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).
Some years, my goal would be to read a certain number of books by the year’s end. Since I’m motivated (obsessed) with numbers, this target would propel me to read through a variety of materials at a good pace. However, because I’m motivated (obsessed) with numbers, the same target can also drive me a little crazy.
For example, if I set a 50-book goal in a year, I’d be calculating the number of books to read per month (4.167), week (0.962), and day (0.137, assuming a non-leap year), and constantly evaluating myself each day/week/month on whether I’m behind, ahead, or on target. It becomes a continual chase where once I get behind, the accumulated numbers (and adjusted daily targets) would haunt me every day.
Last year, I started without a book goal and enjoyed a variety of quality books at a leisurely pace. Whoever whispered in my ear that I should start calculating towards the end of the year was a true disruptor. I could hardly resist the temptation to calculate, so I did and discovered that I was consuming books at a pretty good speed. Naturally, what followed was to set a target for the year’s end. Lo and behold, my reading then turned into a bit of a chaos. I noticed I was choosing books less carefully, reading those I otherwise wouldn’t just because they were shorter or easier. You see, if you have a speed-related goal, then reading a long book would be detrimental to that goal. Yet many of the best publications, those with substance that can enhance understanding are lengthy and should be consumed at a slower rate.
One often hears the expression “I couldn’t put it down,” but there are books that you have to put down. Books should be read at the speed they deserve, he properly notes. There are books that can be skimmed and fully grasped and others that only yield themselves, so to speak, on the second or even third reading.
There is much wisdom in this. While I practice a form of variable-speed reading already, this quote insinuates of a much slower pace and of repeat reading that would yield a full grasp of the subject material. I don’t usually do this except for a very select few.
Based on that wisdom, I’m abandoning a book goal this year. I want to be free from chasing numbers, to take my time, enjoy, and digest what I read.
Instead of a number, my reading goal this year would be of a different focus. It is to internalize the subject material by practicing and incorporating them in real life, and to synthesize knowledge into its larger context. I’d like to work on my mental models; where do books and thinkers align with respect to each other, what is the appropriate context in which the suggested thoughts apply or don’t apply, etc. All of these would require a slower pace of reading and thinking, including re-visitations to the books I’ve read in the past.
In short, I want to not only gain knowledge, but also wisdom, the ability to contextualize knowledge and use them in a practical sense.
To this effect, my first book in 2016 is How to Read a Book, a classic guide from 1940 by Mortimer Adler that outlines the principles of reading books intelligently. Incidentally, Adler also wrote in the preface,
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… [This book] deals with the problem and proposes variable-speed-reading as the solution, the aim being to read better, always better, but sometimes slower, sometimes faster.
The preface promises a great deal more, the many ways readers can enhance their art of reading books. From reading the first few pages, I can tell the book will deliver. You’ll hear more about this book in future posts, I’m sure.
What are your 2016 reading goals? Share and comment below!
2015 was a very full and eclectic year. I had new beginnings as well as re-starts to older interests. These were the highlights of 2015.
I got married in 2015. Pretty significant life event, I would say. Along with it also came the lessons on how to be part of a team instead of being a free-roaming single person, a start of a lifelong journey. I also grew a lot professionally, leaning in a la Sheryl Sandberg, networking, gaining new skills, and all that good stuff. It’s continuous learning all around!
As mentioned in the Best Reads of 2015 post, I got to a good reading pace again after slowing down for 2 years. But more than that, I experimented with different genres and topics this year to explore a wider selection than I normally would. As a result, I gained a clearer understanding of my niche and interests, and I’ll be reading with more focus on certain topics in 2016.
When I read, I write; that’s just what happens. Hence, I revived my blog (new domain too) this year, which felt great! I’m very happy about this and looking forward to producing more substantial content in 2016. Some highlights from the blog below are included below.
New Things Tried
Audiobooks – I was a late and reluctant adopter, but since my commute stretched after marriage, I decided to give audiobooks a try. While I still prefer reading with my eyes, audiobooks have been a great addition to my life habits. Incidentally, 3 out of 5 of my best reads in 2015 are audiobooks. I also tried scuba diving for the first time, which was a bit scary. But I’m determined to conquer the fear; I want to get certified in 2016. Last but not least, 2015 was also the first year I earned pay through writing. The earning was nothing significant, but the fact that I earned it was a new experience! I love writing with or without pay, but I’ll see how this can go further in 2016.
I had 4 summers in 2015: Hawaii in February, the actual summer, Indonesia in October, and Mexico in December. I spent a lot of vacation time in the ocean, which made me happy.
