I fricken love reading. Over the last 12 months I’ve actively tried to spend more time reading with the purpose of learning new ideas and approaches to improve my practice as a designer. These books have varied in topic from marketing and branding to innovation and psychology.
Unfortunately just reading a stack of books doesn’t mean you now possess the knowledge that they contain. There is a difference between reading for understanding and reading for information. If what your reading is easy to digest, chances are it's reading for information. There are two types of readers, the passive reader and the active reader. Passive readers forget what they have read as soon as they have read it while active readers retain most of what they read. I strive to be an active reader.
This article states that ‘to get the most out of each book we read it is vital to have a plan for recording, reflecting on, and putting into action the conclusions we draw from the information we consume.’ To be an active reader we need to have strategies in place that will help us get the most out of each book we read. If you search the internet there are many different methods to maximise your reading but here are a few common ideas that keep popping up.
Firstly, think of reading a book as a conversation between you and the author. Then, get out your PEN! You will be taking notes, underlining and doing all sorts of mark making when actively reading a book. This is how you will be engaging with the author. Edgar Allen Poe wrote ”Marking a book is literally an experience of your differences or agreements with the author. It is the highest respect you can pay him.”
Before diving in it’s important to get an overall understanding of what the author is trying to say and get some context - what is this book about, when was it written? Read the table of contents, preface, skim the index or bibliography even. This will set the tone and structure of what you are about to engage in.
The next stage is to do a quick skim read or X-ray of the whole book - this should be done in one sitting and you pretty much just want to read the first sentence of each paragraph. The purpose of this is to get familiar with how ideas or arguments are presented by the author but also to see if it's worth reading the book in the first place. If you don’t come across anything that you are looking forward to returning to, then don’t go back! There is no shame in not reading the whole book. We should start lots of books but only finish a few.
The next read through is the big one, this is to analyse and understand the author’s intent. It's recommended that you read in 90 minute blocks to avoid learning fatigue and keep your mind fresh. If you find a paragraph particularly interesting or complicated, read it out loud. Stop, think about it. This is where your pen and or highlighter will come in handy. Take note - ‘this blew my mind’ ‘I have no idea what you're saying’ - this is a chance to engage with the author.
When marking up a book, it helps to create a key that you can use throughout to help identify different types of information. For example you might use a highlighter to mark keywords and phrases or you might circle words that you want to look up later on. A box around an idea might be so you can write about it later on in your blog! It's important that you use a set of markers that you understand and are comfortable using - keep it simple.
When you have finished reading the book, put it down. Don’t look at it for a week! When you pick it up again, there will be this lovely connection. You are now holding a book that is truly yours. You can flick through and easily see your highlight reel. Your mark up should hopefully make it easy to find the parts that resonated and find passages you want to reread.
Actively reading books is essential if you actually want to learn and retain what you are reading. It requires extra effort and time but the payoff is access to the insights and offerings of the incredible authors who are willing to share their expertise. That’s pretty awesome.