Sunday, October 23, 2016

The art and science of reading a book

All of us know how to read, so what's the big deal about learning how to read a book ? Didn't we learn this in nursery ?
You'll be surprised how many bad habits most of us have regarding reading.
The world changes rapidly , and we need to keep up with new advances. This is why we need to absorb information all the time. Now, it's true that everyone has different preferred modes of learning,  but reading a book is still the gold standard.
Yes, there are multiple additional options - for example, attending a conference ; talking to experts ; or watching a video, a book still remains the best way of absorbing a lot of concentrated information very quickly. Because an author is usually an expert who has taken the time and trouble to condense his knowledge into a book, the density of high quality information you will find within the covers of a well-written book  is far higher than you would find in any other resource.
This is why it's so important to learn how to read a book properly.
For many of us, reading remains a chore. We read books in school because we were forced to read them. They were assigned as homework, and we had to suffer through them. We were never taught how to read non-fiction efficiently, as  a result of which most of us remain mired in our bad habits.  For many people, being forced to read a book brings back a lot of unhappy memories, because they were compelled to ruin their summer holidays slogging through a dense tome as part of their homework.
 This can be such a shame , because a book is really a great tool which allows you to have a one-on-one conversation with a world-class expert , who is willing to share everything he knows about a particular topic with you.  You can tap into his brain for a few rupees. Imagine how much more you would have to spend if you had to fly down to listen to him speak at a conference !
 We deprive ourselves of a great opportunity of getting wiser by refusing to read. Really, what's the difference between someone who is illiterate and someone who refuses to read?
 The good news is it's not hard to acquire the right reading habits. You need to start off with being picky and choosy about what you read, so please don't waste your time reading trash . It's tempting to pick up the current nonfiction bestseller, but this is often not the best use of your time, because many of these are just hyped up to increase their sales. It's often better to stick to time-tested classics which have stood the test of time.
 Please also remember that you need different reading styles, depending upon what value you want to get out of the book. The way you read a fiction novel will be completely different from the way you read a textbook, which again will be different from the way you read a book written for a layman about what everyone needs to know about artificial intelligence.
 The trick is to read actively , not passively. What does that mean?  You need to be in the right frame of mind, and you need to prepare yourself for the task of absorbing wisdom from the book. It's like having a conversation with someone wise , because this is what a well-written book is all about. Just like the writer takes a lot of trouble to write down his thoughts, you as the reader need to take the time and effort to absorb and assimilate what he wants to share with you.
 Lots of people take pride in keeping their books in pristine condition, because they have been taught that you shouldn't make marks on a book - doing so means that you are disrespecting it. This is completely false. The whole point of owning a book means you need to own the knowledge in that book. The only way to do this is by making notes in the book. Feel free to highlight and to scribble in the margins - this will help to make sure that what you read will stick !
 A lot of people still believe that a book needs to be read from cover to cover, starting from page 1 all the way to the end. This is not true, and can actually  be counter-productive, because it slows you down.
Few books need to be read from cover to cover, so before you start, think about what you hope to get from that book.  What do you already know about that topic ?  what are your existing mental models ? what  do you hope that this book will teach you? You will then be able to absorb what you need to know from the book far more efficiently and quickly.
You first need to start by skim-reading. In order to understand the overall layout of the book , read the chapter headings . You may find that you already know a lot of the stuff in many of the chapters, so you can skip these. You don't need to plow through stuff you already know - you can go directly to where the gold is.
 Lots of books are well-structured. They will often have a summary at the start of each chapter which lay out the highlights, and you may choose to read just those. You can then selectively read only those chapters which you feel will tell you stuff you didn't already know. It is important to read with a pencil or a pen in your hand so you can annotate the book. This is the only way of making sure that the book becomes yours - that the knowledge has passed from the author's brain into yours.
 It's important that you share this knowledge with other people.  This is the best way to ensuring that you  remember the author's message - by being able to put it in your own words.
 This will allow you really master the art of reading a book, so that you become smarter and more well-informed.
 There are lots of tools online which can help you to read books more intelligently.  Reading the reader's reviews on Amazon can give you a lot of insights into what other readers have gained from the book, and this will help you to put the book's information in the right context.
There are plenty of book abstracting services which provide book summaries, and these can be very helpful because they allow you to absorb the gist of the book quickly. There are lots of Youtube versions of book, so you can watch the video, if you are a visual learner. And you can always listen to the audio book version if your preferred  learning style is auditory.
 Do remember that well-written books have a well-defined structure, and you need to parse this if you want to extract the maximum value from the book. Understanding the structure will help you to make sense of what the author is trying to say. This is why chapter headings, chapter summaries, figures, tables, and the subheadings within the chapter are of such value, because they act as signposts and beacons. Not only do they help the writer, they're designed to help the reader as well, to extract what he needs. There is a reason why the author has laid out his book in a particular way, and you need to understand this.
There can be lots of gems hidden within a book, and you need to study these carefully. Thus, looking at the images is very helpful. Figures and their captions summarize a lot of information, and are much easier to remember. Tables are also remarkably valuable, because they condense a lot of wisdom , and you should not overlook these.
 The best way of making sure that you've mastered the information in the book is to be able to try to reconstruct the contents. This should be your own words - you don't have to be a slave to what the writer has used, because his mental model is going to be different from yours.
 If you need to learn something new, reading a book is often the best investment of your time , because your knowledge base is your most valuable personal asset, and you need to keep on honing this. Once you learn to enjoy reading books , just imagine the world of treasures which are now open before you !

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