Tag: Reading

A System for Remembering What You Read

One year I read 161 books cover-to-cover. And that doesn’t include the ones that I started to read and put down. In the process, I learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t work.

Here’s some of what I’ve learned that works for non-fiction books:

  • Learn How to Read a Book.
  • Deciding not to read the book is OK. Not all books deserve to be read.
  • You can read multiple books at the same time as long as they are different genres. You can read a best-selling business book and a book about nature.
  • When you lose interest give it 5 more pages. Then skim the next chapter. If you’re still not interested put it down. It’s the authors job to keep your attention.
  • Mark up the book while reading it. Questions. Thoughts. And, more important, connections to other ideas.
  • At the end of each chapter, without looking back, write some notes on the main points/arguments/take-aways. Then look back through the chapter and write down anything you missed.
  • Specifically note anything that was in the chapter that you can apply somewhere else.
  • Try the Blanksheet. It’s the single biggest change you can make to increase retention.
  • When you’re done with the book, take out a blank sheet of paper and explain the core ideas or arguments of the book to yourself. Where you have problems, go back and review your notes. This is the Feynman technique.
  • Put the book down for a week.
  • When you pick it back up, reread all of your notes/highlights/marginalia/etc. Time is a good filter — what’s still important? Note this on the inside of the cover with a reference to the page number.
  • Store your blanksheets and core ideas and put them in a binder to review periodically with all the others ones.

One thing that most people don’t appreciate enough is that what you read makes a huge difference in how well you remember things.

We fail to remember a lot of the stuff we read because it’s not building on any existing knowledge. We’re often trying to learn complex things (that change rapidly) without understanding the basic things (which change slowly or not at all). Or, worse still, we’re uncritically letting other people do the thinking for us. This is the adult equivalent of regurgitating the definition of a boldface word in our high school textbook. There is a difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something and if you don’t know where you stand on a subject you’re going to take unwarranted risks.

Acquiring Wisdom

A better approach is to build a latticework of mental models. That is, acquire core multi-disciplinary knowledge and use that as your foundation. This is the best investment because this stuff doesn’t change, or if it does, it changes really slowly. This knowledge becomes your foundation. This is what you build on. So when you read and connect things to the core knowledge, not only do you have a better idea of how things fit together, but you also strengthen those connections in your head.

If you’re looking to acquire worldly wisdom, time is your best filter. It makes sense to focus on learning the core ideas over multiple disciplines. These remain constant. And when you have a solid foundation, it’s easier to build upon because you connect what you’re learning to that (now very solid) foundation.

Teddy Roosevelt’s 10 Rules For Reading

“A book must be interesting to the particular reader at that particular time.”

***

Theodore Roosevelt was perhaps the most well-read president. On a normal day, he’d read a book before breakfast with another two later in the day (allegedly). This puts my reading habits to shame. Over his life, he read thousands of books.

Here is an awesome find from bookriot:

1. “The room for choice is so limitless that to my mind it seems absurd to try to make catalogues which shall be supposed to appeal to all the best thinkers. This is why I have no sympathy whatever with writing lists of the One Hundred Best Books, or the Five-Foot Library [a reference to the Harvard Classics]. It is all right for a man to amuse himself by composing a list of a hundred very good books… But there is no such thing as a hundred books that are best for all men, or for the majority of men, or for one man at all times.”

2. “A book must be interesting to the particular reader at that particular time.”

3. “Personally, the books by which I have profited infinitely more than by any others have been those in which profit was a by-product of the pleasure; that is, I read them because I enjoyed them, because I liked reading them, and the profit came in as part of the enjoyment.”

4. “The reader, the booklover, must meet his own needs without paying too much attention to what his neighbors say those needs should be.”

5. “He must not hypocritically pretend to like what he does not like.”

6. “Books are almost as individual as friends. There is no earthly use in laying down general laws about them. Some meet the needs of one person, and some of another; and each person should beware of the booklover’s besetting sin, of what Mr. Edgar Allan Poe calls ‘the mad pride of intellectuality,’ taking the shape of arrogant pity for the man who does not like the same kind of books.”

7. “Now and then I am asked as to ‘what books a statesman should read,’ and my answer is, poetry and novels – including short stories under the head of novels.”

8. ”Ours is in no sense a collector’s library. Each book was procured because some one of the family wished to read it. We could never afford to take overmuch thought for the outsides of books; we were too much interested in their insides.”

