Matt D’Avella published this video on YouTube recently. In it, he describes his problem of never remembering what a book was about. He tested himself trying to recall the main points of a bunch of books he had just finished. Although he could remember some points, he was disappointed in how little he did remember.
He used this as a preface for his interview with Ryan Holiday, an author who’s no slouch when it comes to writing and publishing books. Ryan has authored books about philosophy and it’s application to modern life.
In the interview, Ryan describes his reading habits and his note-taking process. Here are some of the main points discussed in the interview:
- Read actual print books. There is just something about an actual book that allows you to focus even more when compared to digital books. Also, we tend to look at screens all day and reading actual books gives us that much needed respite.
- Take notes while reading. Don’t be afraid to write in books. But first make sure you’re not marking up a borrowed book. Naval Ravikant’s approach to book-buying is that they are an investment into your education. Buy away. Skimp elsewhere. Of course, he can say that. He’s got a little more disposable income than the average person. All that being said, books are an opportunity to learn and shouldn’t be seen as an expense. Tangent complete. Mark books quickly as you read passages that you can relate to. No need to write a full analysis in the margins. This is just the first iteration of your note-taking system (the fleeting notes).
- Read the entire book (or whatever parts seem relevant to you). Reading with focus is important. It’s also important not to get bogged down with clarifying yourself and the notes you’ve taken up to that point. Just get through because you’ll have to go back and review those marks.
- Review the places you’ve noted in the book. You’ll be screening more closely these marks for ideas that fit into your current thinking. You should also be reading with a more critical eye. After all, you’re not just reading for enjoyment anymore. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find enjoyment in it. Write down the key ideas and how they connect to your life. This is where you start to see the real value in reading and taking notes. With the insights you’ve noted, write your thoughts in your own words. This is where you start comparing your thinking against what the author had to say.
- File these notes in a note system (analog or digital). Ryan Holiday uses a physical index card system for the same reason he uses physical books- lessens screen time. File new notes into adjacent, and related, notes currently in your system. This growing collection of notes is the physical manifestation of your thinking progressing forward.
- Rinse and repeat.
The bottom line: you will remember the ideas you read in a book much better if you engage with them through note-taking and writing. This may mean you read less books. But the number of books you’ve read is simply a by-product of knowledge. It shouldn’t be the goal of knowledge. I stopped counting the number of books I’ve read annually because it became the goal. And my comprehension and recall suffered.