79 annually, which nets you free 2-day shipping on anything with a “Prime” symbol next to it; free streaming of many videos from the Amazon Instant Video Library; and access to the Kindle Lending Library) can borrow a book a month from the Kindle Lending Library. This will not work from a third-party Kindle application. If you have a Kindle device, consult the user’s guide for how to access the library. It involves navigating to the Amazon store and selecting a special link. Unlike loaning books from person to person, borrowing books from the library allows you a month to read them. The choice is decent, too. I even borrowed The Hunger Games.
Following Other People: The Social Side
Few things are complete these days without social media integration, and Amazon is no different. From your account Preferences page you can set up linking with Twitter and Facebook, and throughout the Amazon site you will find opportunities to share all kinds of things, from Wish Lists to book reviews to notes and highlighted passages from Kindle books (see above, “Sharing Highlights and Reviews”). Amazon even has its own follower/following system for items that have been made public; people who follow you can see your activity, and you can see activity for people you follow. Thus far, this capability is relatively underused, but it can be fun to follow popular authors and see what they find interesting or funny in their own books and others. They seem to use the feature more than run-of-the-mill readers.
Best-selling books are usually $9.99 or more in the Kindle store, but even they go on sale or appear in the Lending Library.* Multiple sites keep daily updates of Kindle books that go on sale or are free. Google “free Kindle books” and choose the ones that suit your reading interests best. Or go to Amazon.com, click Shop by Department –>; Kindle –>; Kindle Store –>; Kindle Books and from there explore the Kindle Daily Deal and 100 Books for $3.99 or Less. Finally, visit this page for Amazon’s handily compiled list of where to find free books on the Internet. These sites used to necessitate complicated conversion, but now most include a “Kindle format” download option.
Prowl around Amazon and see what is there. Kindles now have textbooks, including textbook rentals. If you have certain Kindle models* and a Prime account, you may be able to stream free video to your Kindle. Some models allow games, Web browsing, e-mail, and more. Perusal of your user’s guide* is worth the time.
Amazon is shoring up its offerings daily, so it is worthwhile to dig deeply and check back often. Amazon’s system is not exactly simple, but it is powerful and becoming increasingly useful.