9. “[We] all need more than anything else to know human nature, to know the needs of the human soul; and they will find this nature and these needs set forth as nowhere else by the great imaginative writers, whether of prose or of poetry.”

10. “Books are all very well in their way, and we love them at Sagamore Hill; but children are better than books.”

The Top 3 Most Effective Ways to Take Notes While Reading

Taking Notes While Reading

 

There are three steps to effectively taking notes while reading:

  1. At the end of each chapter write a few bullet points that summarize what you’ve read and make it personal if you can — that is, apply it to something in your life. Also, note any unanswered questions. When you’re done the book, put it down for a week.
  2. Pick up the book again and go through all your notes. Most of these will be garbage but there will be lots you want to remember. Write the good stuff on the inside cover of the book along with a page number.
  3. (Optional) Copy out the excerpts by hand or take a picture of them to pop into Evernote. Tag accordingly.

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I’ve been asked to how to take notes while reading a lot. Often what people are really getting at is how can I better focus, retain, and use what I’m reading. And taking notes while reading can supercharge all of these things if you do it right. However, when we’re taught how to read read, we’re not allowed to write in books. So we never really learn a system for taking notes that we can use as adults.

The first step to taking notes is to figure out why you are taking notes. If you’re studying for an exam your notes are going to look different than if you’re reading for entertainment. The way you take notes depends on the reason you’re taking notes.

Learning something new as an adult is a function of consuming information (what you read and how you read), the information you retain, and your ability to put what you learned into practice (recognize patterns). For this, I use a simple three-step note-taking process that scales up to 150 books a year.

Like almost everything in life, there is no magical answer that fits everyone. You’ll have to do a bit of trial and error and take what works for you.

Taking Notes While Reading

Step One.The first thing I do when I pick up a book is read the preface, the table of contents, and the inside jacket. Often, I’ll glance over the index too. This doesn’t take long and often saves me time, as a lot of books do not make it past this filter. Maybe it doesn’t contain the information I’m trying to gain. If it seems crappy, I’ll flip to a few random pages to verify.

This filter is a form of systematic skimming. This isn’t my term, Mortimer Adler, a guy who literally wrote the book on reading, came up with it. Adler says there are four levels of reading. I tend to blend inspectional reading and analytical reading together for most books.

This way, when I start reading a book, I have an idea what it’s about, the main argument, and some of the terminology involved. I know where the author is going to take me and the broad strokes of how they will bring me along. That’s very useful information.

While reading, I take notes. I circle words I need to look up. I star points that I think are critical to the argument. I underline anything that strikes me as interesting. I comment like a madman in the margins. I try to tease out assumptions, etc.

Essentially, I’m trying to engage in a conversation with the author. Maybe my questions will be answered on the next page or in the next chapter. Maybe I’ll need to find another book to answer them. Who knows. But I write them down.

At the end of each chapter, I write a few bullet points that summarize what I’ve just read. When I’m done, I write a brief summary of the entire book and then I do something few other people do. I let the book age.

I put the book on my desk and I won’t touch it for anywhere from a few days to a week. This is very important.

Step two.
When I pick the book up again, I re-read every scribble, underline, and comment I’ve made (assuming I can still read my writing). Sometimes I can’t.

I’m not the same person I was the first time I read the book, two things have changed: (1) I’ve read the entire book and (2) I’ve had a chance to sleep on what may have seemed earth-shattering at the time but now just seems meh.

If something still strikes my interest, I write a note in the first few pages of the book, in my own words, on the topic. Often this is a summary but increasingly it’s ways to apply the knowledge. I index this to the page number in the book.

Sometimes, and this depends on the book, I’ll create a sort of mental summary of the book’s main arguments and gaps. Sometimes I’ll cross-link points with other books.

Step 3 (optional but highly effective).
Wait a few days. Then go through the book and copy out excerpts by hand and put them into your repository or commonplace book. I use these notes to connect and synthesize ideas as I read.

To aid recall, connect the ideas to something you already have in your mind. Is it a continuation of the idea? Does it replace an idea? Is it the same idea in a different discipline? I add these connections to my notes and percolate them in my mind. Often I turn out to be mistaken but that’s the process.

