The Art Of Reading — What I have learnt about reading and enjoying a book

I read a lot of books. Around 35–40 a year. It’s my favourite activity. Over a period of 6–7 years, I have figured out a few things to make my reading more effective and enjoyable. I also recommend and gift a lot of books to encourage people to read. I have seen that people read more as they get better at it. I felt that sharing some of the things that I have learned about reading will help others get the same enjoyment from it. So I am writing it down. This will also answer almost all the questions people ask me about reading books.

1)Why should you read books?

You get information and knowledge from books. But there are other sources as well. Articles, blogs, forums, videos, talks etc. And a bunch of summary apps.

Well, here’s my reason. Reading is meditative. It leads to a deeper understanding of things. A good book tests the robustness of an idea by putting it through the wringer.

Reading also changes your thinking and your view of the world in general. A lot of people complain that their reading is wasted as they can’t remember what they read. They don’t realize that it’s still there in their subconscious and affecting their thought process in a really powerful way.

2)The cost of reading a book

The monetary cost is actually the least important. If you think it’s expensive, then you really need to get your priorities right in life.

The real cost of reading is the time you spend reading the book. It’s high quality time. You cull it out of the time you could have spent doing a lot of other stuff — time with family, watching a Netflix series , time pursuing a hobby or exercising. Which is why the next point is very important.

And then there is the change reading a book brings about in you (previous point). Another big reason the next point is really important.

3)Getting the right book to read

This is a two step process. Very very important for reasons described above. It can make or break your book reading journey.

First, collect lots and lots of great recommendations. From friends, from Amazon and Goodreads, from famous bibliophiles like Bill Gates , from all the best seller lists and book curtain businesses like the Big Idea Club. This is the Long List.

The next step is to filter the ones which belong to the topics you want to read about (more on that in the next question) and start doing the research. You do that by reading all the reviews.

Just seeing the rating of the review is not enough. Reading the reviews and understanding “why” it’s a great book for you is very important. Sometimes people like or dislike a book for reasons which are not relevant for you. Someone might say I have read all books on this topic and there’s nothing new. But if it’s going to be your first, then the review doesn’t matter.

I have found Goodreads’ reviews to be more reliable than Amazon’s but the latter is still very good. Always trust people who are like you , read a lot , have read the particular book and have no vested interest. If they happen to be people you know very well and trust, then nothing like it. Put their recommendations right on top.

You now have a great Short List of books. Start buying and reading . Never stop adding to your Long List and Short List. Always have enough unread new books lying around ( will tell you why)

Your system should keep getting refined depending on whether you eventually found the books to be great or not.

4)The genre and breadth of your reading. Important to have books waiting for you

Your topics and genres will depend on your long term as well as current professional and personal interests. Remember you read some books to earn your bread and some to feed your soul. So don’t fall in the trap of reading books based on professional development only. Read them to make better sense of the world.

Keep expanding the breadth of your topics. An effective method is to try topics in the neighbourhood of topics you have already read. And every 3–4 months you should try a completely new type of book.

Will give you some examples

If you are reading books about data science and analytics, then stretch yourself and read a book like Football Hackers or Astroball even if you know zilch about sports.

Topics like history, great fiction books, psychology are relevant for everyone. So whatever is your interest, make sure you make time for books like Man’s Search for Meaning and Thinking Fast and Slow.

One of the great joys of reading books is trying a completely new topic and making “connections”. Which brings us to another interesting aspect of reading.

5)Reading multiple books together

I personally believe in reading almost 7–8 books at the same time. That might be excessive but it’s a good idea to read at least 3–4 of them together. Here’s why.

Read similar books together — If you are really interested in a topic, then try reading 2–3 books on the same topic together. Reading different viewpoints gives you incredible perspective. The learning and understanding of the topic goes to another level. I was interested in organization culture and I recently read Creativity Inc , What You Do Is Who You Are and Excellence Wins together. It was fabulous. As I read how different organizations dealt with similar issues in their own way, my understanding became more nuanced.

