Why can't this:
> We cannot talk to the designer, so we rely upon whatever information is available to us: what the device looks like, what we know from using similar things in the past, what was told to us in the sales literature, by salespeople and advertisements, by articles we may have read, by the product website and instruction manuals.
be written like that:
> Unable to contact the designer, we rely on preexisting information from sales material, salespeople, ads, articles or the device appearance.
> Unable to contact the designer, we rely on preexisting information.
Not every book should feel like Harry Potter, no matter how great the content.
This results in them rather taking a 300 page book vs 100 page book because they sell the 300 page book for more than the 100 page book and thus make more profit.
I personally have a friend who has authored many big name publisher books and he is always telling me how many words he has to have done by X date. The emphasis is on how many words, like 60,000 words.
Even though he can write a book that says the same shit in 20,000 words, the book publishers don't want this, because they won't make as much money.
That really sucks for the tech industry, maybe for fiction it is fine, since people just want more time outside reality anyways, but when you are trying to gain knowledge, a 300 page book is not usually as good as a 100 page book.
(I get the occasional feedback that people wish that the book was longer, they want more topics, but never any individual chapter being longer...)
But I think there's a silver lining to the length being so hard to see. I suspect it will lead to more authors tailoring their book length to how best to express the content rather than to the market expectations of the physical size of a "book".
Focusing on the ebook version first helps you keep the content to the right (best-fitting) length.
Check out a few articles on https://betterexplained.com/cheatsheet and see if they fit your style.
Go buy this guy's book :)
'The Pleasures of Counting' is one of the best math books you can get your hands on.
I get the marketing/value angle but it prevents lot of good material that would otherwise be written or written well.
However, I think length is not the key to how long a book takes to read. There are 600 page books I could read in a week. There are 100 page books that take weeks to read.
There are books that are too dense: Sometimes a slightly rambling, digressive style can give the mind space in which to reflect. If every sentence hits us with another dense thought, our mind tires quickly.
Also consider this: writing succinctly is hard work. Perhaps the author didn't have time to work on making every thought pithy and still expressive.
Vendor docs are often the wworst -- simply repeating descriptions already apparent from interfaces or systems whilst providing no insight whatsoever to how the tool is used as a system.
The problems this causes are at least threefold:
1. The documentation is ineffective. It doesn't convey useful information.
2. If you're trying to find useful passages, yo've got to chew through far too much crud.
3. The books are huge and heavy. Carrying one means foregoing two or three other (useful) books. And they simply weigh too damned much.
I suspect crowding out other books for shelf space was part of the strategy.
You're right about excluding information (as in my third example), but my second example has practically all of it and is still much shorter
This is a big change for me - I used to give every author the benefit of the doubt, and drove to finish everything I picked up. Then I ran out of time.
One notable exception to this observation is Douglas Self, who writes thick, incredibly useful, highly detailed, and remarkably entertaining books on audio circuitry design. They read almost like good novels.
Maybe because sometimes you really need those highly detailed, long, and intricate arguments to fully understand all the nuances of the subject.
It's stopped me from writing in the past, because I don't have the quantity. Nice to know someone might appreciate that fact.
Result is extremely succint and almost every sentence is valuable and insightful.
The worst habit is when writers just start listing examples of stuff, beyond what is required to make their overall point, as if by adding lots of unnecessary evidence will make their point stronger.
I read sometime ago how you have to explain several times in several forms the same thing to make it obvious to the reader.
While more concise and exact for example you can convey a lot of information in a very short space using math, but this relies on previous exposure to notation and practice with it.
A book that once you understand is beautiful and powerful and concise it's the compilers red dragon book, which uses math notation and procedural description to cover some topics.
Nobody is going to pay $29.95 for a pamphlet.
Maybe people have different learning styles but this is the only way I really learn well.
Also, did you end up reading most of the text?
I'm a bit surprised that your techinque is more efficient than reading the chapter and then doing the exercises, because most of the chapter's content is on your short term memory and you know exactly where to find the information if you need to review a concept to solve the exercise.
Sequential reading may be more efficient, but it's infinitely less effective if you never pick up the book to read the next chapter.
It's a workaround for the 'I started this useful, interesting book, read 50% of it, then never touched it again, for no good reason' bug. You solve the problem by nerd-sniping yourself with an exercise.
If you don't experience this bug perhaps it's not good advice for you.
