Category: Reading

The Top 3 Most Effective Ways to Take Notes While Reading

Taking Notes While Reading

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Before you get started: Filter the book by reading the preface, index, table of contents, and inside jacket. This tells you where the author is going to take you and, importantly, the vocabulary they will use.

There are three steps to effectively taking notes while reading:

  1. At the end of each chapter write a few bullet points that summarize what you've read and make it personal if you can — that is, apply it to something in your life. Also note any unanswered questions. When you're done the book, put it down for a week.
  2. Pick up the book again and go through all your notes. Most of these will be garbage but there will be lots you want to remember. Write the good stuff on the inside cover of the book along with a page number.
  3. Copy out the excerpts by hand or take a picture of them to pop into Evernote. Tag accordingly.

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Dear Shane,
Can you tell me how you take notes while reading?

— Jeff

I've been asked this question a lot. What they are really getting at is … how can I better understand what I'm reading.

Knowledge acquisition from reading is a function of what you read (and how you read), what you retain and connect, and the ability retrieve information and make connections to hypothesize about the future.

In recent years I've focused on building a good system to improve my ability to retain more of what I read.

One of the best ways to better filter and connect ideas is to read with pen in hand so you can take notes while reading. This Marginalia — the tiny fragments that come into your head while reading — is a dying but important art that helps you remember what you read.

Like almost everything in life there is no magical answer that fits everyone.

I can speak to the three-step process that works effectively for me and scales well. I've used it on as few as 10 books as as many as 150 books a year. In the end, you're going to need to create a system that works for you.

While this sounds like a bit of trial and error (because it is), it's the only way to create lasting habit changes, improve your recall, and be able to easily find that passage you're looking for.

Taking Notes While Reading

Step One.
The first thing I do when I pick up a book is read the preface, the table of contents, and the inside jacket. Often, I'll glance over the index too. This doesn't take long and often saves me time, as a lot of books do not make it past this filter. Maybe it doesn't contain the information I'm trying to gain. If it seems crappy, I'll flip to a few random pages to verify.

This filter is a form of systematic skimming. This isn't my term, Mortimer Adler, a guy who literally wrote the the book on reading, came up with it. Adler says there are four levels of reading. I tend to blend inspectional reading and analytical reading together for most books.

When I start reading the book, I have an idea what it's about, the main argument, and some of the terminology involved. I know where the author is going to take me and the broad strokes of how they will bring me along.

While reading, I take notes. I circle words I need to look up. I star points that I think are critical to the argument. I underline anything that strikes me as interesting. I comment like a mad man in the margins. I try to tease out assumptions, etc.

Essentially, I'm trying to engage in a conversation with the author. Maybe my questions will be answered on the next page or in the next chapter. Maybe I'll need to find another book to answer them. Who knows. But I write them down.

At the end of each chapter I write a few bullet points that summarize what I've just read. When I'm done, I write a brief summary of the entire book and then I do something few other people do. I let the book age.

I put the book on my desk and I won't touch it for anywhere from a few days to a week. This is very important.

Step two.
When I pick the book up again, I re-read every scribble, underline, and comment I've made (assuming I can still read my writing).

I'm not the same person I was the first time I read the book, two things have changed: (1) I've read the entire book and (2) I've had a chance to sleep on what may have seemed earth-shattering at the time but now just seems meh.

If something still strikes my interest, I write a note in the first few pages of the book, in my own words, on the topic. Often this is a summary but increasingly it's ways to apply the knowledge. I index this to the page number in the book.

Sometimes, and this depends on the book, I'll create a sort of mental summary of the book's main arguments and gaps. Sometimes I'll cross-link points with other books.

Step 3 (optional but highly effective).
Wait a few days. Then go through the book and copy out excerpts by hand and put them into your repository or common place book. I use these notes to connect and synthesize ideas as I read.

To aid recall connect the ideas to something you already have in your mind. Is it a continuation of the idea? Does it replace an idea? Is it the same idea in a difference discipline? I add these connections to my notes and percolate them in my mind. Often I turn out to be mistaken but that's the process.

Most of the time, you get to see the ideas on Farnam Street. You can see how I connect and contextualize ideas, linking them across disciplines. I find writing about the ideas really helps me develop my understanding.

Even if you don't share your thoughts with millions of people you can do the same thing with Evernote, which is searchable, easy to use, and free. Personally, I do not use technology as a substitute for the non-technological approach mentioned above but rather as a complement.

I rarely listen to books but if you are listening to a book, create a new note for that book and type in notes as you are listening. I know a few people that do not take notes as they are listening because they listen in the car on the way to work. They find that sitting down right away when they get to work and typing up notes is an effective way to improve recall although the notes are less accurate.

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If you liked this article, you'll love these four. 

The Feynman Technique: The Best Way to Learn Anything — Nobel winner Richard Feynman shares his secret to learning anything, which also works as an excellent framework for thinking and identifying gaps in other peoples knowledge.

A System for Remembering What you Read — The system I use for non-fiction books that enables me to remember quite a bit. And when I can’t remember I generally know where to look to find the answers.

The Art of Reading — We literally created a course to help people learn to read better and more effectively.

The Most Effective Way to Retain What You Read — Become a more effective reader with these simple tips from Nassim Taleb and psychologist Robert Cialdini designed to help you retain more of what you read.

The Best Way to Find More Time to Read

There is no question I'm asked more often than “how do you find the time to read so much?” or “how can I find more time to read?”

Let me share with you how I find time to read, learn, and give myself an advantage.

Finding Time to Read

Everyone looks at my reading list and assumes that I either have no life or speed-read.

When I tell people that I do have a life and I don't speed-read, the question becomes: what's your secret? How do you find more time to read than the average person?

Well, first, there is no secret. As simple as it sounds, finding time to read boils down to choices about how you allocate your time. And allocating your time is how successful people increase productivity.

In a good week, I can read three to five books. Sometimes fewer. I'm an average reader, likely within one standard deviation in terms of speed and retention. In short, I'm no different from you when it comes to how fast I read.

For example, while remarkably enjoyable, Blood and Beauty consumed almost a week. I was incredibly slow reading Seneca's Epistles 1-65, and even slower with Antifragile. These are books I don't want to rush. On the other hand, I can cruise through something like Fate of the States in an afternoon.

When reading, I generally take notes. I'm underlining, synthesizing, asking questions, and relating concepts from other things I've read. I use a variation of the how-to-read system developed by Mortimer Adler.

After I finish a book, I let it age for a week or two and then pick it up again. I look at my notes and the sections I've marked as important. I write them down. Or I let the book age for another week or two.

Finding More Time to Read

Let's look at this another way. Rather than say what I do, I'll tell you what I don't do.

What gets in the way of reading?

I don't spend a lot of time watching TV. (The lone exception to this is during football season, when I watch one game a week.)

I watch very few movies.

I don't spend a lot of time commuting.

I don't spend a lot of time shopping.

These choices are deliberate. I don't even have cable TV. I watch NFL through Game Pass, which also saves time (if you don't watch games live, you can watch the full game in under 30 minutes).

I live downtown; I can walk to the grocery store, purchase a bagful of groceries, and return home all within 15 minutes.

If you assume that the average person spends 3–4 hours a day watching TV, an hour or more commuting, and another 2–3 hours a week shopping, that's 28 hours a week on the low end.

Twenty-eight hours. That's 1,680 minutes. That's huge. If you read a page a minute, that's more than 1,600 pages a week.

Books Are Important

Few things are as rewarding as making friends with the eminent dead. Reading isn't something to be done once a week to check a box; it's something to do every day.

If you're a knowledge worker, you're paid to use your brain, so it's in your best interest to make that brain as big as possible.

Wherever I go, a book is not far behind. It might be on my phone or physical, but there is always a book close by.

Finding time to read is easier than you might think. Waiting for a bus? Stop staring down the street and read. Waiting for a taxi? Read. On the train? Read. On the plane? Read. Waiting for your flight? Read.

What I read depends on the situation.

