How I read


I read a lot of books on a number of different subjects.

Someone recently asked me if I follow a system for completing books.

I don't know that I use a system but I developed a series of guiding principles that serve me well.

I thought it might help to share those principles here.

1) Don't be afraid to stop reading a book and put it back on the shelf so I can move on to another book that might be a better fit right now.

Reading feels like physical exercise in that while I do it mostly for growth, I choose books or exercises that don't feel like chores.

This approach works way better than trying to force myself to finish a book that is a bad fit for me at that particular time because doing so will most likely cause me to feel stuck and accomplish nothing.

The guilt that comes with being stuck on a book that doesn't serve me isn't worth it. I let it go and move on.

2) Underline at will. Jot down ideas in the margins. Doggy ear pages. Draw cartoons of my Surrogate Asian Father next to key ideas.

I buy books so they can become mine. I treat them as such.

This process helps me return to books later and quickly digest what I considered the most important ideas and sections during earlier readings.

My books serves as tools rather than collector's items.

3) Follow feelings of curiosity in choosing books.

In regard to the internal debate people sometimes experience over whether they should read book A or book B first, I choose to follow curiosity in selecting books.

I prefer to read one book I feel deeply curious about. It works better for me than reading two books I'm interested in for other reasons.

I know that curiosity will lead to deeper insights than I'd otherwise receive from books I read for other "external" reasons.

4) Forget about how I learned to read in school, which meant trying to remember all the "whats" rather than the main "whys."

If I want to read a meaningful number of books, I must accept I can't expect to remember off the top of my head what the author of a book I read two years ago wrote on the 14th page of chapter six—regardless of what my tenth grade English literature teacher taught me about how reading works.

I focus on the main ideas and concepts that will impact my life. I know that if I approach reading in this manner, the important thoughts from the book become much more likely to stick with me in the future.

5) As Ramit Sethi once wrote—and as Ryan Holiday, who first inspired me, said—when in doubt, just buy the damn book.

Sometimes I take a step back and feel amazed at how inexpensive books are.

It's incredible if you think about it—all this carefully cultivated knowledge in one easily accessible object you can carry with you wherever you go?

Fucking amazing.

If there's a book I feel inspired by, I purchase it because I trust that feeling of inspiration.