I’m glad that this one turned out on top, as it touched a core essence of my identity. The post actually produced a little movement, as other people wrote similar articles on their experiences. This piece was also picked up by The Compass Magazine, which is still running a series of articles submitted by people around the world to this day. The culmination of this post for me happened at GYC, where I got to share more elaborately on why I love being an Adventist. I hope the ripple effects continue on.
One of the pieces I’m most proud of this year. See more below.
Posts I’m Most Proud of in 2015
Of my own writing, I’m most proud of essays that express thoughts brewed over a long period of time. They’re not necessarily the most popular, which tells me I need to do more to engage conversations rather than just releasing them to the ether. In 2015, I had 2 mini-series that I’d count as the best of JosephineElia.com.
The first series covered thoughts from reading Thinking, Fast and Slow, my most enjoyable read in 2015.
I also started a series that explored the intersection between worldviews and education from an engineer’s perspective. It’s not quite wrapped up yet since I still have more thoughts to write, but these essays are my most significant ones in 2015.
The year is dwindling down and the office gets emptier each day. But if you’ve run out of vacation either because you don’t have enough and/or have wisely taken up all of them so you’re not left with unused paid vacation, you may be stuck in an office building during what everyone says is the best time of the year. While this can be categorized as sucky, it doesn’t have to stay that way. You can use this time to get ahead while everyone else is relaxing at home. It’s very quiet, there’s no one to bother you, there will be no meetings, and it can be very useful to do things that otherwise wouldn’t be done during normal workdays. These are 6 ways on how to get ahead over the holidays and get a head start for 2016.
Take Time to Learn
During the year, it can be hard to learn something new amidst the constant task lists associated with your work. While you have this quiet time, take time to gain new knowledge and skills related to your work. Read a book, or take an online training course. Do something educational that increases your skillset and thus your value to your organization.
Explore Creative Ideas
Creativity needs freedom and space to bear fruit. If you have new ideas that you want to implement in your work, but have been finding no time to develop it, this is the time to build, refine, and test the idea.
While you’re at it, jot down all of your “crazy” ideas. Have a personal session where all ideas can fly, as if the world has no constraint. Who knows, maybe some of them can be a breakthrough in your 2016 work life.
Plan Out 2016
You have goals for 2016 (if not, use this time to create goals for the next year). Chart out a timeline on these goals will be accomplished for the next year. What milestones should be done by what date. Have a game plan on how you want to attack these milestones, so come January, while everyone is still waking up from their holiday slumber, you can hit the ground running, knowing exactly what you need to do.
Clean Up Your Desk and Office
I love purging out clutter. It always makes me feel light and free afterward. I don’t know how often you clean your desk and office (or ever?), but at least do it now while no one will be interrupting you. Throw out old and unnecessary files, dust all of those folders, and store non-immediate materials. Organize the cabinet. Make it easier to find documents and increase efficiency in your own workflow. Get some compressed air dusters and clean your keyboard. Clean the yucky gunk on those keyboard keys too (you know it’s there). Wipe the monitor. Go all out and do it all! A clean and neat working environment is not only good for your mind, but also good for your body.
Clean Up Your Inbox
The same housecleaning applies to your email inbox and digital files. Finish up loose ends from 2015 and reduce that inbox size. Organize your digital folders and archives, and back them up.
Take Time to Reflect
Finally and most importantly, while nobody’s watching, take time to be brutally honest with yourself and evaluate the past year. What went well and what went horribly wrong? Glean lessons learned from the past year and write them down, then commit yourself to apply those lessons in 2016.
With these 6 steps, you’ll be ready to jump-start the New Year with good momentum. Have a productive holiday season!
Because I read a lot last year, I could write a lot. I had a personal target on the number of blog hits, and thanks to the endorsement of some popular friends, I surpassed that target by a few hundreds.
I write to clarify my own thought process. This blog, for example, is a repository of random reflections, and serves as a personal record of life events, sort of speak. I’m always thrilled when people can resonate with what I write—an added bonus, in my estimation.
I did two series in 2012 that I thought were definitive in terms of my worldview and perspective. One was on humanity, on being human, and being a global citizen, titled “A Child of All Nations,” and the other was a series of personal testimonies and how I perceived my life thus far, “This is My Story”. I was proud of these series, not because they were groundbreaking or anything, but because they represented the culmination of thought processes that had been simmering for a while. The posts associated with the two series are listed here.
What I’ve observed in this writing experience is that the more personal I make the piece, the more popular it tends to be. Which is a bit strange for me, since I’d rather people be interested in my thoughts than in my life.
So I was particularly happy that The Education of Jesus Christ was the most popular post last year, again thanks to friends’ endorsement, because it encapsulated some of the most mind-blowing things I had reflected upon. The post was not about me; it was about Jesus.