Back in January, I shared my goal to read differently this year, which is to read for understanding and wisdom, and not pursue a statistical target. It is now the end of the first quarter (!), so I thought I’d share updates on how my reading habits change because of this goal.
In short, reading slowly has been more transformative than I thought it would. These are the 5 shifts I’ve noticed in my routines this year.
Scribbling in books
As my reading decelerates, I produce more notes on the margins and in my notebook. I have more conversations with the authors, asking questions and analyzing their arguments, essentially taking this advice to heart:
Reading a book should be a conversation between you and the author. Presumably he knows more about the subject than you do; if not, you probably should not be bothering with his book. But understanding is a two-way operation; the learner has to question himself and question the teacher. He even has to be willing to argue with the teacher, once he understands what the teacher is saying. Marking a book is literally an expression of your differences or your agreements with the author. It is the highest respect you can pay him. -Mortimer Adler
I love the organic experience of writing down thoughts with pen and paper, which naturally pulls me towards paper books rather than their digital counterparts. Considering how costly this can be, I’ve started buying used books, though admittedly, I’m conflicted when there are already highlights and notes in them. It feels like the book isn’t completely mine. In any case, these marginal notes render the books very personal to me since they now contain the author’s and my thoughts combined, and I would be hard-pressed to let them go.
Writing more in general
As thoughts are left to simmer and sink in my mind longer, I find myself producing more materials to write as well. If you’ve been following this blog, it would be quite evident to you how certain books inspire my writing (see below). I find this incredibly satisfying: the authors’ thoughts mingling with my own and bearing fruits tinged with my individuality. This is the creative process, in essence.
The process of building mental models from reading also leads to the writing of series of interconnected articles, since some thoughts are too wide in scope to cram into one article. I’m looking forward to growing this skill further.
Taking notes while listening to audiobooks
Since I want to absorb as much as I can from the books I consume, it becomes impossible for me to listen to audiobooks casually. I have to really engage my mind and take notes during the narration to feel like I don’t miss anything. This is partly because I’m not an audio learner, so this is not the ideal format for me at this point. I’m going to keep experimenting, though, and see what works.
Once I finish a book, it now stays on my desk for a few weeks to counteract the out-of-sight-out-of-mind experience I tend to fall into. It’s nice to be reminded of the book’s key ideas just by glancing at it. But also, I skim my hand-written notes again and re-read sections that I’ve marked. This proves really helpful in deepening the book’s impress on my mind, something akin to a sedimentation process. I feel like I grasp it better on the second or third walk-through. The book also remains on my desk if there’s an essay cooking in my buzzing head, since some thoughts require a long conception time before they can be verbalized coherently.
Synthesizing multiple sources
I’m practicing the art of synthesizing knowledge in a more intentional way this year, growing, cataloging, and organizing my growing mental library. Some of you know and have subscribed to the newsletter I started in January where I share articles, books, podcasts, videos, etc., that inspire me (sign up here if you’d like to get these in your inbox). It’s an evolving project, but I’d like to curate things more thematically going forward, creating narratives out of various materials based on their key ideas.
It turns out, this reading orientation hasn’t slowed my speed too much. Surprising, but I’m going to continue to not focus on the numbers. One thing I still need to develop, though, is a system to collect quotes and notes from different books and various media. How do you integrate different sources of information and your personal notes in one location? If you have suggestions, please let me know!
That’s all for the updates. If you’re interested, I keep an up-to-date reading list on my Goodreads profile. Just for kicks, below are the connections between the notable books I’ve read in 2016 and the articles you see in this blog (click on the + signs to expand).