▶ Discover HOW to Read a BOOK 🧠 (And Maximize Your LEARNING)
I’ve been reading books consistently for a quite a few years now and I remember that, in the beginning, I was very frustrated because I couldn’t remember anything I read. It’s like my mind, once a week or two went by, dumped everything it had absorbed from the last book I finished, and I couldn’t understand why.
But then I found a book called “How to Read a Book” by Mortimer J. Adler that taught me, well… how to actually read a book. So, after years of applying his method in hundreds of books, I distilled his teachings and my experience in this video, so I’m pretty excited to tell you about it:
Goals of Reading
So, before getting into the specifics of the method it’s important to distinguish that there are two different goals for reading non-fiction books:
- To gather information: This type of reading doesn’t require that much attention from our part and what we learn will be quickly forgotten. It takes place when we read the newspaper, the dictionary, or some article on the internet for a project. Once we found what we are looking for, our task is complete, and our minds disengage.
- To increase understanding: Reading for understanding is learning. It’s when we comprehend what something is about, why it’s the case, what are the causes and effects, and you start making connections. This is what makes the difference between remembering something and being able to explain it. Yeah, sure, I know the formula e=mc2 but can I explain it? Nah
Your ultimate goal when reading non-fiction shouldn’t just be to just gather information and increase your personal library, it should be to learn from the best books out there and incorporate that knowledge as it was yours.
Now, let’s dive into the technique itself:
The Technique That Willl Make You Read 10X Better
As Adler says in his book: “If a book is worth reading at all, it is worth three readings at least.” Step 0 would be to find the best books out there and that can be quite daunting. If you don’t know where to start you can check my video of the best books I’ve ever read here or check my booklist (link in the description).
The technique itself consists of three steps or readings:
- The first one is called Structural Reading
- The second is Analytical Reading
- And the third is Critical Reading
Stage 1: Structural Reading
In this stage, the objective is to analyze the book’s structure and understand its context. It’s getting an idea of what the book is about and its main arguments. To do this, google the author and find out who or she is, what has she done before, his usual point of view, and so on. Also, if the book is an old one, it’s good to at least read the context in which it was written.
If you are reading 20th Century philosophy, for example, it may be important to consider the two world wars and their political implications.
Once you understand who the author is and the book’s context, the next step is to go to the book’s table of content: This is a book’s way to show you its skeleton and help you grasp what’s its main idea as well as how it is structured. Then quickly skim through the book, find which chapters are the most important and read a couple of their paragraphs. Also, many books have a short summary at the end of the chapter so try to find them as well.
After doing all of this, try to come up with one sentence that encapsulates the book’s main idea.
This whole process shouldn’t take you more than 15 to 20 minutes.
Once you understand what the book is going to be about, you are ready for…
Stage 2: Analytical Reading
This is where the magic happens. The goal of this stage is the interpretation of the book’s content. You should aim to understand what the book is about as a whole, which are its main components, arguments, propositions, questions, and answers.
Read carefully – without hurrying – from the first page to the last and try to comprehend every sentence you encounter. Highlight the most important parts, write clarifying notes next to passages or stick post-it notes with ideas that come into your mind.
In the Analytical Reading stage, you should feel as you were the one that wrote the book. You should get familiar with the author’s arguments, thesis, conclusion, and so on. This is where you make the book yours.
Most people who read stop at this stage, and by doing so, miss out on a whole lot of learning. But since we know better, after we have carefully read the book, we will proceed to stage 3:
Stage 3: Summarizing and Critical Reading
After you know the book in and out, you highlighted the most important ideas and made annotations, it’s time for Stage 3.
Here, you want to re-read the highlighted parts as well as your comments and create your own summary of the book. In this way, you’ll distill its essence in a few pages, which will deepen your understanding and absorption of the concepts.
At this point, take the liberty to add some of your thoughts. Now that you know what the author is saying, it’s time to ask yourself what’s your view on the matter. Do you agree or disagree with the book as a whole? Perhaps you agree with most of the book and not with some of the author’s arguments.
In your summary, maybe with a different color, write down what you think, if you agree or disagree the author’s idea and why.
Of course, you’ll not be able to do this with every book. If you are reading biology or mathematics, there will be little room for discussion, but that might be different in psychology, philosophy, and economics.
Also, be sure to write down the connections you make with other books you’ve read, courses you’ve taken or experiences you’ve went through. The act of linking one book to another, comparing and contrasting them will create an unconscious mind map in your mind and will boost your divergent thinking abilities.
Perhaps you are reading a financial advice book that suggest investing in stocks and a few weeks ago you remember reading another one that said real estate is the best choice. Write that down and figure out why they are saying that, and which are the arguments. Then, make your own conclusions and write that down too!
Or perhaps you are reading about morality and find out two author’s you read think about the subject differently. Why is that the case? And for you, who’s right and who’s wrong? And why? This simple exercise will drastically improve your critical thinking abilities.
As a last step, you may choose to highlight the summary you made with your comments, opinions, and conclusions so if in the future you want to revisit them, it’ll be easy to find what you are looking for.
In this stage is where Adler’s reading system stops, but in my experience I found there’s one more pretty useful step that can be added to the technique. So, if you let me, let’s proceed to Stage 4…
Stage 4: How is this information going to change me?
So by now you know what the book is about, which is your opinion about it and its connection with other books, but there’s something missing.
Eben Pagan, a successful mentor and entrepreneur, points out that the trademark of true learning is behavior change. In other words, if I “read a book” but my actions, thoughts, or emotions haven’t changed, then I didn’t learn, I simply accumulated information.
So, to complete this technique, after you read the book and have your summary, write 3 to 5 ways your behavior will be different. Basically, how is this book going to change you.
Perhaps you’ll start saving 10% of your income, or you’ll begin a new diet, or you’ll be more forgiving. It all will depend on the book you finished reading at the moment.
Logically, this step will not apply to certain books like maths but hey, perhaps you start using PI for something useful, who knows.
Remember, true learning equals behavior change.
Conclusion: A Great Reading System
By following these 4 steps, remembering what you read and incorporating the book’s lessons in your life will be inevitable. Sure, it might take a bit more work than just reading for reading’s sake, but it will drastically improve your knowledge and understanding.
As for how much to read, I find that setting a timer for one hour of uninterrupted reading a day is the best option. This is the perfect time for you to get in the mood of reading.
See you soon!
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