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Ask HN: How Do You Read?
686 points by vilvadot on Aug 31, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 247 comments
Hi HN. Recently I have been wondering how other people read. I recently realized that once I finish a book I immediately replace it for the next one on my to-read list. As soon as I swap titles it kinda feels like the value of the previous book slowly starts to fade and gets lost. Obviously not all of it, and especially on novels I'm in for the ride and getting into the story. But in more informative/instructive stuff I feel like there must be a "better" way to read and get the most out of each book.

For example, recently, I started taking notes into the margins and I find I feel more "engaged" to the reading experience and the content. So I wonder what is other people's take on reading?

Great question! In my fourth decade of life I’m finally figuring out the optimal way to do this myself. I’ve forgotten so so many books over the years that I supposedly read.

Read How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading by Mortimer Adler. (https://www.amazon.com/How-Read-Book-Classic-Intelligent/dp/...) I’ve given this book to a bunch of people on my teams as it also helps with communicating ideas which is vital as a programmer.

The wikipedia page for it is a good place to get an overview of what it’s about. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/How_to_Read_a_Book

Since reading it I’ve been keeping a notebook, some people might call it a Commonplace Book, with interesting stuff from the book. I find that I get a lot more from books from the act of writing it down and then reading those notes later when I glance at them while looking something else up in the notebook.

One big big big thing I learned from the book is to not read a non-fiction book like it was a novel. There’s nothing wrong with skipping ahead and finding out what happens later, in fact you should absolutely skim the book first. I end up finishing a lot more books by doing this since so many books aren’t actually worth careful reading. I am able to systematically skim a book including the TOC and index and determine if it’s worth reading carefully. A lot of books are so sparse with ideas that you can get most of them through this method. Only the good books are worth going on to the second and third stages and only the great ones the fourth stage.

Somebody wrote "Not to sound rude, but how can one judge what idea one needs to see as 'important' while skimming through the book if they have no clue of what the book is about?" and then deleted it. I'd still like to reply because it's a good question. Here goes...

That's a perfectly good question. I used to think that skimming was worthless, only something that people who didn't actually care about information did.

But if you think about how you are constantly judging the value of information everywhere throughout the entire day then you can see how we have to make some filtering decisions.

Systematic skimming is just another filter. If I'm going to dedicate 10 hours to reading the book carefully it makes sense to get an overview of the ground first. If the books I'm reading are from Alan Kay's list of greatest books you should read then I'm going to not worry so much about the filtering aspect of the skimming. If it's a shitty book with a catchy title in the business books section of the library I'm going to be much more skeptical and the filtering part of skimming is essential to not wasting time on crap.

Judge a book by its cover. Then judge it by its table of contents. Then judge it by some passages you read that looked interesting. Don't commit to a book until you've gotten a better feel for what's inside.

I recently started using kindle highlights along with https://readwise.io/ and it works like a charm!

Thank you very much for that tip! Tried it, fell in love with it immediately. It imported my highlights from my Kindle and from my iBooks library and shows me my Highlights in a much better way than Amazon's web interface is able to do (https://lesen.amazon.de/notebook?ref_=kcr_notebook_lib)

Also, it allows me to export all of my highlights.

Finally it adds a gamification dimension, showing me random five hightlights from my books.

PS: Through this site I learned that my Kindle highlights reside in a in file called `My Clippings.txt` (in /Volumes/Kindle/documents/My Clippings.txt) This is something I always wanted to know, because I have many books I uploaded to my Kindle device via USB (so no clound sync available).

What is the format of the 'My Clippings.txt' file? The reason I am asking is because I use Google Play Books most of the time. All highlights in Google Play Books is stored in Google Docs under "Highlights _Book_Name_" and I am wondering if readwise works for those.

Hey there, Readwise founder here.

Unfortunately 'My Clippings.txt' is a narrowly (and honestly, pretty awfully) defined format that Kindle devices generate. So that won't work for Google Play Books.

That being said, we want to build a separate Google Play Books importing tool -- it's on our roadmap!

What do you think about https://booxia.wensia.com ?

Do you mind expanding how you use that service?

I like this methodology, it’s like you’re dating a book before deciding to commit!

Indeed, that makes a lot of sense.

Also, while sometimes this could backfire, it's often useful to come to a book with some idea of what you want to get out of it and go digging for it specifically.

Skimming and evaluating a book, chapter or paragraph quickly is a skill that can be acquired with practice.

One of the reasons I love the kindle. I highlight my favourite quotes and phrases regularly and then after I finish the book I summarise it into an essay.

For instructional books I make a bullet point list of key learnings.

Amazing advice! I use a Kobo reader because it can be used without registration (do a quick search engine search on how to do this), and I transfer my epub books via usb using rsync. Turns out you can edit the Kobo's config file and turn on a feature that will export your highlights and annotations to a text file on the Kobo's root:


I never would have thought to look this up without reading your comment. Absolute game changer. Cheers!

I annotate my Kindle books as well. But at least twice now, I've lost all my annotations because the publisher "updates" the book.

I'm sure that problem won't exist forever (and it doesn't exist for titles that are never updated). But it certainly reduces my trust in the platform. Which reduces how much I take advantage of it.

Automatic updates can be turned off.

Under Manage Your Content and Devices, Preferences, there is an Automatic Book Updates item which you can turn off. Then if you want you can update books individually, or not.

I had no idea updates could erase highlights. I apologise for being lazy but do you know if all updates will erase highlights?

They do, yeah. As an author I'm desperate to get into a continuous deployment/iteration cycle for books, but the fact that kindle works this way really discourages it.

This is primarily how i built my english vocabulary. Seeing words in context and connection makes them stick better.

Wow this a game changer for me, did not know you could do this, thanks!

You didn't know you could highlight on the Kindle? Do you primarily use the Kindle web app? If you have an actual Kindle reader it sounds like you should read the manual in case you are missing some other nice features. I can't imagine using a Kindle without the highlighting or dictionary lookup.

There's a manual ? I will read it, good call.

How to Read a Book is great, and so is the sarcastic response How to Read Two Books: http://scriptoriumdaily.com/how-to-read-two-books-erasmus-ad...


I'm considering writing How to Read Ten Thousand Books, as mentioned to a friend in a similar discussion earlier. Once I complete the preliminary research.

Adler's book is indeed highly recommended.

I would be the first one to read it, maybe you'd really do it? Because I have a lot of books around mu house which I started reading, one is 1/2 finished, the other 1/10 finished, then there's another one that I started reading and left somewhere at work etc... And I have no idea how to deal with it because it's really hard to concentrate on one book, but when I switch to the other I have to go a bit backwards in order to remember the idea.

I'm at least half serious. The epigraph would of course com from Ecclesiastes.

An upshot is that you cannot in any meaningful sense read 10,000 books in a short period of time, though it's a tractable option over, say, a lifetime: 10,000 books in 60 years is 160 books a year, or about 14 a month. That's considering a new book every couple of days.

To which you could apply the techniques described in Adler's book. To add to that, you need some sort of information capture system that scales, such that you're aware of the books you've attempted to read, and what your quick-perusal impression was.

I'm also convinced that more information is useful only in a general sense. Information as with all else follows a Zipf or Power function fo significance and utility, both in area and time of impact. Much of what we are exposed to either doesn't concern much by subject, area, or time, with news being very high up on that list. News matters when current events have a high probability of impact on your life. The fact that newspaper readership in the US peaked during WWII, and has declined at a virtually constant rate ever since, has much to do with this. During the war, small events in faraway places could have a significant impact (and did). Since then ... not quite so much, and focus on individual events has proved largely less productive.

(Hrm: maybe the news is grossly misdesigned? That thought's occurred to me for quite some time.)

What you describe in terms of maintaining state and sense of place within a book is something I struggle with. The idea of learning and forgetting curves, and of paced repetition, should probably play into that. A key issue being "does this material warrant paced repetition?" Because if you've got to repeatedly process the information you hear, that's going to put a cap on what you can learn.

So, the idea of progressive reading not only of a given topic, but over the entire corpus is something you've got to consider. What's a reasonable progression through a set of works? Which is pretty close to saying "what is an effective pedagogy?"

The benefits of reading a wide range of works is that patterns, similarities, and patterns emerge. The disadvantage is that there's a great deal of repetition, and of course, a large amount of bullshit, some accidental, some intentional.

Not all bullshit is useless. Bullshit that's become culturally relevant and/or integrated is useful not because it's true, but because it explains and describes that culture. Reading with this in mind is useful, though also difficult.

And there's the problem of exposing yourself to repeated bullshit and/or toxicity. At a certain point that becomes damaging even when you're aware of it. The biggest problem with propaganda isn't that it's false, it's that it's effective even on those who create it. "Drinking your own Cool Aid" is a phrase because reasons, and some of the most harmful doctrines are harmful because their originators are fully convinced or swayed by them.

There's probably a rough structural outline of the work in these paragraphs, FWIW. Anything you'd add/remove/change?

There is also a nice short guide http://pne.people.si.umich.edu/PDF/howtoread.pdf which looks similar in approach to the 500 page linked.

This gives a nice, quick summary of different techniques!

I feel like there's a bootstrapping issue here, though. What do I read in order to learn to read How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler? Or do I merely read that book once, in order to learn the technique, before re-reading it?

Pick a section of a book you like and do an “Adler read” on that section. Identify the main question, supporting points, and conclusion of each of those sections in the margins.

Short passages or a couple chapters can be really rewarding. “What is the author actually connecting this to?” “Are these questions being addressed one at a time, or too many at once” etc.

We used Adler as a starting point for a bunch of school books and did these as assignments - while it was painful it upped my game and brought so much more out of the book.

I'm in the process of reading Adler's book now, and I've found it's pretty bootstrap-able. I've been able to apply the lessons as I go along, and I've even gone back to earlier sections and increased the "resolution" of my understanding so to speak by applying later techniques.

Yeah this was my EXACT complaint. Hopefully there’s an audio book version, or a 1-800 number you can call to ask to have it explained to you.

There is an audio book version: How to Read a Book, narrated by Edward Holland [0]

[0] https://www.audible.com/pd/How-to-Read-a-Book-Audiobook/B003...

Sadly not available in the UK

If you use audible.com, all you need to do is change the billing country to US. Suddenly all books previously unavailable can be purchased.

Country doesn't affect card payments in my case (Monzo) but worse case scenario you can use points.

Very interesting, thanks.

Hope that it’s designed to work even for people who don’t know how to read yet

I’ve been thinking about something along these lines. One example might be that the book contains a lot of information that you already know. In that case, skimming through might tell you which chapters or sections to skip, instead of having to read lots of stuff that you already know, or worse yet, get discouraged by the repetition of things known to you and never finishing the book, thus missing out on the good stuff that was “hidden” in the later parts of the book.

But as of yet I tend to read books cover to cover and either finish them or give up on them along the way. But I do take notes about interesting things, and sometimes I do little experiments with them also. My notes are a bit lazy in that often my notes consist of taking a picture with my phone, but I categorize the photos into certain albums.

That book also totally changed how I read for the better.

I tend to have two books going at a time. One I read seriously, usually in the morning and take notes etc. The other is purely entertainment band is usually an evening or weekend mornings book.

Regularly come back and flip through the notes you made, like what was most striking, it can weave a lot together even after days months or weeks have passed. Every book needs a notebook beside it to become the verbatim abridged version of what's valuable (at that particular time of reading).

> One big big big thing I learned from the book is to not read a non-fiction book like it was a novel.

I did a double-take until I read 'non-fiction'. Yes, absolutely, I agree. Large non fiction books need to be approached strategically for time saving's sake.

Fiction on the other hand, I adore taking my time :)

I lost my Commonplace Book with all my notes from my previous readings in a trip to a hospital. I'm still devastated even though I have a partial backup from photos I took before hand with my phone.

