5 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Books

Successful people have one thing in common: they are incessant readers. Increase your chances of success by copying their reading habits.

Successful people are successful readers. The act of reading is a means to an end. This is where I went wrong. I acted on observable data: their self-professed love of reading and their overt success. I didn’t attribute their success to how they applied the ideas about which they read. Smarter people than I have laid the groundwork for the layperson. Mortimer Adler, in his book, How to Read a Book, lays out a way to get the most out of books. He does so in generous detail.

The bottom line is that readers must read worthy books with purpose (actively).

Now, let’s dive in with five points to an Adlerian process of reading.

1. Not every book is worthy of your time.

Surprise surprise. I’ve got an infinity stack of books that have, at some point, sparked some interest for me. I’m okay with not reading most of those books. Quality always trumps quantity. Recovering completionists must realize there are more books than time to read them. Pick books that matter to you. Be stingy with your precious time.

2. Ask yourself questions of the reading.

Questions compel us to answer them. This is active reading. The Adlerian questions are:

What is the book about? Summarize it so the average person can understand it. This simplification is not for them. It is for you. You can only distill the concept to its simplest form if you understand it well enough.

Is the book true in whole? In part? Compare the book’s ideas with other ideas on the topic. How is it similar? Different? And why is this significant? This act strengthens your understanding because it forces critical thinking. After consuming more content on the subject, you get to see how other experts think.

So what? Why is this stuff even important? This the reason you decided to pick up and finish this book. You have done so because it adds value to your life. It increases your understanding in important concepts that affect society.

3. Take (and process) Notes.

Own the book. Own the concepts and ideas the book discusses. Taking notes accomplishes this. Write in the margins. Underline key passages. Do whatever you must do to highlight the key points in the book. In sum, read with a pencil or pen in hand.

Marking up a book is not enough. Process those notes shortly after the reading session. Paraphrase and summarize these ideas in your words. The ideas live in our short-term memory. They lose fidelity the more time passes. I am guilty of this on more occasions than I care to admit.

4. Make reading a habit.

Any task is daunting if there is no end in sight. Large and complex books tend to scare aspiring readers. They don’t see the book as a source of knowledge. They see the book as a huge time commitment. Use the Pomodoro technique. Set a timer for 25 minutes. Turn off all distractions for this period. It doesn’t matter where you end in your reading session. Your reading session ends when the timer rings. Be okay with that. If you haven’t read in a while, set the timer for a shorter period. If you can do 20 minutes, set the timer for 15 minutes. The goal is to make it so easy to stick to this habit. Your reading muscles will grow the more you read. Increase these Pomodoro sessions over time.

5. Write about your findings and interests.

Consuming content is great. Producing content is better for the lifelong learner. The smartest people in any topic tend to be prolific writers on that topic. Thomas Sowell wrote endless amounts of books and articles on most societal problems. He is one of the most authoritative speakers on economics. He didn’t become so by only reading books. His body of economic writing played a crucial role. Write, and publish, about the books you read. We can’t all be like Sowell, but writing would still sharpen our minds.

I hope you find value from any one of these points from Dr. Mortimer Adler. I know I have.

Good luck in your pursuit of knowledge!

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The Sophist

The Sophist

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