If I know I have only a few minutes, I'm not going to read something that requires a lot of mental context switching to get back into. I'll keep it simple, with something like Phil Jackson's Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success or Grow Regardless. Waiting around is also a great time to read magazines and printed copies of articles from the web. These tend to be short, rather disposable, and easily digested.

Early in the evening, say around 8 or 9, I'll grab a glass of wine and sink into something serious. Something I want to read without interruption. Some nights I'll read well past midnight; other nights I'll stop reading around 10 or 11.

I'll then do a little bit of blogging and plop myself into bed and read till I fall asleep.

Sometimes I'll read something light before going to bed, and sometimes I'll read something requiring more thought so I can ponder an idea while I'm falling asleep.

When I'm not reading, I'm trying to think about what I've just read. I don't pull out a book while I'm in the checkout line at the grocery store. While everyone else is playing the “which line is longer game,” I'm toying with something I've read recently.

Ignorance is more expensive than a book.

Investments

The biggest problem with reading so much is money.

Books are expensive. I often joke that the only group I'm in the 1% of is Amazon customers.

After I graduated from university, I made a choice that I've rarely deviated from: I don't worry about any money spent on books. I'm not alone. I know other people do this, too.

The first thing I did when I started making money was to call my younger brothers and tell them that until they graduated high school, I'd buy them whatever books they wanted as long as they promised to read them. As many as they wanted; whatever they wanted.

Why Do You Read?

Some people read for entertainment. Some people read to acquire knowledge. Some read for both.

To me, reading is more than a raw input. I read to increase knowledge. I read to find meaning. I read for better understanding of others and myself. I read to discover. I read to make my life better. I read to make fewer mistakes.

To borrow words from David Ogilvy, reading can be “a priceless opportunity to furnish your mind and enrich the quality of your life.”

Remember the tagline of this website: Mastering the best that other people have already figured out. That'd be nearly impossible without reading. In fact, it is largely through reading that we walk this path.

We've been recording knowledge in books for a long time. That means there's not a lot that's new; it's just recycled old knowledge. Even Nassim Taleb, author of Antifragile, points out that several ancient philosophers grasped the concept of antifragility. Odds are that no matter what you're working on, someone somewhere, who is smarter than you, has probably thought about your problem and put it into a book.

In The Prince, Machiavelli writes, “A wise man ought always to follow the paths beaten by great men, and to imitate those who have been supreme, so that if his ability does not equal theirs, at least it will savor of it.” That's not to say that this is the only way, but why not start with the best thinking that has come before you? Seneca, on the same subject, wrote, “Men who have made these discoveries before us are not our masters, but our guides.”

The Library

When I get into detailed discussions on my book buying habits, people often ask why I never use the library. “Think of all the money you'd save,” they say.

The truth is, I keep most of the books I read and I go back to them. “If you are OK giving the books back after two weeks,” writes Ryan Holiday, “you might want to examine what you are reading.” I take that one step further: If you're not keeping what you read, you probably want to think about what you're reading and how.

While not impossible, it's harder to have conversations with library books. You can't pull out a pen and write in the margin. You can't highlight something. Having conversations with books is one of the ways that I learn.

“The rich invest in time, the poor invest in money.”

— Warren Buffett

If you wanted to look something up again in a library book, you'd have to get in your car and drive back to the library. But how much time have you spent now driving back and forth?

How do you value your time? We can make more money; we can't make more time.

Charlie Munger, voracious reader, billionaire, and vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, once commented: “In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn’t read all the time – none, zero.”

It's pretty simple: Either you read or you don't. If you read, you probably want to do it more. If you don't read, I'm not going to convince you to put down the remote.

Reading more isn't a secret. It comes down to choices.

Warning: Side effects of reading more may include (1) increased intelligence; (2) an uncomfortable silence when someone asks you what happened on Game of Thrones last night and you say “Game of what?”; (3) better ideas; and (4) increased understanding of yourself and others.

So what are you waiting for? Cancel your cable and buy some books. Looking for a place to start? Try here, here, or here. And here.

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Seneca On Reading

The more I read Seneca the more I like the man.

