Five reading habits that will take you to the next level

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Five reading habits that will take you to the next level

Dec 16, 2021·

6 min read

Reading is arguably the most efficient way to learn. Books are a great source of information and knowledge. A CEO reads about 60 books annually, ordinary people read 12 books annually. There are many benefits of reading. They increase your knowledge and your analytical thinking skills. They improve your memory and focus. Reading provides mental stimulation, reduces stress, and is an excellent source of entertainment. Reading a non-fiction book has been shown to build your vocabulary and increase your ability to empathize.

If you want to take your reading to the next level, you need a set of good habits. The following practices will catapult your reading. You will read more books, understand them more profoundly and retain the content better.

Read more, quit more

The minute I was bored with a book or a subject I moved to another one, instead of giving up on reading altogether — when you are limited to the school material and you get bored, you have a tendency to give up and do nothing or play hooky out of discouragement. -- Nassim Taleb, Antifragile

There are a lot of books out there. It is impossible to read all of them, and really you don't need to. The first reading habit is reading more books but giving up on reading them quickly and without feeling guilty.

Only read books that you are interested in. If you find that the book is of low quality, stop and move to the next book. Don't worry; you can immediately tell if the book is high-quality or not.

Start more books. Quit most of them. Read the great ones twice. -- James Clear

Forcing yourself to read a book even when you are no longer interested in it is a form of sunk cost. You already bought the book, the money is gone, so why waste time torturing yourself trying to finish it. You don't want to end up hating reading. So, quit the book and find another one.

Be a demanding reader

Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention. -- Francis Bacon, On study

Once you find a worthy book to read, you need to have the second habit, that is, be a demanding reader.

Most people read passively, which is fine for some books. But some as Francis Bacon said you need to read wholly and with diligence and attention.

According to Mortimer Adler, author of the classic "How to read a book," you need to be active when you read. You need to be a demanding reader instead of a passive one, and you do so by asking the following questions while you read:

  1. What is this book about? Make a quick synopsis, not a detailed summary.
  2. What is being said in detail? and how? What are the main principles and supporting evidence?
  3. Is this book true in whole or in part? Provide evidence to support your opinions.
  4. What of it? How will you act on it.

It seems complicated to do at first, but you will do it subconsciously once you get the hang of it.

Read like a writer

... reading won't help you much unless you learn to read like a writer. You must look at a book the way a carpenter looks at a house someone else built, examining the details in order to see how it was made -- David Jauss

Learn to read like a writer. Reading like a writer is different from "normal" reading. According to poet and critic Allen Tate, there are two ways of reading: historian and architect.

There are many ways to read, but generally speaking there are two ways. They correspond to the two ways in which we may be interested in a piece of architecture. If the building has Corinthian columns, we can trace the origin and development of Corinthian columns; we are interested as historians. But if we are interested as architects, we may or may not know about the history of the Corinthian style; we must, however, know all about the construction of the building, down to the last nail or peg in the beams. We have got to know this if we are going to put up buildings ourselves. -- Allen Tate, a poet

How do you actually read like a writer? According to Mike Bunn, author of "How to Read Like a Writer" essay, before you read, you need to consider the author's purpose, who is the intended audience, and what the genre is.

When you are reading, be active and ask lots of questions. How effective is the language? If I were to write this, would I do it this way? What kinds of evidence does the author use to support their claims? How compelling is this evidence? And many more questions. The point is to read as if you are trying to figure out how the author constructs the text you are reading.

Two-step reading

While quitting more books is a good habit, sometimes you don't have a choice. Meaning you read as part of your study or work. So you have to read the book even if you don't particularly like it. When this happens, you can perform a two-step reading.

  • Step 1: Read the book quickly; try not to skip any part unless it is really excruciating for you. Mark all interesting paragraphs, sentences, or keywords.
  • Step 2: Read the book again, but only the marked passages from the first step. This time really thinks about them, ask questions, make a mind map, etc.

Takes note and write a short summary

Unless you are reading a non-fiction book, you should always take notes when you read. Notes help you organize ideas and information from the text. Taking notes keeps you focused and engaged while reading. Help you think critically about what you read while you read. Draw conclusions and identify the main ideas of the text.

In short, taking notes while you read extends your memories and enhances your focus.

Once you finish reading, you should also write down a summary of the text that you have read. Keep it short. James Clear, the author of Atomic Habit, challenges himself to summarize a book in three sentences. According to him, you should consider the following questions when summarizing a book.

Some questions I consider when summarizing a book include: What are the main ideas? If I implemented one idea from this book right now, which one would it be? How would I describe the book to a friend?