I'm sorry. I've found a Neo Smartpen (with tweaks) to help back up my notes.

> One big big big thing I learned from the book is to not read a non-fiction book like it was a novel.

Do you mean to say: "is to read a non-fiction book like it was a novel"?

The opposite. Non-fiction books should be read in multiple passes, like a video encoder.

- First pass: Understand the structure, important words (from index), some interesting passages.

- Second pass: Read it all the way through, don't worry if you don't understand stuff

- Third pass: Look up stuff that you didn't understand from the previous pass and read it again in order to understand them.

- Four pass: Read it concurrently with other related books to try to truly understand the topic

I would go so far as to say all books should be read in an iterative manner, fiction or not. Good stories will reveal previously-missed tidbits again & again as you explore the deeper structure of the work.

Deep reading should be saved for books worth the effort.

There's far more written than you'll ever be able to read. The cost of discovery is a large impediment to that.

Skimming / scanning (contents, index, bibliography, intro/conclusion chapters) is part of the informational assessment. If the book holds up to that, keep digging into it. If not, set it down, and feel no guilt.

I'm reading a lot of material, though I'm not satisfied with my methods or progress. I've found Adler's book highly useful. The principle problem is that my interests have both breadth and depth sufficient that the volume of relevant material is enormous, and quality assessment is complicated. I'm doing the best I can.

I should clarify- I fully agree with your assessment. Sturgeon's law holds true with books as much as anything, and there is plenty that can be tossed aside after only a cursory glance.

My point was aimed along the lines that if a book is worth reading once, you will benefit from rereading it at a future date.

On that point I agree entirely.

What's impressed me is how much a book can change ... or was it me ... over time, as I've learned and been exposed to more things and experiences.

Some improve, some are less impressive.

No, the comment was suggesting to not read a non-fiction book like a novel.

When reading a novel, you wouldn't skim it and skip ahead to find out all the plot twists and surprise ending and spoil all the suspense and fun.

With a nonfiction book, you're not worried about plot spoilers. You want to learn from the book. So skimming through it to pick up some of the gist before reading it in detail is a fine idea.

In general, I agree, but this is not always true. Some non-fiction books read very much like fiction. An example that I recently finished is Endurance by Alfred Lansing, which tells the story of Ernest Shackleton's failed mission to cross Antarctica on foot in 1914 (they got stuck in the ice only a few miles from land and spent the next year and a half stuck drifting on the ice before making an escape attempt when they finally reached open water).

Lansing spent years doing research for this book, including interviewing all the living crew members, and it is 100% true. But it has a proper plotline, fantastic character development, and a very climactic and happy ending. Reading ahead won't exactly ruin the story (the basic points of the mission are commonly known anyway), but there's no advantage to doing so.

In other words, some non-fiction books are novels too, and they should be read like novels.

Your example is technically not fiction, but as you point out, its main purpose is to enthrall the reader with a compelling story, not to convey a large amount of dense information in the way that textbooks, manuals, and academic papers do.

If a reader wanted to extract and retain as much information as possible from Endurance (say, if they were studying it in school, or read it but found they didn't retain a lot of the key points), they would still benefit from skimming, skipping around, taking notes, and other advice provided in this post. This advice applies to anyone who wishes to extract and retain information and understanding from any given piece of text, fiction or non. Just don't spoil compelling stories for yourself unless you really want to.

Oh ok! I skip through long-winded details in the novels all the time, hence the confusion. Thanks for the clarification!

"How to Read a Book" prescribes reading a book 3-4 times. Just the sheer repetition will help you get more out of it.

What does your commonplace book look like? Is it a tome you keep on your desk, or is it portable?

I personally like the Baron Fig, it's exactly the same size as the iPad mini, so portable, but not pocketable. I actually keep two: one for scribbly notes and the other for my more thoughtful notes. Took me a while to get over making mistakes in the nice one, but I'm fine with it now and it doesn't hinder my writing.

When I read a book, in the middle of a paragraph, I start getting new ideas related to the topic, and my mind shifts focus to the news ideas, while my eyes keep tracing the text on the book, and obviously I'm not "reading" now, I'm just wandering in my thoughts. And when I realize that I have drifted from the book, I just go back to the text from which my mind drifted.

Some times this happens a lot, and I take so much time finishing what I am reading.

Am I the only one, or you guys also have similar experience? Just curious.

Same. For me, the only way to regain focus is to write the idea/worry down in a Trello board to be rechecked in a few days. It helps me not only getting back to the book but also giving time to let poor ideas die out organically.

I use this technique to counter distracting thoughts to concentrate on reading, learning, or working. As of now i have 1288 textfiles.

It depends on the work, writing, my state of mind, etc.

As I learn more about a topic, bad writing gets easier to read (there's little in it), good writing gets harder (it keeps jogging other associations or revealing new sources). I have to actively assimilate that information. Increasingly, I track down interesting references as I'm reading, if possible.

I can read an easy novel (two of the most recent: The Martian and The Circle) in a few hours. It may take me months or years to work fully through a meaty book, though a week or so is possible if I'm focused. (I rarely am.)

This incidentally makes working with library loans almost impossible -- I don't have as much time with the material, and my reading style is quite active, marking up, starring, or making marginal notes. That's fine for my own copies of works, it's exceedingly disrepectful for shared texts.

(Though I still have fond memories reading through a uni library copy of a Jane Jacobs book in which an earlier reader had penciled "God bless you, Jane" to a particular passage. I agreed with the sentiment.)

For focusing: sometimes I just tell myself to focus on the material at hand, take quick notes if necessary (index cards), and plough through. When that gets too hard -- after an hour or two usually -- I figure it's time to stop and switch to something else.

This described my mental processes as I read the comment, trippy! It's just natural distractibility, it goes away with practice, rest, and interest in subject.

I have similar experience while reading any other material as well or while watching a TV show like Billions. However, I currently believe that is part of the value and not majorly a distraction. That exploration leads me to discover directions which the author has not taken, tie the story to my own experiences, think about it further and internalize what I have read if it is important.

As others have said, take notes. The same thing happens to me and I find I can't get rid of the "itch" of a new idea without writing it down. Once you write it down you can easily continue reading. Revisit your notes later and explore the ideas.

This is one of the reasons I use a screen reader, but I have a print-related disability. I gave details about my setup on this thread.

Oh god... yes! I also prefer screen to paper, especially for technical topics. You cannot fight the itch to pick your phone or go to you your PC and search something you just picked from your wandering thoughts! On screen makes it much more easier to come back to the book:)


Agreed 100%. Reading is far less daunting on a screen for me. Initially it may take getting used to. I also designate certain electronic devices for "immersive reading"/working only, and therefore I do not mess around or get distracted when reading/working.

sometimes I can nonread a full page but feel like I've read something

such a weird feature

I feel like I’m an outlier here on HN, but I read very slowly. My mind constantly switches back and forth between other stuff, and frequently have to repeat (sections of) a page just because I wasn’t paying enough attention.

Needless to say, I don’t read a lot. Once in a while I find a book that interests me, and usually it takes me around a week or two to complete (when reading around 30 - 60 minutes a day).

Same here. Compounding that, I usually can't justify reading things for enjoyment, such as various fiction or non-fiction books. Thus my go-to is usually technical literature, which suffers even more from the phenomenon you described.

At the same time I'll bounce around on the web and voraciously read a wide spectrum of things on a daily basis. Anything from programming topics to spending an afternoon reading a neurology systemic review.

I think it's the format. With books I really have to have a singular focus, and I can't periodically task switch or indulge in nervous tics like repeatedly clicking the page background as I read.

Definitely used to read a lot more physical books. Guessing prolonged computer/internet/smartphone/game use tends to fracture one's attention span in weird ways.

I used to be like that. I usually read fiction in the subway during my daily commute. I think my average is below 30 minutes of reading per day. After a few months of doing this my mind stopped wandering and I was able to zone out and focus on reading without any effort.

I read slowly, absolutely nothing wrong with that. I like to think and process what I read as well so when reading non-fiction it is even worse. But I don't mind, I enjoy reading at my own pace :)

> I wasn’t paying enough attention.

This is a problem. For few weeks I am trying to conquer it by focusing eyes onto infinity while looking at the computer. It helps me wade off thoughts other than whats printed (and I just read) on the screen. So read a line, focus to infinity (and picturise what was said in the line), read next line.

Experiment is on only for a few weeks now, but it surely helps in attention and wading off extraneous thoughts.

Sounds a little unhealthy for your eyes. Why not just close them?

On the contrary I think it could be healthier to focus on infinity once in a while. You know how they say to look far every once in a while to relax your eyes.

What do you mean by focusing your eyes onto infinity?

Pretend your computer screen is a window with text printed on it. Look through the text, through the window at the distant mountains on the horizon. The text blurs and you see it with double vision because your eyes are focused at infinity.

Focusing far away, you know how eyes focus very near when you try to see your nose, focusing on infinity is the other extreme.

I second the slow reading. Reading is thinking. Let your mind wander.

Have you every tried listening to content. I’m adhd and dyslexic and have found that I retain content I listen to far far better than sight reading.

Listening is definitely better, but your mind will start to wander if you get bored. You have to forcefully do something to get back your attention.

I doodle. At home, I work on artwork, preferably putting in details or something else somewhat "mindless" - anything where the artwork is mostly autopilot.

The same thing works for many repetitive activities. Wear headphones while doing dishes. Listen while driving, walking, anything of the sort. The important thing is to have something that takes up a bit of brain, but not too much.

My experience is that if you practice listening long enough it’s easy to focus. I’ve been doing it everyday for more than 5 years. I remember what you’re talking about but personally no longer experience it

I used to be like that. Then I started to cover the lines I had already read with a sliding sheet of paper. That immediately increased my concentration and reading speed since I didn't get lost in the page as often as before.

I also read slowly. Between that and the fact that as a programmer you're essentially reading all day long, I never really read much...until I discovered audio books. Now I'm cranking through several books a month listening to them at 2.5 or 3x speed. I think my brain is just better at taking in information that way. I didn't start at that high speed. I started at 1.5x, but I have been able to gradually increase without losing comprehension. It's been a game changer for me.

OP here. I tend to read a book a week too!

"I don’t read a lot" this might be the "problem". Likely because of bad digital reading habits I completely lost the ability to focus while reading for pleasure.

Last year, I needed a few weeks (if not months) of a daily grind until I recovered the ability to read for prolonged periods of time without getting distracted.

I do the forgetting what I just read thing too. I've now gotten to the point where I know it's time to put the book down if that starts happening. It's crazy how our brain and read words but not actually do anything with them.

I read much slower than I know I can, and slower than other people I know. Typically if I'm not just searching for information I'm thinking deeply about what I'm reading, and in the case of novels I'm enjoying it as an experience like watching a movie or traveling. Or, I'm re-reading pages because my mind wandered :)

That said I know I can speed read and retain information even if I'm rather rusty for things outside of information lookup/skimming. But I find if I speed read and can recall information about it that doesn't mean I've developed any insights or enjoyed what I read as an experience.

I'm always reading about 5 books in parallel, depending of my mood, the context and my focus.


  - biography or fiction book that I listen to while driving

  - hard science book when I know I can focus for a few hours. (I.e. Quantum mechanics or advanced algorithms)

  - 1-2 business or technical book that I read on kindle (Either from PC, ipad or my iphone)

  - various blog or pdfs open on my pc / iphone
The business / technical books are the ones that I read the fastest because I can skip useless chapters and they're always one-click away when I have a few minutes to wait.

The hard science are the ones that take the most time.. sometimes it can take me weeks to read a few pages, and I often need to do side research to understand what I'm reading.

I think the fact that I have different choices help me read more because if I'm not in the mood for one thing there's usually something else interesting. If I don't have interesting books then I'm more likely to waste time on reddit / HN / twitter. (I still browse HN from time to time when things are compiling though :D)

I'm nearly the same! I've found that I can't stick to a single book at one time--when I'm jogging, I don't want to think about technical things, I want to think of big picture ideas.