Lucius Annaeus Seneca, known simply as Seneca, was a philosopher and rhetorician.

Despite his vast wealth, he was one of the wealthiest persons in the Roman Empire, he preached indifference to wealth. He also happened to be a tutor, and then in AD 54, advisor to Emperor Nero. If the name Nero doesn't ring a bell, he's the one who tried to kill his mother.

Seneca subscribed to the philosophical school of Stoicism.

Regrettably, I was never introduced to Seneca until I was an adult.

I read Susanna Braund’s translation of De Clementia in 2011 but never got around to reading more. My mistake.

I was recently reminded of Seneca while reading Nassim Taleb's Antifragile. He writes

His work has seduced people like me and most of the friends to whom I introduced to his books, because he speaks to us; he walked the walk, and he focused on the practical aspect of Stoicism, down to the how to take a trip, how to handle oneself while committing suicide (which he was ordered to do) or mostly, how to handle adversity and poverty and, even more critically, wealth.

Searching my bookshelf for what I could find on Seneca, I settled on the epistles, in which he writes about moral and ethical questions, relating to personal experiences.

While many of these have been lost, 124 exist.

On Discursiveness in Reading

I thought this brief passage, from Seneca, IV, Loeb Classical Library Edition, offered something to think about this weekend.

The primary indication, to my thinking, of a well-ordered mind is a man's ability to remain in one place and linger in his own company. Be careful, however, lest this reading of many authors and books of every sort may tend to make you discursive and unsteady. You must linger among a limited number of master-thinkers, and digest their works, if you would derive ideas which shall win firm hold in your mind. Everywhere means nowhere. When a person spends all his time in foreign travel, he ends by having many acquaintances, but no friends. And the same thing must hold true of men who seek intimate acquaintance with no single author, but visit them all in a hasty and hurried manner. Food does no good and is not assimilated into the body if it leaves the stomach as soon as it is eaten; nothing hinders a cure so much as frequent change of medicine; no wound will heal when one salve is tried after another; a plant which is often moved can never grow strong. There is nothing so efficacious that it can be helpful while it is being shifted about. And in reading of many books is distraction.

Each day acquire something that will fortify you against poverty, against death, indeed against other misfortunes as well; and after you have run over many thoughts, select one to be thoroughly digested that day. This is my own custom; from the many things which I have read, I claim some one part for myself.

Inspectional Reading: How to Intelligently Skim a Book

“Every book should be read no more slowly than it deserves,
and no more quickly than you can read it with satisfaction
and comprehension”
.
Mortimer Adler

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This article is part of our series on how to read a book.

The second level of reading concerns inspectional reading and is from How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading.

There are two types of inspectional reading: systematic skimming or pre-reading and superficial reading.

Systematic skimming shouldn’t take much time to master. Adler offers some suggestions about how to do it:

1. Look at the title page and, if the book has one, at its preface. Read each quickly. Note especially the subtitles or other indications of the scope or aim of the book or of the author’s special angle on his subject. Before completing this step you should have a good idea of the subject, and, if you wish, you may pause for a moment to place the book in the appropriate category in your mind. What pigeonhole that already contains other books does this one belong in?

2. Study the table of contents to obtain a general sense of the book’s structure; use it as you would a road map before taking a trip. It is astonishing how many people never even glance at a book’s table of contents unless they wish to look something up in it. In fact, many authors spend a considerable amount of time in creating the table of contents, and it is sad to think their efforts are often wasted.

3. Check the index if the book has one— most expository works do. Make a quick estimate of the range of topics covered and of the kinds of books and authors referred to. When you see terms listed that seem crucial, look up at least some of the passages cited. The passages you read may contain the crux— the point on which the book hinges— or the new departure which is the key to the author’s approach and attitude.

4. If the book is a new one with a dust jacket, read the publishers blurb.

5. From your general and still rather vague knowledge of the book’s contents, look now at the chapters that seem to be pivotal to its argument.

