Notes from a Floating Life Thoughts about productivity, digital living, and leading a simpler life

Creating a Daily Reading List with calibre

A pile of newspapers

(Note: This post first appeared, in a slightly different form, at Opensource.com and appears here via a Creative Commons license.)

Many people complain about being able to keep up with all the information that they need (or think they need) to keep up with. While I think that information overload is a crock, I understand that it can be difficult to wean yourself off the mass of information that faces you. The best way to do that is to reduce the amount and number of sources of information in your life.

To help break your information addiction, create a focused daily reading list. You can read the contents of that list using your tablet or smartphone during your daily commute (assuming you use public transit!).

The calibre ebook management software is an excellent tool for creating a daily reading list. Let’s take a look at how to do that.

Before you begin

This is where the focus I mentioned a couple of paragraphs ago comes in.

Choose two or three of your most important sources of information. Those can be daily news, technology blogs, dispatches from your favourite magazine, or anything else. But focus on what you need to know. Not what want to know, or what think you should know. To do that, you’ll need to take a hard look at the information you take in to whittle your list down to its most basic.

Once you’ve done that, copy the URLs of the RSS feeds for those sources of information into a text editor. You’ll need them in a few moments, and there’s no reason you should have to type them out.

Now, it’s time to turn to calibre.

Setting up your list

Let’s assume that you have calibre installed on your computer. Fire it up, and then click the downward-pointing arrow beside the Fetch News button on the toolbar. Then, click Add a Custom News Source.

Adding a news source

From here, you can create a recipe, which is just a fancy name for a collection of feeds.

In the Add custom news source window, do the following:

  1. In the Recipe title field, enter a name for this recipe. I use the amazingly original title Daily Reading List.
  2. Set Oldest article to 1 day.
  3. Set the Max. number of article per feed to a reasonable number. I generally set it to 10.
  4. Type a name for the feed in the Feed title field.
  5. Paste one of the URLs for the RSS feeds that you copied earlier into the Feed URL field.
  6. Click Add feed.

<p align=”center”Some feed recipes</p>

Repeat steps 4 to 6 for each feed that you want to add to your list. When you’re done, click Add/Update recipe and then click Close.

Building your list

Next, you generate the reading list. You can either set calibre to automatically generate your list, or you can do it manually. I’m going to explain how to generate the list manually.

In the main window, click Fetch News. The Schedule news download window opens.

Generating your reading list

In the list on the left side of the window, click Custom and then click the name of your reading list. Make sure that the Schedule for download option isn’t selected and then click Download now.

When you do that, calibre grabs the latest items in your recipe’s feeds and saves it to the calibre library.

Tranferring your list to your mobile device

You’ll want to move the list to your device, which you can do that in two ways.

If your mobile device is compatible with calibre, connect it to your computer. Then, right click on your reading list in the calibre library and select Send to device > Send to main memory. You can also send it to your device’s SD card if it has one.

I haven’t been able to get that to work with my Nexus 7 tablet, so I use a different option. Click on your reading list and select Save to disk > Save only EPUB format to disk in a single directory. Then, select the folder into which you want to save the file. If you use a service like Dropbox or ownCloud then save it into a synchronized folder on your computer, and then sync your device.

Once that’s done, you can open your reading list in an EPUB reader — I usually use FBReader or Aldiko.

Reading an item in the list

Creating a daily reading list involves a few manual steps, but those steps can be worth taking. In only a few minutes, you have the information you need for the day (or, at least, for the morning) and you can use your mobile device for something more than just checking email and social media. On top of that, you might just be able to trim down the number of sources from which you get information and free up more time for other things.

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