When I'm driving a distance, I want to get into the nitty gritty of something technical or informative with an audiobook.

When I'm relaxing, I want something interesting but not directly related to any of my work--I don't want to get my mind running on tasks I "should be doing"

Very much the same with browsing the "eye candy" type forums, Twitter, HN, Reddit. If I've got a good book, it seems to permeate my life for the duration of reading.

Interesting... Lots of people seem to read a lot of books - I get lots of recommendations from people at work and stuff. People talk about reading a book a week or whatever.

I've never enjoyed reading books - right from childhood up to now. I try to avoid it. I have gifts from birthdays and christmases from years ago where the book sits entirely unread on the shelf for a year or two until I give it away once the guilt has subsided.

The thought of starting reading a book from start to finish just fills me with a sense of tedium and of wasting my time. I've not read a single book in perhaps the last 20+ years.

I feel like there is a glimmer of how I feel from this question: "how to get the most out of each book"... are you actually getting anything at all by reading each book? Are you like me and just feel like you should, but actually deep down you just don't really get anything from it?

Am I alone?

(P.S. I am a fluent reader and readily enjoy reading the news & technical docs (and don't really watch TV or movies that much - maybe an hour or two a week), but books - boy oh boy I simply couldn't care any less)

One of the things I’ve come to feel is that so much of the reading I do on the web (news, etc.) is fundamentally ephemeral in it’s relevance to my life and goals. Put another way, 90% of it doesn’t actually contribute to my knowledge or personal growth — it won’t matter tomorrow or once I realize some immediate goal. Sure, I get entertainment out of it, but that’s mostly it.

In my view, non-fiction books can be a good answer to that. Authors put a lot of work into curating a set of ideas and (in some cases) mental tools, models, etc. that have long-term, portable value across domains. They can also give you good insight into how experts think about certain problems. Some of the most thoughtful writers aren’t publishing their work in digestible chunks — and many published before the Internet was even invented.

on the contrary, I have found that reading stuff on the web is 90% of what contributes to my knowledge. I can say that whatever I am today (in terms of what I know), it is most probably because of the internet. Not just in terms of computers, but just daily life, directly or indirectly.

I think it is just a matter of the source in your case, which may have led you to feel that 90% of what you read doesn't contribute to your knowledge.

I've gained a ton though random wanderings on the internet and wikipedia and so on but it's really not the same as reading one in depth work a person put 500+ hours of their life into.

Yeah, a book is researched, thoughtful and laying a long, and complicated argument. Just the act of reading the long forms of ideas will make you better at thinking.

Reading a Wikipedia page or watching a video, almost always dismisses the ideas that lead to a conclusion, which is what you need if you want to THINK, not walk around with containerized ideas that other people came up with.

But most books could be a 100th of the size they are

Indeed. There's a reason for that: Most modern non-fiction books are the result of a publisher giving a book deal to an author to expand an article they wrote and people who are going to spend $20 on a book want to feel like they are getting their money's worth (more pages == better deal).

Few modern authors are willing to buck the trend and publish a 100 page book, but they do exist. Take a look at Christopher Alexander's Notes on the Synthesis of Form.

I think you're reading the wrong books, then. I wish the books I read were 100 times longer.

That depends entirely on the quality of the writing.

I used to feel the same way, then I started reading books. So it might also be that you picked out the wrong books, or that whether you mostly read books or stuff on the web, whatever you go with you’ll put more effort in and hence find higher quality material.

In any case, mind sharing your favorite sources?

I used to be the same and to a certain degree, information on the internet is better. There is simply more information and it updates regularly. A book will be out of date soon. And information on the internet is often free of charge.

The value that comes with a book is its structure and its limited size. You don't get all information, you'll get the important information. And it is structured in a way that helps you learning.

The way I look at reading is if you don’t read then you will only ever be exposed to ideas that people around you choose to share, and you’ll never hear or learn anything at a greater level than the smartest person in your local area.

But reading and books opens the world of ideas and knowledge to anyone. Nowadays, post internet and www, when information is abundant, reading long form books isn’t the advantage it used to be. But it can still be beneficial to read long form exposition by experts.

Fifty years ago, I may have agreed that books are invaluable, precisely because of the information contained within.

But ever since the Internet became a thing, and almost universally became the main source of information for everybody, I often feel like many people are holding on to books because they're not willing to let go.

...a case of false attribution in regards to format vs. content, if there's such a thing.

That doesn't really make sense. Most credible sources of information you find on the internet are sourced from books, not vice-versa. You don't read credible books about the Battle of Kursk that are sourced from YouTube videos, you watch credible YouTube videos about the Battle of Kursk that are sourced from books. If you read a Wikipedia article and scroll down to all the citations, many of them are from books.

It's not a format vs. content thing. I'd rather have all my books in a six-ounce Kindle than on massive bookshelves lining my walls. It's simply that the vast supermajority of recorded information collected by the human race has been in the form of books. If you stay on the internet, you're barely dipping your toes in the water.

That having been said, there are a ton of useless books that can easily be skipped, many of which stem from stretching an essay-sized idea into 200 pages. The Internet cut out a lot of that nonsense. And there are certain things, like programming, that you're usually better off learning directly from the internet. But once you're past the intellectual puddle-jumping of popular business and self-help, books are where it's at.

You're (rightfully) highlighting the importance of proper research into a subject, and books (currently) provide a better monetary incentive/reward for that, but other than that, you've basically proven my point.

Replace books with a (credible) data source on the Internet, and you'll have the same result you're describing.

I have in my hand a 1942 edition of the 'Seven Pillars of Wisdom' by T.E. Lawrence that I am currently half way through. Can you suggest which credible data source on the internet is going to compete with Lawrence's first hand account of events?

An approved and verified word-by-word upload of it, preferably on some public institution's servers.

Judging by the amount of downvotes I've received, people are clearly not making the distinction between content and format, which I regress, was the point I was attempting to make.

>An approved and verified word-by-word upload of it, preferably on some public institution's servers.

Which servers do I have to visit to verify the verification and whose approval would this all rely on? With books, there are copyright libraries containing printed physical artifacts that I could use as a verification of a given printed text.

Also, I have the book and can stay immersed in it far easier than trying to read the same from a screen. I have read plenty of short stories on screens, but have abandoned every attempt at reading a full length novel that way, whereas in book form, I can finish a novel in a night. Books are simply better suited for this job, at least for me.

Well a book uploaded to a server is still a book. A book is a book because of the way it was written and how it was structured, not because it gets printed on dead trees. I think this is where you were losing the crowd.

That’s just an ebook, though.

Oh man I totally agree. It's a fetish for dead tree books. And to be perfectly honest I have the fetish, but I recognize that it's just a fetish. It irks me to no end that the whole education system keeps on pounding this idea into our heads (parent's heads) that they need to limit screen time because only physical books are important for education. Physical books are awesome but they will dwindle in popularity as our reading tech gets better.

...and the earlier we discard books from mainstream society, the quicker it will gain its place and appreciation as a "fetish", as you describe it ;)

I believe dead-tree books would rather profit from such a change than suffer from it.

It's useful to disambiguate between the book "format", that is, an amount of text of a certain size that has been edited put together in a clear manner, and the physical book, that is, a codex of dead trees with ink on it.

IMHO shitty trade and mass-market paperbacks should die a much needed death and the few books that survive should be Folio Society style, well bound books with good typography.

>IMHO shitty trade and mass-market paperbacks should die a much needed death and the few books that survive should be Folio Society style, well bound books with good typography.

Looking to my bookcase, do you think I am made of money?

I'm curious about what it is about the format that you don't like. Or are you really just saying that you don't like the type of books that people give you?

I love consuming other types of media but they all have their place.

For fiction (especially SF) I love audiobooks — I listen to them for a couple of hours before I go to bed and while I was working I listened to them during my commute.

For non-fiction I hate audiobooks, unless it's narrative non-fiction like Bill Bryson. I really need the ability to quickly jump between parts of the book. If fact this is the reason why I hate the kindle for non-fiction too.

For math or something that is easier to understand with animations I prefer videos. YouTube is such an amazing resource for educational materials that it blow my mind that people still read textbooks for topics like Group Theory or Calculus. Interactive websites also work for math too.

For the social sciences I like regular hardback books. I like the ability to flip between pages, to have one finger holding one section open while looking at another. I love to serendipitously see something while skimming.

For anything current I prefer blogs. A book isn't going to be as relevant for something written about how some feature of Rust sucks and here are some alternatives.

To circle back, one feature a book has that a lot of other media don't is that they are put together very carefully and edited and are very thoughtful about how the information is presented. I'm sure Knuth has been a LOT of time deciding on the ordering and wording of his books.

Reading fiction is like hiking on a trail; you follow someone else's thoughts for a while and take in the sights. In some sense it's a waste of time, but learning how to relax and calm your "I am wasting my time" anxiety can be a useful skill for your toolkit.

Even if you manage to spend 100% of your time on "productive" things, it's not obvious that that's an optimal way to live.

Reading more than 3-4 paragraphs in more than one stretch is usually too hard for me. When I was a kid (plus in university), I just thought I was lazy (also I did not think my eyes had a problem, either).

Anyways, I have to get my eyes checked out every year because I have type 1 diabetes, and my print-related disability was missed by ophthalmologists, year after year, until I was diagnosed with a medical problem that affects my peripheral nervous system, that is unrelated to the diabetes.

This article may help you with making the reading less of a daunting task. I know it is not easy: https://untappedbrilliance.com/how-to-read-books-when-you-ha...

You need to get into books. It affects your income (accurate, but not the best visual representation of the data): https://www.statista.com/statistics/896534/number-of-books-c... [Sorry broken link...a screenshot is here: https://ibb.co/s5SJpHp ]

I posted on this thread how I manage to read several books per year, via screen readers. That takes time to get used to. I would recommend Voice Dream Reader, if you are interested.

You may want to try audio books via your local library, for just starting out. You can join some libraries in the US for a very nominal fee, if your local one does not have good media databases. That way, you get some of the best media databases of any public library imaginable.

Personally, I enjoy history books the most. On Tyranny and Black Earth are the books that got me in to reading. I also love seeing whatever book reviews FinancialTimes.com (subscription site) posted, and I usually will read at least 2 books per week.

i feel like something weird is going on with my eyes. After staring at a screen for an hour i have hard time focusing them and feels like thye are being pulll out of the eye sockets. Its really hard to describe but not sure what to do about it or how to even describe it.

I would like to not use any screens for a couple of month and see if that fixes it but I am unable to make room for that kind of a program.

Sorry for the late reply and sorry for this being long. I hope that you see this message.

This sounds just like a visual perceptual disability (visual motor deficit), such as convergence insufficiency (which I have), which 13% of children have, or some other form of accommodative dysfunction (or perhaps something else): https://www.bouldervt.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/478/2015/...

I just prefer to use a screen reader to deal with all of this, as it is easy and convenient for me to use, compared to most of those tips. If I am using standard, printed text, I usually use a notecard plus a mechanical pencil (as a stylus) to help me read.

Also note that on the bottom of page 3 there is a "sample" of what a visual perceptual disability is like. I do not flip p, d, b, letters, at all, like in the sample, but reading is literally that much work for me. It really is just about that difficult. I usually "detect words" by looking for various patterns of consonants/vowels, instead of actually reading whole words. If you were to read my writing, in general (not necessarily on HN), you would see a lot of duplicate prepositions or missed prepositions in my writing, too.

There is a more detailed presentation about this material here, but it may not be as helpful: https://www.bouldervt.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/478/2015/...

The cause of my convergence insufficiency is actually due to a very rare disease (there are only case reports and cohorts in the medical literature, at best, about it) that affects my autonomic nervous system. My diagnosis story (not an important read), is here: https://rareandextraordinarycom.wordpress.com/2016/05/14/fir...