6. Finally, turn the pages, dipping in here and there, reading a paragraph or two, sometimes several pages in sequence, never more than that. Thumb through the book in this way, always looking for signs of the main contention, listening for the basic pulsebeat of the matter. Above all, do not fail to read the last two or three pages, or, if these are an epilogue, the last few pages of the main part of the book. Few authors are able to resist the temptation to sum up what they think is new and important about their work in these pages.

* * *

That’s how you skim a book. Once you get some practice, it should take at most, an hour.

Skimming helps you reach to a decision point: Does this book deserve more of my time and attention? Why? Unless you’re reading for entertainment, if you can’t answer that question you can toss the book. Mastering this technique will save you a lot of time, offer knowledge of the books blueprint, and make it easier, should you decide, to read the rest of the book.

The second part of inspectional reading is superficial reading.

In tackling a difficult book for the first time, read it through without ever stopping to look up or ponder the things you do not understand right away.

… What you understand by reading the book through to the end— even if it is only fifty percent or less— will help you when you make the additional effort later to go back to the places you passed by on your first reading. And even if you never go back, understanding half of a really tough book is much better than not understanding it at all, which will be the case if you allow yourself to be stopped by the first difficult passage you come to.

The tremendous pleasure that can come from reading Shakespeare, for instance, was spoiled for generations of high school students who were forced to go through Julius Caesar, As You Like It, or Hamlet, scene by scene, looking up all the strange words in a glossary and studying all the scholarly footnotes. As a result, they never really read a Shakespearean play. By the time they reached the end, they had forgotten the beginning and lost sight of the whole.

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Superficial reading is the first step towards analytical reading – that is, understanding and interpreting a book’s contents.

Inspectional reading should be able to answer the questions, what kind of book is it? what is it about? and what is the structure, or blueprint, of the book “whereby the author develops his conception or understanding of that general subject matter?”

Improve Your Reading Skills: The Levels of Reading

Reading

One of the secrets to acquiring knowledge is to read. A lot.

But reading is not enough.

Knowledge cannot build unless we comprehend what we’re reading.

We need to read with the aim of increasing our understanding: we need to read above our level.

To do that, we need to think about how we read.

This is the first article in a multi-part series on how to improve our reading skills.

How To Read A Book

Mortimer Adler originally published How To Read A Book in 1940. It immediately became a bestseller. Since that time the book has been updated and recast many time, most notably by Charles van Doren in the 1970’s.

With so much changing recently with how we read and what we read, a keen observer would ask what we can learn from such an ancient book?

One constant is that, to achieve all the purposes of reading, the desideratum must be the ability to read different things at different— appropriate— speeds, not everything at the greatest possible speed.

As Pascal observed long ago, “When we read too slowly, we understand nothing.”

Another thing that hasn’t really changed much is the failure to continue to learn how to read beyond the instruction we receive in elementary school. We think of reading in binary terms – you can either read or you can’t. But the truth is that reading is a skill along a continuum. We can improve our skill with knowledge and practice.

In 1939, Professor James Mursell of Columbia University’s Teachers College wrote an article for the Atlantic Monthly entitled “The Failure of the Schools.”

Do pupils in school learn to read their mother tongue effectively? Yes and no. Up to the fifth and sixth grade, reading, on the whole, is effectively taught and well learned. To that level we find a steady and general improvement, but beyond it the curves flatten out to a dead level. This is not because a person arrives at his natural limit of efficiency when he reaches the sixth grade, for it has been shown again and again that with special tuition much older children, and also adults, can make enormous improvement. Nor does it mean that most sixth-graders read well enough for all practical purposes. A great many pupils do poorly in high school because of sheer ineptitude in getting meaning from the printed page. They can improve; they need to improve; but they don’t.

The average high-school graduate has done a great deal of reading, and if he goes on to college he will do a great deal more; but he is likely to be a poor and incompetent reader. (Note that this holds true of the average student, not the person who is a subject for special remedial treatment.) He can follow a simple piece of fiction and enjoy it. But put him up against a closely written exposition, a carefully and economically stated argument, or a passage requiring critical consideration, and he is at a loss. It has been shown, for instance, that the average high-school student is amazingly inept at indicating the central thought of a passage, or the levels of emphasis and subordination in an argument or exposition. To all intents and purposes he remains a sixth-grade reader till well along in college.