Most of the time, you get to see the ideas on Farnam Street. You can see how I connect and contextualize ideas, linking them across disciplines. I find writing about the ideas really helps me develop my understanding.

Even if you don’t share your thoughts with millions of people you can do the same thing with Evernote, which is searchable, easy to use, and free. Personally, I do not use technology as a substitute for the non-technological approach mentioned above but rather as a compliment.

I rarely listen to books but if you are listening to a book, create a new note for that book and type in notes as you are listening. I know a few people that do not take notes as they are listening because they listen in the car on the way to work. They find that sitting down right away when they get to work and typing up notes is an effective way to improve recall although the notes are less accurate.

If you liked this article, you’ll love our helpful guide to reading better. 

Neil Gaiman on The Importance of Reading, Libraries, and Imagination

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”

— Albert Einstein

Neil Gaiman, who brought us one of the best commencement speeches ever, chimes in on with a lecture explaining why using our imaginations is an obligation for all citizens.

The correlation between illiteracy and prison growth.

I was once in New York, and I listened to a talk about the building of private prisons – a huge growth industry in America. The prison industry needs to plan its future growth – how many cells are they going to need? How many prisoners are there going to be, 15 years from now? And they found they could predict it very easily, using a pretty simple algorithm, based on asking what percentage of 10 and 11-year-olds couldn’t read. And certainly couldn’t read for pleasure.

It’s not one to one: you can’t say that a literate society has no criminality. But there are very real correlations.

Literacy is more important now then ever.

Literacy is more important than ever it was, in this world of text and email, a world of written information. We need to read and write, we need global citizens who can read comfortably, comprehend what they are reading, understand nuance, and make themselves understood.

On fiction as a gateway drug.

Fiction has two uses. Firstly, it’s a gateway drug to reading. The drive to know what happens next, to want to turn the page, the need to keep going, even if it’s hard, because someone’s in trouble and you have to know how it’s all going to end … that’s a very real drive. And it forces you to learn new words, to think new thoughts, to keep going. To discover that reading per se is pleasurable. Once you learn that, you’re on the road to reading everything. And reading is key.

[…]

[W]ords are more important than they ever were: we navigate the world with words, and as the world slips onto the web, we need to follow, to communicate and to comprehend what we are reading. People who cannot understand each other cannot exchange ideas, cannot communicate, and translation programs only go so far.

The simplest way to make sure that we raise literate children is to teach them to read, and to show them that reading is a pleasurable activity. And that means, at its simplest, finding books that they enjoy, giving them access to those books, and letting them read them.

[…]

And the second thing fiction does is to build empathy. […] Empathy is a tool for building people into groups, for allowing us to function as more than self-obsessed individuals.

This reminds me of Keith Oatley, who when explaining the role of fiction in our lives employed the metaphor of a flight simulator. A flight simulator allows pilots-in-training to safely and quickly learn how to deal with all sorts of problems that might happen in the air. Fiction, Oatley argues, “allows us to experience emotions in a safe place, training us to understand ourselves and others.”

How well-meaning adults can kill a love of reading.

Well-meaning adults can easily destroy a child’s love of reading: stop them reading what they enjoy, or give them worthy-but-dull books that you like, the 21st-century equivalents of Victorian “improving” literature. You’ll wind up with a generation convinced that reading is uncool and worse, unpleasant. … Another way to destroy a child’s love of reading, of course, is to make sure there are no books of any kind around.

Science fiction makes its way to China and the importance of imagination.

I was in China in 2007, at the first party-approved science fiction and fantasy convention in Chinese history. And at one point I took a top official aside and asked him Why? SF had been disapproved of for a long time. What had changed?

It’s simple, he told me. The Chinese were brilliant at making things if other people brought them the plans. But they did not innovate and they did not invent. They did not imagine. So they sent a delegation to the US, to Apple, to Microsoft, to Google, and they asked the people there who were inventing the future about themselves. And they found that all of them had read science fiction when they were boys or girls.

On the value of libraries and why anyone who sees them as nothing more than a shelf of books misses the point.

[L]ibraries are about freedom. Freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication. They are about education (which is not a process that finishes the day we leave school or university), about entertainment, about making safe spaces, and about access to information.

On moving from an information scarce society to one overloaded.

Information has value, and the right information has enormous value. For all of human history, we have lived in a time of information scarcity, and having the needed information was always important, and always worth something: when to plant crops, where to find things, maps and histories and stories – they were always good for a meal and company. Information was a valuable thing, and those who had it or could obtain it could charge for that service.