Anyways, prior to being diagnosed with the rare disease, I was seeing random ophthalmologists (who are medical doctors) that were not associated with a hospital at a local academic medical center.

After I was diagnosed with the rare disease, the ophthalmologist that was works at the hospital (that is tied to a medical school), examined my eyes very closely. Anyways, there are three ways that this rare disease affects my eyes. Most importantly, I have convergence insufficiency.

I was referred to a neuro-ophthamologist for this, and there is not much that one can do for convergence insufficiency. They can test out the degree of accommodative dysfunction and quantify it, and give you tips and accommodations for work.

Also, actually any ophthamologist/doctor can sign off for things like Bookshare.org/LearningAlly.org/BARD library (https://nlsbard.loc.gov/login//NLS) which are tremendously helpful if you have something like this. Bookshare is actually the largest digital library in the world, and it is only for people with print-related disabilities. It is a valuable and precious resource.

If you cannot get a proper diagnosis even with these tips, then you may want to look for an optometrist who does "vision therapy", at least for the diagnosis.

"Vision therapy" is controversial for these reasons, and I do not recommend it, as it is unlikely that it will be covered by your insurance and it is tremendously expensive: https://www.teachingvisuallyimpaired.com/vision-therapy-cont...

If you want to discuss this more, you can email me at secretsquirrel89@protonmail.com

When you have thoughts, including your inner monologue and what you say aloud to other people, they are entirely made up of words and phrases and ideas. If you had never been inculcated by a culture of people, you would have no complex thoughts at all because you wouldn’t have any language to hang them on. Reading books is a really great way to develop empathy by understanding how others think, and also broadens your arsenal of useful thoughts for navigating the world.

“A dog can look forward to seeing his master. But can he look forward to seeing his master next Wednesday?”

Nope, you're not alone, you took the words right out of my ...typing.

I like reading, i.e. if there's a news topic, I prefer reading an article than watching a video about it, but I detest books.

In my opinion, authors fill books with superfluous nonsense that I couldn't be bothered with. It's often the same with news articles, I hate it when journalists start telling personal stories that convey emotion. It's just... terrible and a waste of time, in my opinion.

> In my opinion, authors fill books with superfluous nonsense that I couldn't be bothered with.

And just as bad: superfluous details.

But how do you know that its superfluous?

...because it's an opinion?

The idea's in media and the news necessarily end up dumbed down to appeal to a wide variety of people. There's also a bunch of things you just can't say if you're broadcasting to millions. Even reddit, hackernews and niche forums end up being rehashes of the same thing. Almost all of it is tainted by some commercial or political agenda as well.

Once you get bored and start to see the patterns, books are there to expand your worldview.

Well you're not alone. I feel like I've never read a book that couldn't have been compressed down to an article and provided the same value (information dense books like textbooks excluded).

I do enjoy listening to audiobooks though. But that's more of something I do when I'm on an airplane or long car ride. That's what I always did in school when we had to "read" something.

> Are you like me and just feel like you should, but actually deep down you just don't really get anything from it?

No no, that is not the case. I do enjoy reading books and get good stuff from them. It's just that I feel some stuff gets lost eventually. This thread is making me see it in a different light though :)

Just find a book that you're actually interested in reading and it will make reading fun. I'm almost never interested in books people recommend me, and my circle almost never reads books I recommend them.

I clicked on this link hoping to share my conundrum with reading books, and you so perfectly captured my own perspective there's nothing more for me to add. I'm glad I'm at least not alone.

Personally I think the most important part of reading is picking up the general idea being conveyed, not to be able to precisely recall an idea. Like a support vector machine (SVM), I think your brain mostly retains information about model defying events. Most people won't remember what they had for a meal a month ago, because the event likely had little surprise - but you'll probably remember the meal that gave you food poisoning.

For example, I've read thousands upon thousands of papers, I generally accept that I cannot recall all the information in them. What I can do on the other hand is figure out exactly what I need to search for in order to find information on a topic and the re-learning time is greatly reduced.

This general acceptance of not being able to recall precise information about any given topic mostly came from my time in school as a child, where I realized the teachers were not so much teaching us topics for the real world, but giving us the framework to learn any topic.

I second. Reading books for me is not about memorizing everything about it, rather it leaves a dent in my memory so that later it can be retrieved quickly when needed.

In my opinion, reading is more for shaping your thoughts over time. I generally don't read for recall value except for technical things, and even there, it's better to build a good mental model of the subject through a combination of reading and exercises, then use a book as a reference.

For non-technical books, I've very rarely seen any value in taking comprehensive notes (except highlights). I read those on a Kindle, so it's easy to highlight and reference highlights later.

> In my opinion, reading is more for shaping your thoughts over time.

Absolutely agree. I often liken reading (at least reading fiction) to the leaking basket fable [0]. I'm not sure of it's origin but the linked description is in the context of reading Buddhist spritual texts. This mindset has also made reading much more enjoyable for me, because I've stopped caring whether or not I can instantly recall details of books that I've read.

[0] https://www.itstimetomeditate.org/leaking-basket-indian-fabl...

On the other hand, recalling the books and passages that really resonate with you is useful and pleasant. Schopenhauer said, "Any book which is at all important should be re-read immediately." I agree with the recommendations of "How to Read a Book." I also really like Montaigne and Seneca, who advocate not reading in a manic fashion but rather finding the books that speak to you deeply and re-reading them frequently. There will always be more content than you can consume, and while I value curiosity and exploration, there is also a lot of value in absorbing the most important lessons deeply. It also helps you weaken your brain's inborn novelty addiction and encourages prolonged effort towards a goal (deep understanding), which is a better route to satisfaction than vacuuming up every new experience you can find.

An interesting way of seeing it, never thought about it that way but it definitely resonates.

It all depends on how you define "finishing" a book. I want to argue that once you tweak your definition, you'll no longer have a problem with forgetting information from a book.

This might be off topic but let me explain:

On many occasions, I have witnessed people doing pushups, but at the end of their counting, they do half-assed pushups, so you could see that they are more interested in "finishing" their goal of 10, 15 or 20 repetitions than actually doing the exercise correctly (doing the exercise correctly could end up with them doing only 5 correct pushups)

Reading books is the same, most people are only interested in the idea of reading books, like the idea of doing sport, to "keep healthy", but don't actually enjoy the journey. So people would set arbitrary rules of "2 or 3 books a month" for example.

So here's what I do: - I changed my definition of "finishing a book" to "never". I stopped trying to read 2 books a month because it no longer has any meaning in my system, but also, no matter my progress through a book, it doesn't matter at all.

Never finishing a book is actually true: a book chapter can send me in a journey over the internet looking for more information on that particular subject, or re-think about the previous chapter because now I have new insight, etc. So really, I never finish my books and it's exactly why it's cool. It's like swimming because you like it VS swimming to reach the other side.

Finally, I don't remember every word of what I have read in the past years, but it sure shaped who I am today, the choices I made, the interests I have, etc. So it's ok to forget, what matters is the journey and what you get out of it, a book never quits your reading list once it gets there, unless you only care about counting your "done" list.

This is slightly off topic but some people may find this setup interesting. I have a print-related disability, so I use screen readers to speak printed material to me. I actually prefer synthesized speech over human narrated audio. The screen readers I use:

* Voice Dream Reader (available on iOS and Android, but it is much better on iOS)

* Kurzweil 3000 (available on Windows and MacOS), plus Kurzweil3000.com (on any OS)

I have access to an amazing library, which is specifically designed for people with print-related disabilities, called Bookshare.org, which interfaces with both Voice Dream Reader and Kurzweil 3000.

I use Voice Dream Reader on an iPhone when driving or on the go (when I want to be discrete), to read books to me. I can usually understand 99%+ of what is being read while driving.

Also, when I am on the go, I will take my Surface Go with me and use Kurzweil 3000, which gives me a tablet-like experience. I also have a 17" laptop at home which I tremendously enjoy using for immersive reading with Kurzweil 3000. I can also take a bunch of really cool notes on it too. Another cool feature is that I can save super high quality mp3s of synthesized speech to my phone using Kurzweil 3000, if I want to.

The audio quality is stellar on both, but I have a USB sound card that I use on the Windows machines, known as a Sound BlasterX G6, to make it even better. I also have a comfortable gaming headset which I use on the Windows machines.

If there is a book that is not available on Bookshare.org, I will buy a physical copy, go to the local Fedex|Kinko's to get the book binding cut, then I will scan it with a Fujitsu Scansnap iX1500, which has a duplex automatic document feeder.

i like the idea of voice dream reader in theory, but in practice i find the voice synth kind of poor and difficult to listen to. i should probably just subscribe to audible but the reason i wanted it was for audio of pirated ebooks.

Oh yeah, I totally forgot: You may be surprised by the newly released Amazon Polly Neural Text to Speech voices. I use them sometimes, too, now: https://aws.amazon.com/polly/

Sorry for the late reply.

Voice synthesis takes getting used to, and it is much easier to deal with if you have to rely on it for a print-related disability. The voices on Voice Dream Reader, such as Sharon or Heather, are excellent compared to the stock voices on iOS/Android.

You may want to try getting a subscription to the digital databases at Houston Public Library (if you live outside the state of Texas, otherwise it is free) before shelling out money for an Audible subscription. For $20/6 months or $40/year, they have one of the best digital media databases in the country (there are also a few other libraries of similar caliber. You also get premium access (including the app) to Lynda.com for that price, in addition to a ton of audio books.

very cool! i'm in DFW so the houston library service sounds great. thanks for the suggestion!

You're welcome! I'm in Houston. The link to apply for a card: https://houstonlibrary.org/my-link-library-card-registration

It has been found that writing book reports increases retention of the material. You don’t have to actually write a formal report to take advantage of that, though. Try to work up a habit of talking to people whom you see often (coworkers, family and friends) about what you read. Listen to them for ideas and be their sounding board and then use them in the same way. Reiterate what you learned, try to extrapolate into new ideas, make criticisms and practice oral book reporting. Humans are linguistic creatures, thinking and verbal expression are closely connected in content and quality.

If it's fiction, I am just reading. If it's nonfiction but not for learning a skill that I will need to use, again, I am just reading. The closest I get to "notes" is that I write a book review on Goodreads a week or two after I finish, which usually results in me going back and looking up a few things.

If it's a book I'm reading in order to acquire a certain skill, then I have to stop periodically and do the thing it says (e.g. in programming, or a foreign language). Not even notes would be enough to make it stick.

I recently realized I have ADD minus the hyperactive. I never was able to finish books until I started listening to audiobooks with Audible.

I have a subscription and generally pick up a new book I've heard of that interests me right away either with a credit or just buying it.

This allows me to read while walking and riding the bus and doing the dishes and generally turns uninteresting chores into something interesting while also allowing me to read. Something about having someone read to me is way less difficult than reading it myself.

I generally don't worry about explicitly remembering anything unless there's something particularly amazing. I read nonfiction mostly and my theory is that the goal is to generally educate myself so that my worldview is shifted to be more accurate, and instead of asking "what would that book advise me to do?" I can ask, "What would I do?" and what I would do has been influenced by the book.

Good books I just read more than once. It's much faster for me to listen to a book twice than to read it carefully once. And regardless, someone said something like it's better to read the best book 100 times than 100 books 1 time.

My record is 4 times that I read Antifragile by Taleb. A scarce few are 3 times, several twice. As I once heard, keep reading books until the ideas start to repeat themselves.

Maybe I don't remember everything as much as I would if I took copious notes, but I certainly get a lot of books read this way (sometimes one in a few days if it's good enough) and it's in a way that happens without effort. I've been mulling on the idea generally that best practices that I won't actually follow are inferior to slightly less than best practices that I will do.

