How I Read 10 Books a Month
Post from October 16, 2013 (↻ March 19, 2023), filed under Everything Else (feed).
The emphasis of this post lies on how to read a lot, not that I in particular read a lot. I messed this up. The intent was simply to share excitement and some of my personal ideas on the matter.
I read 10–15 books a month. As I’ve been doing this for a few years and thus developed a routine, I thought it could be interesting to share a few notes, tips, and quirks—I remember how hard it can be to even read 1 book a month.
Figure: Traveling reader diva.
- What Do I Read?
- How Do I Select Books?
- What Makes Me Fast?
- How Do I Read Books?
- How Do I Work with Books?
- How Do I Deal with Exceptional Books?
- How Do I Review?
- What Are My Favorite Books?
What Do I Read?
I pretty much exclusively read non-fiction; every two years I read a novel. My motivation to read is to learn, not so much to experience. As a teenager I was probably the opposite, and solely read fiction. Of the books I read today, half are study-related (the Jens definition of philosophy and social sciences), the other half consists of mixed topics.
How Do I Select Books?
I like to take in as much as I can. I’ve always had a predilection for being a generalist (who’s also a little specialized). When I pick books I pick either the truly excellent books (ah), or I place a bet and choose books that I call “long tail” books, books that aren’t that popular but are “potentials” in the periphery of my areas of interest. There is some junk out there but also some real gems; I’ll explain in a second why the junk doesn’t affect me so much.
What Makes Me Fast?
Certainly, reading much doesn’t necessarily mean reading fast. And I’d consider myself a fast, but not as fast a reader as one who really is a dedicated speed reader. I have learned how to speed read, and I apply some of the techniques (which I think should be part of any school curriculum), but that’s not the key for me reading many books.
The key I found is use of time. I don’t play video and computer games, and I don’t watch TV, shows, and rarely films (none at all since I began my recent travels). That gives me plenty of time to read and study, a circumstance I enjoy quite thoroughly.
Also, though this could be very common, I don’t just have one reading setting, I adjust my speed per book. My reading speed and priorities depend on whether the book is important to me, how long it is, how expensive it was, &c. Most books I read “normal.” Some books I use for speed reading training. Other books I scan. And even others, though rarely, I merely flip through. That is the most drastic form then of treating a book, to avoid wasting time and deal with any accidental junk book effectively.
How Do I Read Books?
On the process side, I read several books at the same time, six on average. On the format side, I almost exclusively read electronic books, on Kindle. I love physical books, too, and for some select fields like information design there is no alternative, but they’re more expensive and just not practical if you read, move, and work with them a lot. At the moment I’m using an actual Kindle device again, but for the most part I use the Android app (yet there’s of course an iOS app, too) *.
I then use pretty much any alone and idle time to read. I occasionally find myself hating pulling out my phone in a line like everyone else, but that’s just how I, and maybe the others, get my intellectual fix.
How Do I Work with Books?
Here’s why I prefer ebooks. I love marking important passages and adding notes or reminders. The option to do so quickly (and cleanly) is precisely what I need for my studies, well in fact every book by now unless it be complete garbage, and I can do this most efficiently in electronic form.
When I finish a book the real work begins in that I take all my highlights and notes and, using the Kindle Highlights overview if I can (another ebook plus) or manually if I have to, move them to a Google doc. That doc, which I create for every book, then turns into an “executive summary.” Later, and even better for sustainable personal growth, I review all of these summaries once more to edit and tweak. The final result is what I found to be a different level when it comes to working with books, as I get double or triple exposure to every book’s contents (reading, taking down notes, and reading the notes). See an example with my highlights from Wallace D. Wattles’s The Science of Getting Rich.
In addition I have a system to mark very important and rather complementary highlights and notes, and I create “super-documents” for topics which contain all the highlights and notes for several books on those topics, but this is not relevant for demonstrating the idea here.
How Do I Deal with Exceptional Books?
For books that I find exceptional, or for which I end up with a lot of “highlighted highlights” I create another, shorter document only featuring the “super-highlights.” If you have taken a look at the highlights document for The Science of Getting Rich, see my “best of” document for it.
How Do I Review?
With the outlined process, although I could, I don’t have to go back and read books again but have the option to just consult my book documents, their “best ofs,” or their super-documents if one exists. I can read those in a much faster time and still get a solid refresher. In every instance in which I’ve felt the need to get back to a book this process proved invaluable.
What Are My Favorite Books?
I’m working on a post about the very best books I’ve ever read . I’m excited and hope you enjoy them, too. Until then, let me give one example for what I was referring to as “long tail” in the beginning, a book that I’ve found quite interesting: The Propaganda Techniques. It’s short, it looks like nothing, it has its flaws, but it’s one of these gems you don’t find on bestseller lists.
❧ Knowing that many of my readers and visitors here read a lot, too—what are your tips and secrets, what do you do?
Update (August 17, 2022)
9 years and 764 books later, I shared more thoughts and tips.
* Google Books lost me very early by not offering highlights and notes functionality (and that although, since this was during my time at Google, I had shared feedback with the team). At my rate of reading it didn’t take long to build a library that was so big that there was no point in switching anymore. I’m still upset about this, though I can’t comment for the Books team and its priorities. I now look at Amazon to step it up.
I’m Jens, and I’m an engineering lead and author. I’ve worked as a technical lead for Google, I’m close to W3C and WHATWG, and I write and review books for O’Reilly. I love trying things, sometimes including philosophy, art, and adventure. Here on meiert.com I share some of my views and experiences.
If you have a question or suggestion about what I write, please leave a comment (if available) or a message. Thank you!
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