My 'technique', if I want to read a particular book, is to carry it, and no other book, in my backpack. I'll inevitably read it in my down times.
Aluffi's book also helpfully tells you which exercises require solving previous exercises.
A lot of books from my school had exercises you could not solve if your only knowledge about the subject was the previous chapter(s). So for those who could be bothered (most efficient technique is not doing reading or exercises at all but somehow getting a good grade) there were times one would come up with an insight or read further ahead / another reference and discover a new connection. Either way made for deeper learning.
Another benefit of this is that you can see what information you've actually learned/internalized, versus what was just staying on the surface of your memory/mind when you last took a related course.
Working through front the front to back is necessary in order to learn the systems and things have to flow in a logical progression. Which deserves a particular style of writing and formatting. Embedding bits and pieces and forming a narrative as well as logical flow.
But when you're in the middle of a game and need to know the exact rules surrounding a specific corner case and how it interacts with all the other relevant rules, suddenly a detailed narrative flow isn't what you need. You need a reference guide, or a mapping of how it ties in with other components.
Unfortunately, this is quite difficult to execute for things even as simple as board game systems. For a textbook I imagine it's infinitely harder. A professor I had once talked about how each figure and diagram can take a week to polish to that is conveys the information in a detailed, yet succinct manner.
It is hard if the book has an incomplete index or poorly named chapters forcing you to skim around.
Here's how my (much) younger self used to read novels:
a) Start at the begining
b) Read a few pages until you're reasonably sure all major characters have been introduced.
c) Skip to the end to find out if they're all alive and well at the end.
d) Skip back, approximately to where you were before (c)
e) Read a few more pages until something major happens
f) Skip a few chapters ahead to see how the major happening pans out
g) Repeat from (d) until it all goes quiet again
h) Skip a random number of pages ahead (but no more than the size of the book; duh)
i) If that makes no sense, return to where you were before (approximately)
j) Repeat from (h) until you've read the whole book.
I read about all of Jules Verne, Hector Malot, Enid Blyton and A. J. Cronin like that (I know, right?).
On the other hand I remember a particularly tedious passage in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea where several pages passed describing various molluscs found at the bottom of the sea. I actually read it all very carefully because I was curious to see how much it would last for and whether there was some bit of plot hidden in between the discussions of various species' chiralities etc. Jules Verne could eat Stephen King for breakfast when he got into his stride.
I only stopped doing that sort of thing to books when our lord Umberto Eco decided to write Foucault's Pendulum to punish me for the mistreatment of literary works. That hurt.
Now I, like you, am willing to give up on things. I demand proof that you have something to offer before I'm willing to invest in the relationship with a book. Only very rarely do I violate this practice -- if something gets a ton of a buzz I might push through when otherwise I'd quit.
I wonder if we're better or worse off. Certainly we're different readers now, and probably writers.
I'm in exactly the same situation and do the same thing. There's nothing that reminds me more of my mortality than looking at my (digital) library of books that I have yet to read. It's obvious now that unless I make it very big I won't ever have the time to read all of them so it's very important that I do not waste time reading books that aren't worth it (technical books are mostly exempted from this though). Like you say it's a hard habit but it's the most efficient thing you can do since time is such a scarce commodity and books are dime a dozen these days.
This reminds me of the passage in The Picture of Dorian Gray which amounted to some detailed description of gemstones or worse, the chapter in The Great Gatsby that was essentially a list of names.
I usually aim to read a text in its entirety out of respect for the author, but I had no qualms fast-forwarding through those sections.
I love it when books do that -- fortunately, it's easy to distinguish between technical passages and drivel.
My least (and simultaneously most) favorite one was “He put on a little light music instead.” I think that's the last book I read in that way.
When done by a skillful author, this kind of pre-reveal can be really engaging.
Ulysses. "Bloom had a glass of water". I'm not better than Joyce.
Elon's technique makes sense, but you can't just do that. The most impressive people seem to be T-shaped: they have very deep understanding of their specialty, but they also a familiarity with a wide breadth of fields.
I skim a bunch of technical software books that are not immediately useful to me. My goal is not to remember every detail, it's just to get an idea of what's out there, and where to find more information if I need it.
"One bit of advice: it is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree -- make sure you understand the fundamental principles, ie the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang on to."
-Elon Musk Reddit AMA https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/2rgsan/i_am_elon_musk...
Should I read slowly and be well read? Or read quickly and get the big ideas of lots of fields?
