How I Digest a Book

I’m very fortunate to have parents who encouraged me to read from a very young age; doing so vastly improved my grasp of the English language and gave me a head-start when I began to study it in second level school. When I hit seventeen, my interest began to shift from fantasy, fiction novels, to fact books, mainly on the topics of business, finance, technology and self-improvement. I’ve read several books which I highly recommend everyone of every age to read, and will do a blog post on that in the future.

But my approach to reading books has largely stayed the same. It gets read, then put on a shelf. The parts I find really important will stick in my head, and I might discuss some of the interesting ideas and stories with friends. If it’s really good I might re-read it. And that was the process for every book I read.
Then, in December 2016, I read “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, Dale Carnegie’s masterpiece. In the introduction, he has written an area called “Nine suggestions on how to get the most out of this book”. In it, he suggests that the reader

  • Re-read every chapter after reading it
  • Re-read the book every month
  • Take notes on the blank pages at the end of the book
  • Highlight, underline, write notes in the margin


All of this makes sense, though I had reservations about the last one; my father never liked writing on books. So, I decided to change the way I read books. I wanted to get more out of the books I was reading, as I’d recently purchased some fantastic books with very good ideas and practices in them. I re-read chapters, and I make notes and highlight good parts with a pen.

I keep a notebook for “Book Notes”. When I finish a book I really liked and learned a good amount from, I go back through it, chapter by chapter, taking notes based on what I’ve highlighted. Every page in the notebook is indexed, and when I finish the book, I write up the chapters into the index at the front of the book. So, when I’m starting a new assignment in college that I’m the team leader for, it takes me 5-10 seconds to open my notebook, and find the page from a book on productivity that details how to handle a team and be an efficient, fair leader.

The downside to all of this is that it’s bloody slow, especially compared to how I read books prior to this. But it’s worth it, if the book meets a certain standard. And the better it is, the more detailed the notes I take. Writing in the material reinforces the ideas in my head, and gives me a better grasp of the material being discussed.

I carry at least one book in my bag at all times. When I catch myself endlessly scrolling reddit on my phone, I read it. When I’m in a car as a passenger, I read it. If I’m early to an event or meeting, I read it. Getting into this practice of reading when I’m twiddling my thumbs or wasting time on my smartphone, has allowed me to read even more. To quote the article listed under “Further reading:”,

The purpose of reading is not just raw knowledge. It’s that it is part of the human experience. It helps you find meaning, understand yourself, and make your life better


Further reading:

How To Read More by Ryan Holiday. I devour everything this man writes.

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