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  • Writer's pictureRachael Annabelle

How to read books like the intelligent, and finally clear your list of “Books to Read”

We all have that painfully long list of books that we hope to eventually finish reading, and add on to it faster than we can power through.

I started off the year with my standard resolution of finishing 52 books in 2020 - I’m at book #17 when I should be at #20, and I’m already reading at a faster pace than usual thanks to circuit breaker.

The truth is, there are a billion brilliant books out there. But time is limited, and that is why people have invented audiobooks, podcasts and book summaries- all to allow us to digest greater quantities of information faster.

Information-overload is something many, if not all of us experience nowadays - especially in college. We have double, if not triple majors, take online courses, and learn stuff off the internet.

Let’s start with why we read highly-recommended books. We all want to learn something, and hope that that book we finish will be a “quake” book. Essentially, one that shooks us to our core.

As Simmons wrote, One good book is worth a thousand merely-good books. A breakthrough knowledge experience may last a few minutes, but its effect can last a lifetime. It is the ultimate form of learning leverage.

As the saying goes, quality > quantity.

Here’s the thing. We are not obliged to finish a book - we can drop one if we find something better, or if we find it isn’t adding as much value as we’d hope.

I myself dropped “Surrounded by Idiots” at the halfway mark when I found it was really similar to “Compelling People” and “How to win friends and influence people”, other books I have read in the past.

I've also ditched “Principles” by Ray Dalio at about 2/3 mark, because I found it was repeating the same ideas over and over again and got a little too dry for me. (Still a good book with great ideas, nonetheless)

It is a fine balance - between being able to decide when to give up on a book for something better, and potentially abandoning an impeccable read.

Now, how do we currently read?

On the web, we skim multiple articles across tabs and pick out chunks that pique our interest before diving into the details. There is no rule to read things linearly - and this is normal. We get the most out of everything we come across in the most efficient way possible.

The internet is full of junk media and information. We are what we eat, and our brains are what we read. We have to be deliberate in what we read, by changing our approach from a reactive to proactive one.

“The information we consume matters just as much as the food we put in our body. It affects our thinking, our behavior, how we understand our place in the world. And how we understand others.” — Evan Williams, Co-Founder of Twitter and Medium

Let’s be honest - our attention spans are painfully short. At least I know mine is.

But when it comes to books, we let ourselves stop reading a book because it gets boring, and we ditch it completely. Unlike an article we can leave in the tab of our chrome explorer, our books get left in a corner, collecting dust. The other scenario is we force ourselves to finish the book just so we don’t “waste” the time invested in whatever we have already completed. Just for the sake of ticking another book off your list.

But how should we really be reading?

Fractal Reading.

I’ve read about this in multiple places and decided to summarize my learnings here - will link out the articles I’ve read at the end in case you guys want to look at everything else.

Whether you’re reading a book on your kindle, iPad, or even the actual paperback, fractal reading can maximize your efficiency in learning things fast.

So, what is fractal reading? Fractal reading is essentially the process skimming through paragraphs of text that feel similar to us, and when we catch on something important that we may have skimmed past, we retrace our steps and re-read certain parts again. i.e. Reading fractions of a book.

Just like how we may fast forward a show by 10 seconds during a boring part, realize that we may have missed a good part, and rewind it to watch the skipped bits again.

We surf everything now. We surf the internet, and we surf books.

To illustrate this. I drew a small diagram below. (Re-draw of an existing one, pardon my messy writing)

As Simmons put it, fractal reading has a high signal-to-noise ratio. The shortened formats of books cut out the fluff dive straight into the big ideas.

How do you know you’re not jumping too quickly between books? If a book’s metadata hasn’t captured your attention, then it’s unlikely that reading the whole book will.

Here’s how to do fractal reading:

  1. Read book summaries Recall the 80/20 rule - 20% of the ideas in the book deliver 80% of the value - this does not apply to fiction books.

  2. Listen to an author interview The interviewer asks the most pertinent and compelling questions to derive the most insight. Make use of these

  3. Watch an author presentation Eg. Ted Talk, Google or University Talk. This forces the author to quickly sum up the highlights of his own writing, and share the biggest and overarching ideas.

  4. Read the most useful 1,2,3,4 and 5-star reviews on Amazon, Goodreads or Google This sorts out the most effective evaluations from readers who have loved and hated the book

  5. Read the first and last chapter of the book The first and last chapters contain the most valuable content, as well as the largest ideas and overarching frameworks. Google Books and Amazon’s Look Inside feature often allow us to read the first and last chapter for free if you’re looking at ebooks (and not torrenting them, heh).

If you have done any of the above and believe that it is a good read, go ahead and dive into it, and not just rely on the summaries. We read, not just for the end results, but because we enjoy the experience of following the journey till the end.

I'm certain I'm not hitting that "52 book" mark by the end of 2020, but I do know that I'll be reading more deliberately than before now.

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” — Dr. Seuss

Ciao, & happy reading! :^)


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