I consider myself a relatively careful reader.
I take little notes in the margins.
Dog-ear important pages.
Maybe jot a few things down in a notebook as I go along.
And yet I am stunned whenever I happen to go back to a book for a second or even a third time how little I remember of the contents.
I’m not talking about reading to study for a test, mind you. I can usually retain what I need to long enough for that sort of thing. And besides, the days of having to take anything other than self-imposed tests are long behind me.
No, I am talking about the book that I put on my list because I thought it sounded really interesting. The book I devoured over the course of a week or so and then place dutifully on those shelves my wife and I were so thrilled to have built in our living room.
A year later, if I happen to pick up that same book, I am lucky if I can remember the first thing about it. For example, I had this experience recently with Steven Pinker’s How the Mind Works. Ironic. Apparently the mind doesn’t work all that well over the long haul.
So here’s what I plan to do: re-read regularly.
Yes, I know there are all sorts of tips out there about retaining more of what you read. Josh Kauffman, for instance, highlights some valuable ones over on The Personal MBA blog as does Tim Ferris on his blog. Useful stuff in certain situations, but a great deal of my reading is purely for the pleasure of it, and while I most definitely want to learn from it, I don’t want to become obsessive and make it into a chore.
So, I’m going to re-read.
Specifically, as a reader suggested on a Pick the Brain post on lifelong learning I did a while back, I’m going to re-read an old book for every three or so new books I read. I’m also going to start noting down what I have read and when – inspired by a friend who always writes the place and date of the things he reads in the front of the book.
I’m not sure how much that will help, but I am betting it will help quite a bit. What do you think? Is re-reading part of your learning habit? What helps you retain what you read?
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