Also read different types of books together — This helps in two ways. Remember book reading is a mental exercise. Just like physical training, you need to keep varying your exercise routine . Some books are intense. So you need to lighten it up by reading something less heavy. Variety gives you balance. Throwing information from different topics and genres together also helps in creating “connections”.

6) Never forget to highlight and make notes

The most frustrating feeling in the world is to suddenly have an interesting thought or idea based on something you read some time back and not remembering all the key details. Worse you don’t remember where you read it.

Also sometimes you might want to refresh or revisit some of the stuff you read in a book. You know the book but you don’t where in the book. You will end up having to read the entire book again.

If you find a book useful and want to implement some of the learning, you will need notes.

The answer to all of these — highlight and make notes. There are multiple ways of doing it depending on the format. I read physical books, highlight profusely and then make notes on Google Keep. Works for me.

7) Reading has to be enjoyable and there is no need for compulsions .

We already covered mixing it up so that the book doesn’t start to drag.

Never be in a hurry to finish a book. Don’t chase crazy reading goals. The joy is in the journey. It’s like a fine meal. Enjoy it slowly.

It’s ok to not finish a book. Remember the time you will waste on a bad book is more than the money you spent on that book.

It’s important to have a lot of unread books from your Short List. If you are not enjoying what you are reading or need a break from a heavy book, it helps having the choice of your favourite unread books to pick from.

Sometimes you will never read a book. It happens. Sometimes, you lose interest in the topic or the theory evolves and a better book comes around. Or you might just have lots of new super interesting books getting added to your lists and racing to the front of your reading queue. Life is unfair to some books. You could always give it away to someone.

8) Thinking is as important as reading

Thinking is the most beautiful part of reading. This is how “connections” start happening. You have done all this reading from multiple books. Now you need to create a fertile environment in your brain for these diverse ideas to interact with each other ( as well as the old ideas already there) and let magic happen.

Magic happens when new patterns or analogies are synthesized from these random interactions between diverse information pieces.

Some examples.

You find similarities in the enterprise of Afghan invaders and pirates with modern entrepreneurs.

You realise the solution to your hiring problems lie in the way small market sports teams compete in US professional leagues.

This is essentially how creativity is developed in the way Steve Jobs defined it.

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.

So how do you think?

Every few days you keep aside your books and everything else on your mind, lie down, close your eyes and do nothing. Trust me magic will happen.

9) Talking about books

This is another extremely enjoyable experience. Talking to others about the books you read as well as the analogies and patterns you discovered.

This quote from Will Schwalbe captures it best.

“I used to say that the greatest gift you could ever give anyone is a book. But I don’t say that anymore because I no longer think it’s true. I now say that a book is the second greatest gift. I’ve come to believe that the greatest gift you can give people is to take the time to talk with them about a book you’ve shared. A book is a great gift; the gift of your interest and attention is even greater.”

10) My quirk for physical books

I will again quote Will Schwalbe. This is exactly how I feel

“One of the many things I love about bound books is their sheer physicality. Electronic books live out of sight and out of mind. But printed books have body, presence. Sure, sometimes they’ll elude you by hiding in improbable places… But at other times they’ll confront you, and you’ll literally stumble over some tomes you hadn’t thought about in weeks or years. I often seek electronic books, but they never come after me. They may make me feel, but I can’t feel them. They are all soul with no flesh, no texture, and no weight. They can get in your head but can’t whack you upside it.

A physical book is a sensory explosion for me. The smell of the book, the visual messiness of yellowed pages smeared with colourful markers and the nostalgic pleasure of opening up an old book. A physical book shows its age. It’s like your old friend.

11) Have you read all these books ?

A lot of people see all the books that I have and ask this question?

I finally found the best answer for it.

“The writer Umberto Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who are encyclopedic, insightful, and non dull. He is the owner of a large personal library (containing thirty thousand books), and separates visitors into two categories: those who react with “Wow! Signore professore dottore Eco, what a library you have! How many of these books have you read?” and the others — a very small minority — who get the point that a private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market allows you to put it there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.”

Thank you for reading this lengthy piece. I hope this helps and you have a great time reading lots of amazing books. Cheers

CoFounder at CaratLane