In today’s information obsessed world, it would seem we need to understand how we read more than ever. Despite the abundance of media, we still gain a large share of our understanding about the world through the written word.

“There is a sense in which we moderns,” Adler writes, “are inundated with facts to the detriment of understanding. One of the reasons for this situation is that … media … are so designed as to make thinking seem unnecessary.”

* * *

The packaging of intellectual positions and views is one of the most active enterprises of some of the best minds of our day.

But the packaging is often done so effectively that the viewer, listener, or reader does not make up his own mind at all. Instead, he inserts a packaged opinion into his mind, somewhat like inserting a cassette into a cassette player. He then pushes a button and “plays back” the opinion whenever it seems appropriate to do so. He has performed acceptably without having had to think.

* * *

Active reading

Passive reading is impossible, thus all reading, to some degree is active reading. Some reading, however, is more active than others and the more active the better.

Reading is a complex activity, just as writing is. It consists of a large number of separate acts, all of which must be performed in a good reading. The person who can perform more of them is better able to read.

Success in reading is determined to the extent that you receive what the writer intended to communicate.

There are two senses of the word “reading.” One is reading for information and another is reading for understanding. (We can, of course, also read for entertainment.)

Reading for information is the one in which we read

…newspapers, magazines, or anything else that, according to our skill and talents, is at once thoroughly intelligible to us. Such things may increase our store of information, but they cannot improve our understanding, for our understanding was equal to them before we started. Otherwise, we would have felt the shock of puzzlement and perplexity that comes from getting in over our depth— that is, if we were both alert and honest.

Alternatively, we can try to read something we do not completely understand.

Here the thing to be read is initially better or higher than the reader. The writer is communicating something that can increase the reader’s understanding. Such communication between unequals must be possible, or else one person could never learn from another, either through speech or writing.

In short, we can only improve our understanding, from people who understand more than we do. Our goal as a reader, then, is to identify who they are and how to learn from them.

Everyone who can read has some skill. No doubt all of us, however, can learn to read better over time through reading and practice.

If you learn to read to increase understanding the theory is that reading for information and entertainment will take care of themselves, as this is the least demanding kind of reading.

* * *

The Difference Between Learning by Instruction and Learning by Discovery

To be informed is to know simply that something is the case. To be enlightened is to know, in addition, what it is all about: why it is the case, what its connections are with other facts, in what respects it is the same, in what respects it is different, and so forth.

This is the difference between being able to remember something and being able to explain it.

… if you remember what an author says, you have learned something from reading him. If what he says is true, you have even learned something about the world. But whether it is a fact about the book or a fact about the world that you have learned, you have gained nothing but information if you have exercised only your memory. You have not been enlightened. Enlightenment is achieved only when, in addition to knowing what an author says, you know what he means and why he says it.

You can’t be enlightened unless you are informed, however you can be informed but not enlightened.

Montaigne speaks of “an abecedarian ignorance that precedes knowledge, and a doctoral ignorance that comes after it.”

The first is the ignorance of those who, not knowing their ABC’s, cannot read at all. The second is the ignorance of those who have misread many books.

The Greeks had a name for people who have read too widely and not well, sophomores.

Being widely read and well-read are not the same thing. Adler argues that to avoid this error we must distinguish between how we learn into instruction and discovery.

The art of reading, in short, includes all of the same skills that are involved in the art of unaided discovery: keenness of observation, readily available memory, range of imagination, and, of course, an intellect trained in analysis and reflection.

* * *

The Levels of Reading

The goal of reading determines how you read. If you’re reading for entertainment, you’re going to read a lot differently (and likely different material) than if you’re reading to increase understanding.

To some extent, how effective we are at reading is a function of how much effort we put into it: the more, the better.

Adler argues the “difference between the levels (of reading) must be understood before any effective improvement in reading skills can occur.”

There are four levels of reading. They are thought of as levels because as you can’t get to the higher levels without a firm understanding of the previous one — they are cumulative.

The first level of reading is elementary reading.

Other names might be rudimentary reading, basic reading or initial reading; any one of these terms serves to suggest that as one masters this level one passes from nonliteracy to at least beginning literacy. In mastering this level, one learns the rudiments of the art of reading, receives basic training in reading, and acquires initial reading skills.

This is the level of reading so frequently taught in our elementary schools.

The second level of reading is inspectional reading.

It is characterized by its special emphasis on time. When reading at this level, the student is allowed a set time to complete an assigned amount of reading.

[A]nother name for this level might be skimming or pre-reading. However, we do not mean the kind of skimming that is characterized by casual or random browsing through a book. Inspectional reading is the art of skimming systematically.

The point of inspectional reading is to examine the “surface” of the book.

Adler guides us:

Whereas the question that is asked at the first level is “What does the sentence say?” the question typically asked at this level is “What is the book about?” That is a surface question; others of a similar nature are “What is the structure of the book?” or “What are its parts?”

Inspectional reading is underappreciated by a lot of readers. A lot of people like to read linearly. They pick up a book, turn to page one, and plow steadily through it without ever reading so much as the table of contents. “They are,” writes Adler, “thus faced with the task of achieving a superficial knowledge of the book at the same time that they are trying to understand it.” This makes reading more difficult, not less.

The third level of reading is called analytical reading.

It is both a more complex and a more systematic activity than either of the two levels of reading discussed so far. … Analytical reading is thorough reading, complete reading, or good reading— the best reading you can do. If inspectional reading is the best and most complete reading that is possible given a limited time, then analytical reading is the best and most complete reading that is possible given unlimited time. The analytical reader must ask many, and organized, questions of what he is reading. … [A]nalytical reading is always intensely active. On this level of reading, the reader grasps a book— the metaphor is apt— and works at it until the book becomes his own.

Francis Bacon remarked “some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.” Think of analytical reading as chewing and digesting.

analytical reading is hardly ever necessary if your goal in reading is simply information or entertainment. Analytical reading is preeminently for the sake of understanding.

The fourth, and highest, level of reading is syntopical reading.

It is the most complex and systematic type of reading of all. It makes very heavy demands on the reader, even if the materials he is reading are themselves relatively easy and unsophisticated. Another name for this level might be comparative reading. When reading syntopically, the reader reads many books, not just one, and places them in relation to one another and to a subject about which they all revolve. But mere comparison of texts is not enough. … With the help of the books read, the syntopical reader is able to construct an analysis of the subject that may not be in any of the books. It is obvious, therefore, that syntopical reading is the most active and effortful kind of reading.

The Most Effective Way to Retain What You Read

“Nothing so much assists learning
as writing down what we wish to remember.”
— Cicero

***

One of the keys to getting smarter is to read a lot.

But that's not enough. How you read matters.

But reading is only one part of the equation. You need to remember what you read.

We're going to borrow tips from Robert Cialdini, author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, and Nassim Taleb, author of The Black Swan and Antifragile, to make our reading go deeper and stay with us longer.

Cialdini revealed a trick that he uses, to a reader of Farnam Street, who was kind enough to share it with me.

While on the flight to Omaha, he was reading. He took notes on the material itself, and every time he completed a chapter he pulled out a sheet of white paper and wrote a single page summary on what he had just read. He places the paper in another folder. This is how he gets his learning deeper and this also enables him to refer to summaries in the future.

This isn't the first time we've talked about this. In his book, The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for Improving Your Skills, Daniel Coyle writes:

Research shows that people who follow strategy B [read ten pages at once, then close the book and write a one page summary] remember 50 percent more material over the long term than people who follow strategy A [read ten pages four times in a row and try to memorize them].

But is there something more we can do?

Nassim Taleb says “Don’t write [a] summary, write bullet points of what comes to mind that you can apply somewhere.”

***

Still curious? Check out my system for remembering what you read. And read The Little Book of Talent and Influence. Also, if you want to learn to read better, see The Art of Reading: How to Read A Book.