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Literary Gluttony – How to Consume More Books This Year

Literary Gluttony – How to Consume More Books This Year

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    Over 40% of Americans claim not to have read any books in the previous year. The survey was last conducted in 2002, and noted falling reading rates from previous years. I’m sure if you’re reading through lifehack.org that you probably don’t expect reading to stop after you graduate. Yet, with such dismal statistics, how can you beat the odds and read more books this year?

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    Why Bother Reading More?

    I’m sure you’ve seen the advertisements where famous celebrities sit next to a stack of books they haven’t read and tell you to read more. While I agree with the message, the posters take for granted that ordering you to read more is enough to convince you that you should bother.

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    I usually read 50-70 books each year and I believe it is one of the best investments of time and money I can make. But I wasn’t really sold on the process of reading in my spare time until a few years ago. I might only have read four of five books outside of class in 2002. My decision to build the habit of reading more books came from being sold on the benefits of reading more. Here are some of the reasons to start:

    1. Knowledge. It only takes reading 10-20 books on a subject until you know more on that topic than most of the population. Read 200-300 books on a subject and you’re an expert.
    2. Flow. Unlike the passive activity of television, reading takes mental effort. This mental effort results in keeping your mind sharp and engaged.
    3. Self-Improvement. A book doesn’t have to be in the self-help aisle in order to give you ideas for improvement. Great works of fiction, books on science, culture and philosophy are full of ideas that you can’t get just from skimming an online article.
    4. Awareness. What’s happening in the world? What trends are continuing into the future? Where is the world headed? Unfortunately just flicking through the 24-hour news programs on television are more likely to give you advice on the latest antics of Britney Spears than a broad perspective on the world.
    5. Power. Ignorance is not bliss. You can’t change something you don’t know about. Learning about yourself, science, culture and the world as a whole gives you a power most people lack–awareness.
    6. Pride. Not the most noble of benefits, but it still is a plus. Reading classic works of literature gives you the ability to know what people are referring to when they reference ideas like “doublethink” or quote Shakespeare.
    7. Changed Outlook. This one is harder to realize until after you’ve read a few dozen books, but reading great books can completely change your outlook on life. Books force you to think, and while you may feel you’re doing a good job of that already, they can make you think in ways you hadn’t even considered.

    There are many other reasons for reading and I suggest you come up with your own. But wanting to read more (like wanting to exercise, drink less or get promoted) doesn’t make it so. Reading more books requires forming the right habits so that reading becomes an automatic activity, rather than a chore.

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    How to Read More Books This Year

    Here are a few tips for boosting the amount of books you can read:

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    1. Speed Read. Speed reading has been attacked by all sorts of people for being fake, compromising understanding or based on junk-science. I think this is based on the misconception that speed-reading is all about a magical technique that allows you to blur through pages, rather than plain, common-sense habits to make reading faster. There are entire books on speed reading, but here are a few tips that have stuck with me since I first learned to speed read a few years ago:
      • Use a pointer. Run your index finger beneath the text on the page. This keeps your eyes focused on a specific point on the page. After a week or two of adapting to using your finger, this can boost your reading rate considerably.
      • Practice read. Practice reading means “reading” slightly faster than you can actually comprehend. While you won’t get any new information from practice reading, this trains you to read without needing to subvocalize (repeat the words in your head).
    2. Start a Morning Ritual. Recently I decided to set aside time for reading each morning. Following when I wake up at 5:30, I read for an hour and a half. This lets me squeeze in reading time on a schedule that would otherwise be too busy during the day. Even if you can only devote 15-30 minutes of reading each morning you can read 20-30 books each year.
    3. One Book at a Time. Trying to multi-task between books is wasting your time. My rule is that I should continue reading one book until I finish it, or decide to quit it entirely. Putting one book on hold to start another just crowds your to-do list.
    4. Carry a Book With You. If you plan on going anywhere, keep a book with you and you can read if you are forced to wait. Throughout your day there are probably many moments where you have to wait for a few minutes in lines, during breaks or when traveling. Having a book with you means those moments aren’t wasted.
    5. Audio Books. Most popular books have audio versions. While the audio versions are more expensive (use the library), you can have something to play in your car when you are driving or in your iPod when walking around.

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    Scott H Young

    Scott is obsessed with personal development. For the last ten years, he's been experimenting to find out how to learn and think better.

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    Last Updated on September 18, 2019

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes.

    I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

    One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

    Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

    The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

    And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

    What to Write Down

    Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

    Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

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    Dates of Events

    Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

    For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

    Names of People

    Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

    Theories or Frameworks

    Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

    Definitions

    Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

    Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

    Arguments and Debates

    Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

    This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

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    Images

    Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

    Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

    Other Stuff

    Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

    I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

    Your Own Questions

    Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

    3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

    1. Outlining

    Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

    Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

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    For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

    2. Mind-Mapping

    For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

    Here’s the idea:

    In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

    The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

    If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

    You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

    3. The Cornell System

    The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

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    About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

    You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

    In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

    You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

    The Bottom Line

    I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

    I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

    More About Note-Taking

    Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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