Or rather double/triple/quadrouple/n-ple tee-shaped having read broadly across many fields and comparatively deeply in more than one. Relative depth in multiple areas becomes easier and more likely with age as interests change and realized opportunities to read to greater depth accumulate.
Reading deeply requires time. Reading broadly requires time. Neither has a shortcut. Neither precludes the other given a lifetime.
I ALREADY GAVE YOU MY MONEY, I DON'T NEED TO BE CONVINCED, I'M ALREADY SOLD, JUST TEACH ME THE GODDAMN THINGS.
 - http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/the-wadsworth-constant
The original comment by /u/Wadsworth that coined it: "For EVERY youtube video, I always open the video and then immediately punch the slider bar to about 30 percent. For example, in this video, it should have just started at :40. Everything before :40 was a waste. This holds true for nearly every video in the universe."
1. Adopt the inverted pyramid structure. This means to front-load your conclusion, to put the summary sentence first. In other words, if the reader stops reading at any point, they know the answer, at least in outline. Continued reading just results in more and more detail, more and more zoom-in.
2. Read The Elements of Style (100 pages) or On Writing Well (just need to read the first four chapters) or both. Both are short. These will help you word things efficiently. This doesn't mean you're leaving things out. But mysteriously human language is like computer languages in this: there are infinite ways to write something, and some ways are shorter than others --- shorter by several times!
This is often what I am most left wondering about. I guess nowadays I end up trying to wikipedia the heck out of the topic, or look for similar books.
What do you do?
Also I was confused by
> Read the whole thing!
Which makes me think of careful reading, but they mean "read straight through, not stopping for details."
I had been unable to do this for years. Eventually I was able to just plow through a book and it turns out to be more helpful than I imagined. It is often better to proceed than to be stuck, putting it aside forever.
It's the same principle of reading the same text several times, along with an additional preparation by "photo reading": taking in the whole book with a relaxed gaze, one page at a time (about 1 second per page).
This makes it easier to find relevant information later, as you instantly familiarize yourself with the high level structure of the material:
the relationship between the layout of the page and the information contained.
Event driven - you go back to a book based on thinking around a problem and look for information around it. I have found this very effective to understand the content, especially something not so trivial and those that you may not get by passive reading. However, this requires more time and effort from you in terms of self-thinking around problems.
The second way is passive reading - just read because you got interested in the topic. You don't understand a lot of it immediately, and so either your interest may carry on and you may get more than where you began or you may give up.
But if you give up, in the interim you may encounter some things related to what you read and you go into the first mode. Or you find that what you started is not your cup of tea at least for the moment. You iterate over other topics of interest.
I can't easily get over this feeling, when I'm reading a book, so I keep reading every detail of the books I read.
I also think that taking notes will take too much time, so
I'm always reluctant to take notes when I am reading something.
After reading this directive, I will try the steps it says.
I focused on specific interests, though also sampled other areas.
I recently read a programming book on Go  and this book reminded me of the pleasure of reading a programming book cover to cover. For a reader whose purpose is not to just get through the coursework (as in a graduate school), a well written programming book can be as pleasurable a read (if not more) than the most gripping novel. The author's style of writing has a lot to do with the readability of a programming book. I think.
Note the exact edition you've got at the beginning (so you can probably track it down again if your copy is lost/sold/destroyed/whatever) then feel free to use page numbers liberally to reference stuff you don't want to copy completely. Consider using a set format, maybe with a box around it or something, for making note of extended quotes or passages you want to refer back to in the work—something like two lines consisting of a short phrase describing it (this is just for you to recognize later, don't worry about precision or even making sense), the first few words of the quote, then a page number(s).
Use headings however they make sense to you. Chapters/sections from the book are usually all I use.
I use notebooks roughly trade paperback sized, 120-200 pages. Can usually fit a few books in each one. Keep a separate sheet or (much smaller) notebook for a global alphabetical (or whatever makes sense to you) index of the notebooks to answer "which notebook did I use for that book I read six years ago, again?" questions.
Done right you can use these, with the book itself, to do super-fast refreshers on the high points of a book. Really handy. If you want to use it for that, include very rough plot outlines and such, too, at least for fiction. Bonus: writing all that stuff helps you remember some of it unaided, too.
I also wrote down references to pages, paragraphs and sentences, etc. on those cards, e.g. p42p3s5.
Nowadays I just make a light x in the margins, with a pencil (so that I can erase it if I want to).