My wife had been a keen customer of the local women’s-only gym for several years, so after last Christmas, when they closed down and re-opened as a unisex establishment, I decided to go along, too. Nine months later, I’m still among the regulars, dragging my aging body along four or five times a week to run, walk, cycle, stretch, row and pump iron. What keeps me going, apart from my iron will and rigid determination? Well, a lot of the credit has to go to e-books.

Let me explain: The gym, like most public areas these days, is festooned with big TV screens. A couple of these now show a news channel, but at the time I started they were all, without exception, tuned to MTV. Using an exercise bike or a treadmill in front of a blank wall is merely boring; but doing it day after day in front of clips of the latest fourteen-year-old pop idols, interspersed with ads for acne preparations and ab-crunching devices for the home, is more than flesh and blood can stand. If I was going to last the distance, I desperately needed an alternative.

But what? Some customers use an MP3 player with earphones, but for me to hear anything over the relentless noise of rap beats, it would have to be turned up dangerously loud. I tried bringing in paper books, but most of them wouldn’t stay open, and it’s difficult to accurately turn a page when you’re jogging along at eighty steps per minute. So at last I thought of my Android tablets, and—after a little experimentation—I find they do the job nicely.

Here are my observations, if you want to try it for yourself.

The best books for gym reading tend to be relatively simple and episodic. I can get through one-and-a-half of the Father Brown stories by Chesterton in a single session, for instance. Large collections of novels like the Gryce detective stories by Anna Katharine Green are good too, because you know you’re not going to run out of reading matter halfway through your reps.

Seven-inch tablets fit better in a gym bag and on a treadmill shelf than ten-inch. They also allow you to see the time and other information on the treadmill display panel while you’re reading. You will need a silicone cover or sticky pad for the back to stop the e-reader from sliding sideways as you pound rubber—I now keep one of these in my gym bag. Either your e-reader or your water bottle—preferably both—should travel in a leakproof case. Check to make sure your device is charged and functional before you pack it.

With respect to software, PDFs are generally too small to read comfortably at the required distance, but Kindle for Android is ideal, because I can turn pages with a swipe, and quickly change the font size when the reading distance changes as I go from one machine to another. I intersperse sessions on the aerobic machines, where I can read, with weights sessions during which I can’t. And I haven’t yet found a way to turn pages with my nose while I do push-ups, but I’m working on it.

So there’s my secret. A carefully-chosen combination of hardware and software can make even a daily dose of Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga bearable.

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