My college professors would slam down a syllabus at the beginning of a course. Included in these dry outlines were a list of required books. Together with the instructional strategies and methodologies, this document outlined what and how we would learn a subject. I have now been out of college for fifteen years but still love to learn. I consider myself an experiential and visual learner, who simply learned how to learn in college. Most of my progress has been compounded later. Experience is the best teacher but excellent books can incite later actions. This document outlines my framework for reading in 2018. I have written it in part to make sure it is coherent. If someone else finds it useful then all the better. Perhaps I’ll save them some of my mistakes.
Over the last several years my reading methods have evolved. In my twenties, I read things that people recommended. I still love a great referral, but I also began exploring subjects that I simply found interesting. Most of the time I accidentally took a latticework approach, where solid experience in one area would form a foundation for a new area of study. Each subject grafted onto one another.
Then, I began to follow people I knew only indirectly or en masse. Amazon recommendations led me during this phase of my early 30’s. I also found blog authors helpful in curation. However, I recall the distinct reverberation of an echo chamber and wanted to pursue the source. I wanted to weight modern popularity a bit less. I wanted to “go to the fountain” as Di Vinci would say.
So, I started reading bibliographies and denoting references within texts I respected as I read. This allowed me to stitch together common concepts from various authors. Each author became a referral source. If another book was referenced, perhaps it was better? If you repeat this procedure a few times your books tend to get older and more famous. I read and reread these classics numerous times. I made extensive notes and wrote my own theorems… some tested, some abandoned. Survival through time can prove value. If it does not survive, it was probably weak. I have heard of people that won’t read any book written within the last 10 or 20 years. I’m not that extreme but I respect the rough-cut approach more now that just a few years ago.
I have finally realized that I won’t read everything I want in my lifetime. If I keep reading three books per week for the rest of my life and am fortunate enough to live to 85 years of age, I can expect to read only 7,500 more books in my lifetime. I’ve read maybe 1,000 by now. Google says there are 130 million books. That’s less .00007%. Of course, a bunch of the 130M are terrible, but what makes a book terrible?
As I look forward to 2018, I want to blend these aspects into a coherent plan. I read Ezra Pound’s 1934 edition of ABC’s of Reading to learn how to read. He makes some great points. I probably should stir in more poetry, as it is the densest form of language. However, seeing as how I don’t lack self-reliance, I’ll propose my own methodology below.
Widen latticework of applicable knowledge.
Reading 3 books per week average, a person can cover 150 books in a year.
- Allocate one-third of books (~50 per year) to the “most influential” category.
- This can be defined by direct citations or concepts indirectly referenced from a broad base. Popularity times age of book may also help steer your selection.
- Here is a good list to get started. I will pull my next 50 classics from this list:
- The 100 Most Influential Books Ever Written: https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/36714.The_100_Most_Influential_Books_Ever_Written
- Pick out 12 books from this list and order now. Repeat this on quarterly basis or when this pile shrivels. (I have done this! Join me!) The pile should be kept close to your favorite reading chair. I have a bookshelf beside my recliner. Once finished, I port the books to my office for sharing. I write my name and date in the front in case borrower ever wants to return it. The only penalty for being late is receiving fewer recommendations.
- Allocate one-third of annual reading to books recommended by living people I know and respect.
- This necessitates asking for recommendations. I have found that talking about or lending out books that I have read causes reciprocation from others. It also forces me to begin teaching concepts which deepens my understanding. I either form coherent thoughts or realize the fumble in the trying!
- Add books immediately to Amazon cart as recommendations are made. Tell people you are doing this. Nothing bad occurs.
- Order compiled batches weekly.
- Allocate final third of annual reading to recommendations made by authors read during the year.
- This necessitates taking notes. I often read a book as fast as I can first (3x Audible, or Tim Ferris speed reading), then return to re-read it later if justified on the first pass. On my second or third pass I take extensive notes (normally in Evernote for searchability.) This is one of the ways to get more books read in a year… simply lower your standards on the first pass, aim for 85% comprehension or something. You’ll be amazed how much more in aggregate you will pick up. The books still exists if you want to go back over again and again. I have some books I’ve read dozens of times and still maybe less than 50% comprehension even though read slowly.
- Notes will help comprehension and implant foundation to act upon what you are learning. Add in application to your life to see if you understand. I use [brackets] for my own thoughts or actions to live out a particular concept. Walter Isaacson recommends hand written journals so that your grandchildren may learn more directly from you. I’ll try to print notes sometime this year.
- Add one or two books from this source each week to the Amazon order. Order the batch weekly.
Finally, I recommend working from a baseline of concepts that you understand well and stir in opposing points of view. This can be hard and I sometimes find it depressing. I discover that I know less than I thought and it humbles. But, looking back from a grandeur point of view, I can also see that it was through this pain that I truly widened my competence.
I suggest outlining subjects that you know well. This can be evidenced by thorough study, experience acting upon and some level of teaching others. In my original post I had written down some 15 points in my latticework (I used Business, Human Condition & Science as macro categories for my world. I’m weak in Music, Culinary Arts, etc.) But, then, it felt a little like bragging to publish and opted instead to hold those closer. The three underlined sieves above were effective for me filtering my own competence. You might try asking others but I’ve yet to find anyone who knows me quite as well as I know myself.
Again, I hope you find this as helpful as I did. I like having a plan, and I find it useful to write and teach the framework by which that plan was derived. What are your recommendations?