Audible is absolutely epic.

On audible, I highly recommend lectures from The Teaching Company / Great Courses.

Great narration: https://www.audible.com/pd/Platos-Republic-Audiobook/B01CO38..., https://www.audible.com/pd/The-Art-of-War-Audiobook/B00URXOQ... (familiar voice to you?)

I've also had one of the worst narrations I've ever heard: https://www.amazon.com/Monkey/dp/B0162SWL4G/. I believe it was delisted on audible.com

I feel like I could have written your comment word for word.

I have also found that I often forget entire books, and that quality of reading beats quantity.

I use kindle and take a lot of notes. Then whenever I am in a situation where I don't have a kindle and not much to do, such in public transport, instead of going on social media I use kindle app on my phone a flick though the notes, or turn them into flashcards and basically go over all the main points.

Because you're taking notes throughout the book, you've created a kind of a map so it's very easy to refresh what you've read.

I also like the idea of re-reading the best books again and again. I've got this from Naval's podcast.

Some books are the condensed life knowledge, to read it once you won't get all the points. With great books, every re-reading you learn something new. It's better to acquire somebody's "life knowledge" in full depth and completely than accumulate a high number of shallowly read books.

I've configured my mac to read-aloud any text I've selected when I press the option+cmd+v keyboard shortcut. It's available through the accessibility settings. There is also the option the increase the reading speed. The standard text-to-speech vocalisation is actually quite good, it avoids strain on the eyes, help you detect spelling errors when proof reading a text, and it can save you a lot of time.

Another tip for my multi-lingual friends is to install the voices[1] command line tool to quickly switch the language, or use the polyglot[2] tool to do the same thing through the menu bar.

[1] https://github.com/mklement0/voices [2] https://github.com/Fredmf/polyglott

I do the same thing, using accessibility text-to-speech, but I use Karabiner-Elements to map my caps lock key to speak. I also use the text-to-speech on iPhone to turn my articles into "podcasts", by swiping down.

Put the book on the table. Open Evernote (or similar) and start a new note. Put on the headphones and play the same title as audiobook. Set play speed at 2x. Read along. For every page read write down a summarizing sentence along with page number.

Hearing, reading and writing helps memorize. After completing the book you will have a nice summary written in your own words that’s easy to recall if you need it in future.

Haven’t tried with fiction books, but for non fiction works really well.

To be honest: I was waiting for this kind of thread for years. I've literally tried to absorbe everything you've put together. I will definitely have a look at "How to read a book".

Now some words about my reading habbits:

- Most of time I read non-fiction books. I read newspapers, interesting articles I've found on the Web and some books.

- I use an E-Reader to read my stuff (for many years I've used a Kindle 3rd Generation which got replaced by a Pocket InkBook 3 [1])

- Everything that I find interesting gets highlighted on the E-Reader. If I'm reading a real (paper) book I'll use my notebook and make some notes in a bullet journal style. [2])

- To organize my highlights I use TiddlyWiki [3] and some really nice plugin [4] to organize books.

Regarding Tiddlywiki: I think this is one of the most underrated tool out there since it can be used for everything. You can filter and tag your content (book highlights, ideas etc.) in a way that fits your needs.




[1]: https://www.pocketbook-int.com/ge/products/pocketbook-inkpad...

[2]: https://bulletjournal.com/

[3]: https://tiddlywiki.com/

[4]: http://inmysocks.tiddlyspot.com/#%24%3A%2Fplugins%2Finmysock...

Why do you feel you need to remember them so much? and that there even is something to get out of every book? I feel if something you come across is truly indispensable to know, you'll remember it. Most things aren't so we don't.

In fact, I try to keep as much stuff OUT of my brain as possible. I think of my brain as an index, the smaller it is, the better. In relation to books, this means I highlight anything I find interesting, but otherwise rarely do much else Also just because you don't remember a book doesn't mean it didn't change you. After I read a book, if it was good, it will probably be on my mind for a while as I relate things I learned in it to things I knew.

Later if I want to look something up I'll remember what book it was in, just not the specifics. I don't just do this for books either, I do it for webpages all the time. Currently I am using an extension called Liner to save highlights. For things I'm actively researching for some reason or another, I extract all the highlights out when I'm finished and save them to a note, (I used to do this in Evernote, but I've since switched to Scrivener).

If a book has particularly important information but is dense, and I know I'll need the info later, but later it's very likely I'll forget it, for example, for school, I'll just make nice study-like notes, extracting the useful stuff. In fact, for school, those notes were my study notes, and I would just take exams then promptly forget everything. In case I actually needed the info, the notes existed.

Now that I think about it, this is all why I took to writing lots of comments in my code. Makes it a breeze to drop and pick up projects again. Cannot understand pro-"self-documenting code" people. I've also started documenting any large installs, complicated setups, etc, in gists lately. Very useful.

> once I finish a book I immediately replace it for the next one on my to-read list.

This right here is your problem. The way to really learn a book is to read it and then solve a lot of problems out of it, referring to it often. If it's a programming book (that's ideal), write programs that do what you read about. If it's a textbook there should be a lot of exercises for you to do. If there aren't any exercises you'll have to make up your own. That's a slow process, but it's still a more reliable route to deep understanding than reading superficially and never getting there.

That said, you remember more than you think you do. You may not recall everything you read, but a lot of that information is in your head somewhere, ready to act as foundation and building material if you ever visit the material again. You'd be amazed how much more you can get out of a book just by skimming it a second time, once you've got the big ideas.

Speaking of reading and retention, there was a controversial article titled: "Why books don't work"[1].

It was also recently discussed here on HN[2].

As a serious reader, I took "offense" at first the sweeping title. But when I completely read the article, the author's contention was largely with poorly written books and lectures work ... which wouldn't make for a sensational title.

    - - -
As to the original question, for non-fiction (and even for some fiction, like by Iain. M Banks) I take a lot of hand-written notes while reading. Of course, it's "slower", but so be it -- if I'm reading a valuable book, I want to take my sweet time.

[1] https://andymatuschak.org/books/

[2] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19887424

The author was interviewed on EconTalk recently.

Yeah, I was listening to it (haven't finished it yet) where he did admit the title could've been more neutral.

I cannot read without a pencil. I highlight the important passages and then I make an effort of memorizing that passages. Think you're a monk and are reading the Bible, reading by verses and memorizing, incorporating that into your knowledge. Take notes of related ideas, expand the text, don't be reductionist, think of the whole.

> I cannot read without a pencil

If I had to choose one recommendation to give others, this would be it. You don't read with your eyes, you read with your pen.

Read fewer (better) books and really internalize them. This 99% of the time requires you to take notes that you revisit throughout and after your read.

> As soon as I swap titles it kinda feels like the value of the previous book slowly starts to fade and gets lost.

I think you're being a bit harsh on yourself here. If you understand and learn from a text when you're reading it, I would contend that it's likely you've learnt quite a lot from that book without realising it.

To me, the important part is the next book: while reading it, do I understand it, is it interesting? That means that I've come to that book with the correct prerequisites, so I am happy that my previous books have served me well.

Now, to answer your question: I am pretty undisciplined. I generally read programming books and maths textbooks. I jump from book to book. Sometimes I start in the middle, sometimes I start from the beginning. Sometimes I feel the same concept baffles me, so I like to read about it from multiple sources. But once I grok them, those chapters in new books are skippable.

Reading for reference and reading for pleasure are two different things, and I'm only going to address the latter.

Reading is an experience, not a chore. The value of reading comes from the reading, not from the "have read". The fraction of information you retain from your hobby reading is essentially irrelevant.

I type notes in a program that allows searching. I dislike digging through 300 pages to find that one quote I liked.

How do you structure your notes? I do the same, but I am often conflicted whether to take notes by chapter/section or by topic.

Hmm, would putting labels work? That could include the chapter number, section number, and keywords. I usually go with topic and include the page number.

This is a great question though. What features could one add to a hypothetical PDF viewer that could help us? Sometimes I feel like having a separate text file is not sufficient, or not convenient enough. Most of the books I read do have a summary per section, perhaps I could take a screenshot of them. Additionally I could use the PDF viewer to highlight sentences, and add a feature to this PDF viewer that would allow me to cycle through them. Thoughts and/or ideas?


As recommended by the book "Your memory: how it works and how to improve it" by Ken Higbee. As I recall, Higbee says there are many reading comprehension methods, but the fundamentals are all the same. The book's dated, but Higbee argues that research backs up the fundamental ideas. I don't know what the latest research says, but I doubt the basic ideas here have been overturned. Maybe they've been refined.

One important thing I learned from the book was that speed is not always good. Your need to process and organize the information to best understand and remember it. SQ3R is basically a series of steps to do just that.

Note that I read almost exclusively non-fiction and SQ3R isn't meant for fiction.

It has been already mentioned in comments, Mortimer Adler’s How to Read a Book is the book for you. It treats reading as learning and the authors’ goal is to teach you how to read expository works with the aim of understanding by actively /and/ skillfully engaging with the material.

You’ll learn how to discover, interpret and judge books, and how to not waste time on poorly written books or those that don’t contain much substance. The core of the book is part 2: the rules of analytical reading, which are general rules applicable to expository works. Part 3 then discusses their modifications for particular types of literature: practical books, history, philosophy, science, social science, fiction.

Highly recommend it. You don’t want to miss it if you’re serious about reading, that is thinking, growing, educating and enriching yourself.

I have a horrible memory when it comes to the detail of books, movies, etc. (But thankfully I can remember what I've coded, or else I'd probably be out of a job.)

I mostly read non-fiction. To improve my recall over the past 7 years, I type up notes as I read. It's made the process of reading much slower, but it has helped when I've needed to recall some example or detail or framework of a book.

I did this (selfishly) for myself, but decided to upload my notes at https://github.com/mgp/book-notes. (Shameless plug I suppose?) The README explains exactly how I take the notes – but essentially there's no shortcut. I have my text editor open and simply type notes as I read.

Hey cool — I use a very similar practice of writing up notes in Markdown. Although I haven't published them, this is inspiring me to do so!

One thing I do differently - I read the book through first, making highlights and shorthand notes anywhere I see something interesting. I do a faster, second read-through at my computer with the Kindle annotations and the text editor side-by-side. As you said, doing it at the same time slows things down tremendously, and I found that it sapped my momentum and I got fewer books read overall. Do you experience the opposite, or is it something you learned to work through?

Very cool! It's been a few years now that I started taking notes more systematically too. I mostly use the Notes app on Mac OS, and to a lesser extent README.md/github. Unfortunately, Notes is a bit limited compared to markdown in a specialized editor, but it's just very convenient.

So far, my notes concern mostly technical and work related stuff, but I should follow your lead and take notes for non-technical material.

Very cool, thanks for the link to your notes repo. I share your pain with a horrible memory. I may very well start taking notes and storing it similarly to how you've done it.

I always have an audiobook in rotation. I keep a book and all my current magazines in my bathroom (generally smaller bites, collections of essays, poetry), a book next to the couch (usually non fiction), one next to my bed (always fiction), and then I have a different book in each of my back packs. I'm usually reading 5 - 10 at a time and unless it's like gravity's rainbow, I try to finish each within a month of starting. I studied literature in college and used to read one book at a time and was very intense about it, but reading a ton of different things at once is more fun and I find myself making connections between things I wouldn't make otherwise

Oh and I read a ton of articles from here at work

I experienced the same: reading one book after another felt like information overload, taking notes helped a bit.

In addition to taking notes, I started to summarise chapters or the whole book.

This takes significantly more time, but the effect is huge.

Given the amount of great books and my limited human life style, I also sometimes have the feeling of missing something. The FOMO is a concept fundamentally tied to the human psychology. I try to reduce it by categorising my reading list into A, B and C books (where A books get my biggest attention). My policy is to read and summarise A books, speed read B books and rely on someone else's summaries for C books.

