I genuinely enjoy reading, and most of what I read would fall under the category of “For Knowledge” rather than entertainment. There’s something really magical about that “Aha” moment where a new concept clicks and I finally begin to understand it. Over a surprisingly short time, though, I forget a lot of the details. Sometimes these details are very important and hinders my ability to talk about the book. It may block me from applying the knowledge, or worse, sharing it with someone who is really interested in learning more about a topic. How many times have I said, and heard, “Oh! You’d love this book… I’ll go home, look it up, tell you what it is called and who wrote it!” I have not yet mastered this, but I've drastically improved and wanted to share the techniques I use that have helped me.
Write 30 Second Reviews
Spend 30 seconds writing your interpretation and explain the most important ideas in your own words. For an added bonus, include the author’s name and book title in the note. My notes often times start like, “Reading Something by Erich Fromm: What I thought”. Sometimes the interpretation is only vaguely related to what I actually read. That’s ok. This is about me consuming knowledge and learning how to apply it to my own life.
This is not a review of the book on the whole. It’s a review of what was learned or interesting, only covering the content read in that session. Amazon is a good place for reviews and it's terrible for a hastily written interpretation. You can use any medium for this, which is what makes it so great. Notebooks, Quiver, Evernote, Email, it doesn’t really matter as long as you can write in a way that allows you to express what was learned. Another mechanism that helps came about after almost exclusively reading on a Kindle (the Voyage is fantastic) which sends all highlights to kindle.amazon.com. Awesome for reviewing!
Even though this is a minimal time commitment it is a very difficult habit to build. Even when the habit feels fully established it is at best is a fragile habit. What works well for me is using automated email. Every night at 5pm I get an automated email reminding me to write down what I learned. I just reply to the email, and it stores it away for me. Without that email I would almost certainly fail. Also, to be perfectly honest, I almost always spend more than 30 seconds writing. Think of 30 seconds as the minimum.
Explain What was Read
Even people who aren’t interested in reading are almost still very interested in knowledge. I don’t think I’ve ever met anybody who rejected knowledge outright. If I’m reading something I find interesting, chances are I know someone who will find that content interesting as well. I read the book with the intent of explaining it to someone else, rather than just reading it for myself. This causes me to pay attention to the author's intent and move my ego out of the way. I stop thinking about whether or not I agree with what is being said and more interested in being able to explain it.
This has wider influence than merely explaining things I've read. I am learning how to explain concepts and ideas that I don’t agree with, whether they’re political or societal. All my conversations, and empathy, have both improved after practicing this technique.
Also, depending upon how you write down you 30 second reviews, you can then share them with people to see a more raw interpretation. Two birds, one stone. There is room to reciprocate here, inviting those who you share with to share with you. Be a good listener to them and learn as much as you can about how they perceive and explain the knowledge they’re integrating and give feedback!
Some people claim that I have dry taste in reading. That doesn’t mean that I like books dense with facts and trivia, but they tend to be research heavy. I have ample opportunities to encounter books I just don't like. If I am not enjoying what I read I give myself permission to put it down, with constraints. For books, I have to put in at least 3 days. In 3 days I can read around half of a book, and by then I’ll know if the beginning is just rough. Some of my favorite books start slow but pack such a punch I would really regret putting it down. By midway, though, I should know for sure.
If I’m still struggling to read it I know from past experiences I won’t remember it, only the feeling of not enjoying it and wanting to escape. Not a good environment for learning!
Read what you enjoy. Whether it’s journal articles, books, or blog posts. If you are reading to acquire knowledge the most important lesson is to enjoy the time spent. That doesn’t mean you have to have fun, with a big smile on your face, but every concept explained should delight your brain in small and subtle ways.
One more thing...
On the subject of enjoyment, here's the last couple of books I've read that I really enjoyed and would highly recommend: