How I Read Books

2017-11-25 - 344 words, approximate reading time: 1 minutes

I read a lot of books, have a huge backlog and try to absorb as many useful ideas as I can find into my thinking.

Individual books are worth more or less of your attention based on your situation in life and the quality of the book. When I approach a book I like to employ the reading levels described in How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles van Doren:

  • Elementary reading - Reading the words in the book.
  • Inspectional reading - Skimming and summarising the book.
  • Analytical reading - Grappling with the text and trying to squeeze as much out of it as possible.
  • Synoptical reading - Understanding where the text fits alongside other texts on the same topic.

For the vast majority of books and papers, I don't go much past elementary/inspectional reading.

I don't speed read, since I've never really understood the upside of speed reading.

If I find an idea or set of ideas in a book that I feel is absolutely foundational to a topic, then I'll commit those ideas to memory, mostly by trying to write them down a lot. Examples of this include the five parts of every business out of The Personal MBA or the marketing pipeline as described in Watertight Marketing. I memorise ideas and concepts when I feel that they can be a guiding framework on which I can hang other knowledge.

While I'm reading a book, I'll use an index card as a bookmark, and create an index on the card of all of the interesting ideas and sections I might want to refer back to in the future. I keep the index card at the back of the book for easy access whenever I pick it up next.

I'll read mostly anything, but my backlog mostly consists of pop history/economics books, business books, books about trading the markets, and books about building software. I also read anything I get a strong recommendation for, especially if there are mutliple unrelated recommendations for the same book.