Try reading a good text multiple times, even to the point of memorizing it. Especially in the past, many cultures viewed memorization as essential to truly engaging with a text. Another way to engage more deeply with a good, classic text is to read commentary on it.

Obviously you can't treat everything you read this way, but for a few really good classics this has been a fruitful approach for me. For a novel, maybe you could just memorize a few passages. When you have the words rolling around in your head, you'll find that you recall them at just the right time.

Audiobooks. My father used to read to me growing up and while I’ve tried to get into reading a few times I’m just a terribly slow reader. I have to read the same page 4/5 times to grasp any situation and honestly I just feel like I don’t have the time to read.

Audiobooks have single handedly fixed all of this for me. I’ve been able to listen to and grasp things like the dune series and how to win friends and influence people (unabridged).

Simply listen to an audiobook in your car or headphones on your way to work or at the gym or before you sleep <3

> Hi HN. Recently I have been wondering how other people read. I recently realized that once I finish a book I immediately replace it for the next one on my to-read list. As soon as I swap titles it kinda feels like the value of the previous book slowly starts to fade and gets lost. Obviously not all of it, and especially on novels I'm in for the ride and getting into the story. But in more informative/instructive stuff I feel like there must be a "better" way to read and get the most out of each book.

It's rather interesting that what you're talking about here is a key idea in the Buddhist philosophy. It's that material possessions only temporarily provide happiness. As a result most people spend their whole life moving from one possession to the next to get that temporary high over and over again.

If you're reading fiction to enjoy it like you would a tv show or a movie, that happiness will fade as you find. And honestly, that's okay.

Buddhism's take on it is to seek out enjoyment that lasts, which sounds like what you're doing by posting this post. However, enjoyment that lasts is a different kind of enjoyment. It's not addictive and it's harder to get started, but imho is worth it. It's also more subtle than the addictive kind of happiness. Buddhism's solution is to cut out these addictions and work towards enlightenment which is a life long kind of happiness. However imho, that advice isn't for everyone. It comes down to what you want out of life.

It has changed from treating them as sacrosanct and precious (although some of them are), to treating them as a collection of blog post and articles. So now whenever I start reading a book, I just try to skim through it initially. If there's an interesting chapter or concept, I will read it thoroughly. Yes sometime, you might miss some interesting concept while skimming but that's ok. It's rare and pros outweighs cons.

I feel there's so much abundance of knowledge out there that it's important to curate what you read. Sometime you can read the entire book in a day. Sometime even a single page might take you days to read and understand. So it's also about the density of knowledge and content in a book.

Also, sometime, I will read multiple books in parallel based on my requirements or mood. One thing that does help is your highlights/notes (both digital/physical). Having some system to refer back in future always help.

Yes, you will still forget a lot of what you have read but that's ok. We tend to remember the important stuff. And in future if we want to gig deep, we can always come back and read again.

Some of these concepts are also explained by Naval Ravikant in one of his interviews. So you can also watch them.

I realize I'm a bit late to this party but here's how I read a book I don't want to forget about:

1. Before starting, take a fresh sheet of paper and enumerate the chapter numbers of the book. Each on a separate line.

2. After finishing each chapter: stop reading, contemplate the main message and try to pen it down at the corresponding chapter numbers of step 1. Focus on writing it in your own words / rephrasing. Key question for chapters >1: what information did I forget to mention in my microsummary until now? Include that in the new summary, don't edit the old one.

3. Turn the page of your sheet after completing the book. Now write a (max) 1-page summary of the book without looking at your other notes.

4. Compare the summary with your notes. Satisfied? Ready! Not satisfied? Get another sheet and rewrite your 1-page summary, taking extra care to mention the missed points of the first summary.

My experience is that you don't really need the chapter notes while writing the summary, since it is now part of your long-term memory because of the writing.

Bonus: 1-page, personal summary of key points in the book you just read. If you forgot the points of a book, take it off the shelf and consult your 1-page summary.

YMMV but it works for me.

Kind of depends on the book to be honest. For programming or tech-related textbooks, I make an extremely isolated and peaceful environment. Complete silence, phone on vibration, just plenty of water to drink at arms length and that's it. And my brain tends to be the most focused at night, which is helpful. But for all other books too: I tend to be a bit of a fanatic when it comes to peace and silence. I often end up reading 3-4 or 5 books at a given time, which is why it takes me multiple weeks to finish them as opposed to a day or two. I'll jump between all of them at random, forcing me to go back 15-20 pages each time. I have no idea why, this is how I've been reading since I was a child and never managed to get out of the habit. But with those I tend to be a bit more tolerant to external factors such as noise and other people so I can read just about anywhere with a tolerable amount of noise: buses, parks, planes, stations, airports and so on. I can't listen to any music while reading but I might resort to shoving a pair of earbuds in my ears for noise isolation without playing anything.

I read on computer or phone. If it's literature for work, I need to practice and not only read. I read something and trying to do it, as a web developer. If it's other literature I read it on my phone, when I have free time. If I read literature for work it takes a lot of time to thinking and doing exercises (if they exists). Spending a lot of time or reading and practicing helps to remember information

I used to write a review for my blog or Amazon (though they have horrendous ToS for reviews). Haven't done that for a long time though. But when I did it was nice:

* forced to review and outline major themes of the book, or at least why it was worth reading

* could go back and see what I thought about the book later

* helps other people, even if occasionally

My SO uses goodreads and enjoys both the ability to give a review and the score keeping nature of it.

I keep a very simple note with the parts of the text that are worth to remember in the future, separated by chapters, normally I update the list as long as I'm reading a chapter and then I review it at the end of it mostly to delete.

After finishing the book I do another review simplifying the most important parts and then I add them to Anki.

After that using SRS helps me to refresh the knowledge about the book.

As others have mentioned, How To Read a Book does a great job educating on the skill of reading.

Most books I just read once fairly rapidly: skipping over parts I don’t get or find uninteresting. Just a few books ever get an ‘analytical’ reread.

I don’t keep a notebook generally to keep reads portable, I instead talk about what I’m reading pretty aggressively as a strategy to memorize and absorb knowledge.

For technical books: I read a passage, think about it a bit, then either re-read the same section and digest further, or move on to the next segment.

I do not take notes or highlight sections- I have found that these pull me out of the mindset of thinking about what I'm reading, and instead put me in to the mindset of how best to document what I'm reading. The two points of view do not overlap as much as you might think.

For books I read for enjoyment, I take in the words at a reasonable pace and build the scenes in my mind, just enjoying the flow.

Usually I read a book in one sitting, but if I find myself interrupted, when I start again I'll go back a chapter or two to ensure that I'm back in to things by the time I get to where I left off.

I re-read books I've enjoyed regularly. If anything, it is even more enjoyable than the first time through, particularly when life experience allows you to appreciate a thought in the book that you didn't fully grasp on earlier readings. It's great fun!

For technical books, I often try to build something as it goes along, usually not exactly following their examples, but making something slightly different, which seems to require exactly understanding things and not just grabbing the code examples.

For math and computer science books, I definitely like to write code to do things. Particularly in math I have the hardest time remembering which greek letter means what thing in which context, and well formed programming language variable names make things much clearer.

For other stuff, I try to build an outline of the theory of the book and come up with some actions I can take to see how the ideas would work in the contexts I have available to me. It's a little difficult to take notes depending on the context, particularly with audiobooks. Sometimes I will read other people's summaries to see if I missed something.

For fiction and poetry I don't really do anything special except copy down particular quotes I enjoy.

Though people’s opinions may differ I consider audiobooks a form of reading, at least being read to. My habits have evolved over the years so that I only consume entertainment books via audio. When it comes to non fiction, mostly technical docs or news items, I generally need text with no audio in the background to really ingest the details.

Not too much to add compared to everyone else. But something I learned about myself, I have to break up non-fiction with the occasional fiction book. I like reading history, biography, informative books nowadays. Not so much technical anymore. After four or five non-fiction, each about a week or two to read depending on density and length, I start to putter out on motivation to read. A decent, fun, pulpy fiction book recharges me faster than taking a break. So, I do 3 to 4 non-fiction, then a sci-fi or fantasy book. That keeps me going decently. I also don't beat myself up anymore for going a few days without reading either. A week, I'll force myself to get back on track.

I don't finish a book if it's dull. If I'm constantly getting bored or feel like the information is just someone preaching out of their ass or pointless, I'll either skim the book or just drop it. I don't feel bad about this anymore. My reading list is so damn long, what's the point wasting my time on books I was wrong for picking? Sunk cost fallacy and all.

I've learned my lesson the hardway and I'm very, very careful about business books. Especially the pop-culture ones. I only read it with reviews by people I respect highly and they must be critical of the book. If it's just praising the book, I refuse to get it. Or the book is a few years old and is still respected. So many books in business are such dogshit. It's amazing.

I do keep a reading list in excel and add to it constantly. Sometimes add some notes how I felt about it. A lot of times I add books mentioned in other books I'm reading.

If the book is bought and not from the library, I underline with a nice black Uniball pen and mark the top of the page. Highlighters can get really annoying on my eyes if there's a lot of it. I learned that from high school. My eyes went out of focus with too much highlighter on the page (probably just me). If I'm reading the book with specific purpose, I'll make notes in the book itself.

Sorry OP to hijack your thread

I skimmed through the comments and folks have said they read slowly, but also say they average about a book a week. Is that really true? How many books would you say you finish on average per year?

I read quite quickly but I average about a book every 2 weeks because of other commitments (consistently ~25 per year)

25 per year is phenomenal.

Non-fiction is what I mainly consume nowadays on my Kindle Oasis 3. I try to buy the books directly from Amazon, as then all my highlights sync to my Goodreads account so that even other users can view them.

In the case when the book is side-loaded, I load the highlights using clippings [1] service. The habit of taking notes significantly increases the consumption time, but in the end, I remember much more.

When the book isn't highly technical, such as biographies or self-development books, I tend to listen to the audiobooks with an Android app [2].

[1] https://www.clippings.io/

[2] https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.acmeandroi...

I largely read nonfiction, largely to gain an understanding of questions or problems or methods. I'll read fiction for pleasure occasionally, and certainly have in the past. That's almost always far easier.

I read actively, and am a fan of Mortimer Adler's How to Read a Book, mentioned by others. The methods it describes are much as I'd developed on my own, though I've picked up a few pointers.

I consider books resources to aid in an inquiry. I've an idea of the questions I'm interested in, and exploring the development, presentation, and explorations of those questions guides what I read.

My "to read" pile is ... unmanageable. I've collected thousands of books and articles, which I consider not an obligation to read, but a pre-vetted resource to dig into in more depth. Bibliographies, footnotes, annotations, and references within works are very useful at turning up other works. Generally, my highest priority is on foundational works within a field, or revolutionary works which either break new ground or synthesize existing ideas into a new whole. As I've studied, I've found myself generally less interested in the most recent material -- it's often far less substantive than earlier works, much rehashes older concepts (with or without credit or reference), though sometimes in the context of some contemporary crisis or issue. (Much of HN's submissions and discussion fall into this class.)

Cultivating my own discipline to work through material I've alreday surfaced is difficult, though I've at least skimmed through a reasonably large share. Tools for organising and managing a large personal research library are sadly lacking, and progress toward realising the dream outlined by Vannevar Bush in his Memex, or Ted Nelson's Project Xanadu, has been sadly disappointing.

I'm actively looking for tips at improving my tools and methods. Reducing the reading pile being a principle objective.

I read 20+ books a year. I don't finish most of them, re-read some chapters from the old books. I underline stuff and I go back to the underlined things at the end of reading a book. I prefer reading hard copies and at any point if I've to look at the page number, I realise that the content is not worth the time. I skim through. If I still don't find it interesting. I leave it. It's okay to leave a book in the middle. Most books have a single point to make and the entire book is about examples around that point. If you understood the point already, there's no need to dig in further.

It's human tendency to forget things. So re-reading stuff I find valuable helps me more than reading lots of new books.

If it's not technical book I usually go for an audiobook while doing other things, e.g running, gym. Then I open the section in Play Books and skim through what I've listened, highlight important stuff and it creates a document with my highlights automatically and saves it to drive. I've found that doing this way really helps with information retention and I can do much more books with this method.

Also, if anyone knows good open source alternative which would work on mobile and web in a way Play Books works - would be great to try. I've seen few libraries e.g epub.js and also NextCloud has its way to display uploaded books, but couldn't find a fully working alternative.

I think there are really two sets of books. Books that you need to really dive into deep and slow. Others that can be skimmed quickly. I think it is important to discern the difference between the two and have a good mixture.

The slow books take me a while to read. Each section I read I like to think about it and write a short blurb for myself to remind myself or apply it to a bigger body of knowledge or put it into use.

The books I skim usually don’t need to be read completely and it is important to just gather the broad overview and take the notes at the end. But for these I try to just summarize the 2-3 major points that the book is making at the end so I can go back and remember them if I need to.

I keep journals of books I read. I generally record interesting thoughts I had while reading and impressions when I’m done.

For more technical books like maths I tend to keep workbooks for each one. I do the exercises and distill my understanding in notes as I go.

95% of my books come from the Denver Public Library new book shelf. They have an excellent selection. I reserve items from them I read in online book reveals and see at the bookstore. I probably read several $1000s of books this way.

My prominent reading strategy is called (only by me I guess) skip and cut. I read the same way I listen to music - If something is boring I skip. If I skip too much I throw the book away for another.

I'm not claiming this methodology to be original, smart, useful or mature. It's just the answer to the posed question.

[E: also this seems a fair opportunity to quote my favorite author]

Writing long books is a laborious and impoverishing act of foolishness: expanding in five hundred pages an idea that could be perfectly explained in a few minutes. A better procedure is to pretend that those books already exist and to offer a summary, a commentary.

Open book & read it til done then switch. Anything I care about will involve me reading multiple texts on the topic or eventually rereading so I generally don’t worry about figuring everything out. Understanding takes time.

One thing I learned and adapted from Naval Ravikanth (podcast with tim ferriss...google it) is to treat reading books like blog posts. So if I am interested in a book, I don’t have to start from the beginning. Just start browsing, open any chapter, read through it and continue if I relate with author otherwise close it down. You also don’t have to finish the book if you loose interest half way. Another unthinkable thing I do now is switch between books while reading them. Lastly re read books if you really like them. I read deepwork and when I finished I started it again right away.

It depends on the type of book.

For technical books, I take notes as I read. Once I reach the end of a chapter, I reword the rough notes and research anything I didn't fully understand. You can read my notes if you're interested: https://notes.eddyerburgh.me/

For fiction books, I highlight paragraphs I find interesting as I read on my kindle . When I finish, I use my highlights to write a short review of the book.

I've stopped reading most self-help/ business books now. I just read other people's notes on them instead.

Few ideas:

* this one from Paul Graham: you retain more from reading than you think you do http://www.paulgraham.com/know.html

* this one from James Somers: actively engage (don't read without a pen and paper, explain stuff to yourself as you go) http://jsomers.net/blog/kenjitsu

To my mind, 'what' trumps 'how'. A casual reading of 'Mrs. Dalloway' brings a greater reward than n airport non-fictions.

In school, I would, chapter-by-chapter: - Underline & make notes in the margins - After finishing, write a "précis" of that chapter on an index card - Below the précis, go through the chapter again and copy over underlined passages, notes I had made and questions I had come up with while reading

Then, I'd end up with a stack of index cards for each book, which I'd keep for reference. I rarely looked back at these notes, but the 'chore' of doing this for every chapter really helped the complicated stuff sink in.

If I reeeeally like a book (examples include: war and peace, accelerando, 100 years of solitude, neuromancer) I usually read it halfway through, put it down for a while, sometimes a week, sometimes a month, sometimes a year or more, go read lighter or non-fix stuff, write and contemplate on the book I'm ruminating over, then go back and read it from the beginning, all the way through. I love doing it like this. During the rumination period I often go back and look up specific passages in the book to accompany my thoughts.

I used to read one book per week (on average) for a number of years. Probably between 5 and 10 of those books per year were ones I had previously read.

I thought I was an outlier, then I met people that do 4 books per week.

80% of the books I read are technical about programming, math, science, etc. 20% are a hodgepodge.

Fiction books I read very slowly, for enjoyment.

My pace has slowed down. Nowadays I read only one chapter per month of "What to Expect: The First Year" and pray that we make it to the next month ;)...Okay I kid, but my pace is now down to about 1 per month.

I'm lucky enough that I've plenty of time to read at work so I don't know...I just read.

Always physical books, I've got a Kindle at home but it's just picking up dust. Most of the time I alternate between either a literary classic or some non-fiction, and then a more light read (more often than not a Michael Connelly novel).

Each time I start a new book I snap a picture of the cover and I have a Google Photos album where I compile them all to remember them and to be able to count how many I've read at the end of the year

I've only done this once or twice for books I've read, but a comment here from a post many years ago suggested taking an index card per chapter and writing a series of questions or ideas on one side, and the answers on the other. Then at the end of the book you can review and see if you remember what you thought were important points and see if you remember the 'answers'.

I found it really useful, but it took willpower to do this, and I soon fell out of the habit. Il have to try it again.

I only listen to content for both short and long form. If it’s short form I archive the content if I don’t plan to return to it and put it in a folder if I would like to revisit. For books I bookmark, highlight and add comments. For most reading I listen around 450 words/min, but if it’s reading for pleasure I slow it down to 325ish. I’m dyslexic and find that I retain content far better and enjoy reading much more if I listen instead of sight read.

When I read coding books I don't read, I work through them.

I have 3 windows open side by side: 1 the ebook I'm reading 2 emacs for typing the examples (typing is mandatory no copy paste) 3 Anki to create flash cards of what I've learned. Since I don't want to forget the hard to acquire knowledge I just got.

When I was younger maybe I had time to waste. But now I must make every minute spent reading count.

I find that I zone out if I put the windows side by side, so no better than copy paste. Instead I have the emacs frame cover the ebook while I'm typing. I do a _lot_ of Alt-Tabbing between the ebook and the editor, but the code is guaranteed to enter my head before it goes out my fingers.

For a while, I was writing up bullet-point summaries of the books I liked best. Haven't been able to keep it up, but I think it's the best way to really crystallize the learning. http://bookoutlines.pbworks.com/w/page/14422658/FrontPage

I almost exclusively read programming books and buy paper books for ~200 EUR a year. I read with a highlighter pen and mark pages with dog ears. The books look like I really read them and sometimes I have different colors which doesn't mean anything, it's just that I had a different colored highlighter.

I think I don't read them from end to end. Mostly I read what is interesting to me.

I get a big stack of books from the library and pick one at night. I try to avoid anything technical and have been trying to read more fiction. I usually get way more than I will read to give myself choices - after all, it's free either way. I have a plain .txt I write down things I might want to check out in.

So much of my life is planned and optimized, it's nice to be analog for a bit.

I just read a chapter or two a night so that I always make progress and have time for reading.

As for remembering, you won't remember everything. I think the commentor that said it's about shaping your mind over time is correct.

It's just like how you want to surround yourself with smart/successful people. You might not remember everything they say or do but it shapes you.

"iron sharpens iron"

On the rare occasion I do sit down and read a book (I usually don't, since I'm dreadfully slow at it), I've felt the second or third read to have a far more lasting impression on me than the first; more of what I read actually feels like it "sticks". This works best when I give myself ample time between reads (on the scale of months or years).

Check out speed reading guides. Even if you find they don't help you read faster, some of the techniques help you feel more engaged:


Here is a guide to reading articles in the modern world:


Synopsis: 1. Use a reading list 2. Pay attention to reading environment (what app/device, lighting, noise-level) 3. Use a dictionary 4. Talk about it 5. Follow journalists 6. Increase quality, read less

I can’t read... if I pick up a book I just can’t stay focused and read. If I read blog posts it’s fine I can consume that and move on. But novels, tech books, etc. I just cannot focus enough to read. I’ve never figured out how to solve this.

I feel more hands on. I can fiddle with code for hours and hours and get consumed. Build furniture. Build a model. But reading. Nope.

I find the most important part about reading a book to be what happens before I start. Specifically, the process I use to select what to read. We're given a very small amount of time in life, and reading a meaty book, especially non-fiction, isn't quick. So I want to make sure I'm getting the most out of the experience by filtering as many bad books as possible beforehand.

I use my book reader as a kind of reading list. When I get book recommendations from conversations or HN threads, I'll download the free sample to read later as soon as possible. This way, I never forget about a potentially interesting book.

I also actively hunt for book recommendations in threads on HN, which pop up from time to time. There was a really good one recently, but I've lost the link. They're easy to search for, though.

Usually, I don't start reading the sample right away because I'm already reading another book.

After I'm done with a book, I go through my unread samples, pick one, and begin. If the book hasn't hooked me by the end of the sample, I stop reading. Sometimes sooner if it's really bad.

The second most important part of reading a book is to discuss it as you're reading it. This usually takes the form of in-person conversations or online. I find this helps me retain the material and discover what I've missed.

You'll never retain anything about a book if you don't try to apply it in some way. This means writing, talking, and doing should all be key parts of reading. If the book doesn't lend itself to these activities, it's probably not worth reading.

Also on the subject of retention, I find reading books in a themed series to be helpful. For example:

Sapiens -> 1491 -> 1493

The first book got me thinking about the relationship between human activity and megafauna extinctions. The second book showed me that most of my assumptions about what pre-columbian America was like were almost completely wrong. The last book taught me to take the long view of globalization.

All of these books changed my mind on topics I thought I understood, which is another signal I use when selecting a book. If it can't possibly change my mind, it's not worth reading. Books that don't pass the test typically: (a) lack a well-developed point of view; or (b) approach the subject from a direction I'm already familiar with.

I’ll only add one tip here because I haven’t seen it mentioned, and it has helped me read and retain information better. Also read more interesting things to me.

I use Blinkist as a way to “skim/filter” books I _really_ want to learn more about.

I also keep notes (sometimes excerpts, sometimes my thoughts, sometimes a mix) in Bear for each book I read (even from Blinkist).

I try not to read as many books as possible but instead limit it to 2-3 per week. I could probably do one a day if I Really wanted to, but I find spacing it out helps me spend time in between reflecting on the book I just read, what it means to me, and I generally make note of that somewhere if I really want to remember it.

Is that 2-3 fiction books per week? Where do you find time to read 2-3 books per week? Do you speed read?

Speed reading doesn't really exist; it's just skimming. Even the fastest reader in the world will admit they lose details and don't enjoy it as much. You might be interested in checking this video out.


I commute to work on the train (~ 40 minutes each way) and spend a lot of time reading after work or on the weekends. I don't think I speed read, but not sure what the threshold is for that.

I think your question could be better focused. Do you mean "How do others retain information from non-fiction books they've read?"

I read, mostly on my Kindle, mostly at night before falling asleep. I gladly re-read books I've enjoyed and usually get a lot more out of it the second go-around compared to the first.

“I cannot remember the books I've read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.”

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

You shouldn’t read too many books. Just read the good ones (that’s up to you) a lot

People walk around with encyclopedic knowledge of Star Wars. Why? Reps for Jesus!

Other than that, all the best books I’ve read (as in over and over) have been by accident. I just had a feeling about the book. Nothing good ever came my way via recommendation

Fiction: I use small post-its to mark when a new character is introduced.

Non-Fiction: I hop around in the book first, then I read it through from beginning to end making notes in my book of stuff. These notes may link to other books. I also use post-its to mark bits I find most intersting or useful.

I read books to find out; what I don’t know, that I don’t know.

When I find these new things I use that a stepping stone for further investigation. After a while I totally switch area for a while.

It’s all about connecting the dots, and having a good time while doing it. For me this is also the way I remember it.

Interested in this. I was a self taught reader at 3-4 years of age, and feel I'm not as good as those that learned with the benefit of teaching. I read very fast, like "book in a day", but pretty clearly skimming. Suspect I'm missing out on key info.

My recent innovation was using a notecard as a bookmark, and writing on it page numbers and begginning word of excerpts I'll take down to my notebook later on. This way, it's still portable, I don't dmaage the book, and I'm able to take notes.

I check out e-books from my library using overdrive and my Kindle. Some months I read no books, some months I read a few! I find it is good to occasionally have a wait between books, it keeps me reading at a steady pace so I have time to think about each book.

If I read some book to learn then I might read it many times sometime even 10. After reading I try to connect dots in my head if I am not able to connect I try to fill the missing link by re-reading it. For normal reading I sometime skip if it is too obvious.

Here is how I read and annotate scientific articles and books: http://www.founderscholar.com/how-to-read-doctoral-student/

Part of what you are asking is "How do you study in earnest?"

Head First books have a lot of good practical tips for how to learn new material, such as "read in bed just before sleeping." I did that a lot in high school and college.

If there are no graphs or formulas in the book, I prefer to use a text-to-speech engine. Over the years I've become able to listen to it on great speeds. It feels easier to comprehend spoken language.

When I read fiction I used to read like you, one after another, always had to have a book on the go. I ended up feeling like you did so I haven't really read a fiction book in a few years now.

The retention problem is one that bothered me as well. So much so that at some point I really cut down my nonfiction reading. I figured if I would retain only 10% or less 6 months later, then in reality I'm reading for entertainment, not to enlighten myself.[0] If that's the case, why not just read fiction?

So I decided to take notes. But then I thought of all the notebooks I filled in school (and still have some), and never looked at after the semester was over. Notes in a notebook are not much better.

So I made a blog, and for every book I read, I make blog posts with the highlights. The idea is that it will be on the Internet, and I can review them whenever and wherever I want to. I did this for a while, but noticed I never went back to review my notes. Still, I considered this an improvement.

Taking serious notes, BTW, slowed down my reading probably 3-5x.

Along the way I realized I can't always be near a computer while reading. So I started taking notes in a notebook and transcribing later. Fountain pens for the win!

Anyway, since I still wasn't reviewing my notes often, I decided to take it one step further. I used org-drill[1] to make flashcards of things I would like to retain. I started using flashcard software for other reasons in November, and I can say it's been wildly successful when it comes to retention. I've not done it for much of my nonfiction reading, as life has been busy and I've not read much. But I do plan to make flashcards. I still make more refined notes and put them in my blog, though.

Making flashcards is not a significant effort. Mostly it's copy pasting material from my usual notes blog.

Now this all may seem overkill, and perhaps literally killing the joy of reading books. But as I said, if I'm not remembering 80-90% of a book I enjoyed, then the only reason I'm reading it is entertainment. And fiction provides for better entertainment.

[0] Here's an extreme example: In 2014, I was reading Willpower. It was amazing. I recall several times saying to myself "Wow!". After reading it, I decided to reread Thinking, Fast and Slow and take notes. I had read it less than a year prior, but had not taken notes. Still, I did feel I hadn't forgotten much. What did I find out? Over half of my "Wow!" moments for Willpower were in Thinking, Fast and Slow. So not only had I forgotten so much within a year, I did not even recognize it when reading it again!

(Let's ignore the question of whether most of Willpower is junk science).

[1] Most people use Anki if you don't want to use Emacs. Org drill has the benefit that I type up my notes in Org Mode anyway.

If it's a good book I resd it as fast as I can, enjoying every moment of it. 6 years later I forgot everything and get to read it again. Twice the fun and bang for the buck! :)

1 to 3 books a week depending on their size. Last year went through about 80 of them.

Because of the vast amount of info after reading I create a summary diary so as to absorb the info a bit better.

This is a pretty good advice [https://fs.blog/reading/]

"I dont remember every meal I've eaten or every book I've read but they're part of me either way" - I think e.b. white

purely Audio Books in the car. I have a wishlist on Audible and some bookmarks for other books that aren't on audible that I have to find elsewhere.

I've had enough recommendations on HN and IRL to fill up my wishlist for some time. Beyond that, I usually go to a "top 100" fantasy/scifi list. After I've had enough fiction I'll throw in some learning material.

Love this question. Something I've thought a lot about! My personal reading strategy has a few interrelated parts:

Building an antilibrary

What books should be “on my list”? A while back I started out with making an Amazon wish list and adding any books I found that looked interesting. That soon got overwhelming so I made a smaller, more selective list for my top “antilibrary” picks. Eventually I decided to make a whole website to try to organize this better (https://www.antilibrari.es/).

I think it’s probably worth keeping either a couple lists (by genre, priority, whatever makes sense to you) or at least one high priority list of the books you most want to read. For me it can be helpful to differentiate between “looks super interesting” and “I actually really want to read this soon” — often different! Some books I think are awesome and want to have in my antilibrary but I know realistically I probably won’t read em soon. That’s okay!

What to read next?

I think it can be a good idea to revisit your list(s) every so often and let the ones you’re most drawn to bubble to the top. No need to actually buy more than a few at a time, but you’ll always have something to draw from. I should also note, honestly lots of the books I buy aren’t ones I’ve had on a list for a long time, but rather ones I found at a bookstore and picked up in the moment…serendipity is always great too!

Same goes for actually choosing what to read next…I don’t plan this out ahead of time, it’s always slightly random based on what I have on hand, what mood I’m in, etc. I think it’s useful to own enough books that you always have a variety to choose from, but past a certain point a great antilibrary list can be almost as valuable as your actual bookshelves.

How to read what and when

I like to read several books in parallel. Often with fiction I’ll read one book straight through, but nonfiction…I have like two dozen books in my nightstand that I’ve started, some way through, haven’t necessarily read for a while, but meaning to return to at some point.

I’m not particularly good at the “when to stop reading” part. I have completionist tendencies and always want to at least try to finish a book. So perhaps the “parallel processing” approach is also just an easier way to abandon books without feeling bad about it. Either way I think haphazardly reading lots at once is great. @edouard wrote a cool post that’s on point here, discussing “reading networks” and how books can inform one another and let you build interesting connections between them.

Different modes / approaches to reading

Also worth thinking about different ways of reading a book…not just the approach to choosing books but the actual practice, because it can be surprisingly varied.

I think in some ways it’s easier to evaluate non-fiction books (vs. fiction, poetry etc.) because they tend to have more structure. Often I can read a couple pages of the introduction, scan the chapter list, and flip through the book (physically or digitally if I’m able e.g. on Amazon) to get a decent overall impression.

I try to read a good number of reviews, on Amazon + Goodreads when available, otherwise see what Google turns up. Of course have to take everything with a grain of salt but it’s usually helpful to see the range of perspectives. Often I think a book with a good number of extremely enthusiastic reviews but some that hate it will be a better pick than one with consistent blandly positive reviews.


To plug my own site - I started a small forum for talking books, libraries, and reading, and a few discussions come to mind that are very on topic here (and that I've drawn from in my above post):

- Developing a reading strategy: https://athenaeum.antilibrari.es/t/developing-a-reading-stra...

- Reading non-fiction: https://athenaeum.antilibrari.es/t/reading-non-fiction/93

- Personal library organization: https://athenaeum.antilibrari.es/t/personal-library-organiza...

- Developing a “non-reading” practice: https://athenaeum.antilibrari.es/t/developing-a-non-reading-...

if that is technical read, probably notes alongside is how I do. If a non-fiction or fiction, slow read and savor what you read is something.

First, choose the topic really matters to you.

Then find one good book in this field and read it carefully while doing practices.

Find other books in this field to broaden your thinking.

I have a sort of loose collection of books I'm 'in the middle of' or 'planning to read' at any given time. Generally, I'll pick up a book that I've started that I'm in the mood for, but if something I haven't started is more exciting, then I'll start it.

Stuff that's not engaging me stays in the pile, and anything I've started but haven't picked up in a few months migrates back to the shelf. Sometimes this is because it's a bad book & not actually worth reading, but more often, it's because the place I'm at in my life is getting in the way of enjoying it (for instance, it's too dense right now because work stress is eating up all my cycles & I need to stick to something breezy, or it engages with topics that hit too close to home right now & I'm too emotionally drained to deal with it at the moment, or I really need to read a different book first in order to make sense of it).

Ebooks work the same way for me, but I read them under different circumstances. The ebooks I have on my phone get read during breaks at work or during mandatory social events -- situations where I don't have reliable internet or access to my bookshelf but also am liable to be quite bored. The ebooks I have on my computer at home get read when I'm sitting at my computer but would rather read them than twitter or something (which is unusual, but this still happens whenever I do a periodic social media fast, which I have to do every few months for a week or two for the sake of my sanity).

I've always had a pretty good memory for things I read so long as they're nonfiction, and while I can't remember fiction narratives to save my life, I don't think that's the purpose of fiction. (I can recite the first five or six pages of Neuromancer, having read it hundreds of times in high school, but I can barely tell you a plot synopsis because my brain just doesn't work that way: narratives are an alien thing, and they wash out of my memory like rain off a duck's back.) This means that I can generally pick up a nonfiction book after not touching it for five or ten years & have no problem continuing it, but that I have to read fiction in one sitting if the plot matters at all to the enjoyment. (This basically means that I only end up finishing works of fiction that are enjoyable for their stylistic qualities -- novelists who are secretly poets or humorists, like Gibson, Stephenson, Dellio, Eco, or Wilson. I have read a lot of PKD, but it's always a struggle.)

One reason I might remember nonfiction so well is that, by habit, when I read I'm constantly summarizing & rephrasing in my head. This slows me down a lot when I start shouting at the author in my head instead! But, it means that I have at least connected what the author's saying to other things I know & integrated it into some kind of ontology.

When I want to understand something I don't read a book, I read multiple books about a topic. I did this and got quite informed about many useless topics (energy industry, austrian economics, history of science). Instead if I jump topics from one book to the next, I lose basically everything. Also if you re-read books after some time, you get new insights.

As for programming (probably for anything you treat as a profession), I've noticed that you cannot beat practice, but if the topic is new to you, it's better to read the whole book first. It's much faster because you see what to expect and don't waste time when you practice on stuff that is easy and not as powerful as something else. Also you don't waste comfiguring tools only to discover that the tech doesn't really interest you anyway.

I read on my phone/tablet these days. I backpacked around for 11 months straight once and having physical books and keeping notes was difficult. I use to just buy books from Google/Amazon/B&N, but these days I'll usually just buy some merch from an author or support their podcast (if they have one) and pirate the book because I hate vendor lock-in.

I usually try to switch back and fourth between fiction and non-fiction. I'll read two or three fictional novels and then maybe some non-fiction. I'm not a huge fan of non-fiction. A lot of them they draw out a 100 page book into a 300 page extended essay because that's what publishers want to sell books at the current market prices. I'd rather they sell 150 page non-fiction if they could get the same point across. (Sam Harris brought this up when he self published the short book: Islam and the Future of Tolerance, which is on my list).

I think at one time I might have switched between two books throughout my reading, but today I usually read one all the way through.

I do want to read more. Here's what I finished last year:

Books 2018:

  Cibola Burn

  Nemesis Games

  The Dictator's Handbook

  The Mythical Man Month

  Ready Player One

  The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays
and 2019 so far:

  The Fountainhead

  Wrinkle in Time

  The Men who Stare at Goats

  The Coddling of the American Mind

  Babylon's Ashes

  The Strange Death of Europe

  Persepolis Rising

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