In the last few years, we’ve moved from an information-scarce economy to one driven by an information glut.

Books are a gateway to making friends with the eminent dead.

Books are the way that we communicate with the dead. The way that we learn lessons from those who are no longer with us, that humanity has built on itself, progressed, made knowledge incremental rather than something that has to be relearned, over and over. There are tales that are older than most countries, tales that have long outlasted the cultures and the buildings in which they were first told.

Our obligation to daydream.

We all – adults and children, writers and readers – have an obligation to daydream. We have an obligation to imagine. It is easy to pretend that nobody can change anything, that we are in a world in which society is huge and the individual is less than nothing: an atom in a wall, a grain of rice in a rice field. But the truth is, individuals change their world over and over, individuals make the future, and they do it by imagining that things can be different

The Best Way to Find More Time to Read

There is no question I’m asked more often than “how do you find the time to read so much?” or “how can I find more time to read?”

Let me share with you how I find time to read, learn, and give myself an advantage.

Everyone looks at my reading list and assumes that I either have no life or speed-read.

When I tell people that I do have a life and I don’t speed-read, the question becomes: what’s your secret? How do you find more time to read than the average person?

Well, first, there is no secret. As simple as it sounds, finding time to read boils down to choices about how you allocate your time. And allocating your time is how successful people increase productivity.

In a good week, I can read three to five books. Sometimes fewer. I’m an average reader, likely within one standard deviation in terms of speed and retention. In short, I’m no different from you when it comes to how fast I read.

For example, while remarkably enjoyable, Blood and Beauty consumed almost a week. I was incredibly slow reading Seneca’s Epistles 1-65, and even slower with Antifragile. These are books I don’t want to rush. On the other hand, I can cruise through something like Fate of the States in an afternoon.

When reading, I generally take notes. I’m underlining, synthesizing, asking questions, and relating concepts from other things I’ve read.

After I finish a book, I let it age for a week or two and then pick it up again. I look at my notes and the sections I’ve marked as important. I write them down. Or I let the book age for another week or two.

Finding More Time to Read

Let’s look at this another way. Rather than say what I do, I’ll tell you what I don’t do.

What gets in the way of reading?

I don’t spend a lot of time watching TV. (The lone exception to this is during football season, when I watch one game a week.)

I watch very few movies.

I don’t spend a lot of time commuting.

I don’t spend a lot of time shopping.

These choices are deliberate. I don’t even have cable TV. I watch NFL through Game Pass, which also saves time (if you don’t watch games live, you can watch the full game in under 30 minutes).

I live downtown; I can walk to the grocery store, purchase a bagful of groceries, and return home all within 15 minutes.

If you assume that the average person spends 3–4 hours a day watching TV, an hour or more commuting, and another 2–3 hours a week shopping, that’s 28 hours a week on the low end.

Twenty-eight hours. That’s 1,680 minutes. That’s huge. If you read a page a minute, that’s more than 1,600 pages a week.

Books Are Important

Few things are as rewarding as making friends with the eminent dead. Reading isn’t something to be done once a week to check a box; it’s something to do every day.

If you’re a knowledge worker, you’re paid to use your brain, so it’s in your best interest to make that brain as big as possible.

Wherever I go, a book is not far behind. It might be on my phone or physical, but there is always a book close by.

Finding time to read is easier than you might think. Waiting for a bus? Stop staring down the street and read. Waiting for a taxi? Read. On the train? Read. On the plane? Read. Waiting for your flight? Read.

What I read depends on the situation.

If I know I have only a few minutes, I’m not going to read something that requires a lot of mental context switching to get back into. I’ll keep it simple, with something like Phil Jackson’s Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success or Grow Regardless. Waiting around is also a great time to read magazines and printed copies of articles from the web. These tend to be short, rather disposable, and easily digested.

Early in the evening, say around 8 or 9, I’ll grab a glass of wine and sink into something serious. Something I want to read without interruption. Some nights I’ll read well past midnight; other nights I’ll stop reading around 10 or 11.

I’ll then do a little bit of blogging and plop myself into bed and read till I fall asleep.

Sometimes I’ll read something light before going to bed, and sometimes I’ll read something requiring more thought so I can ponder an idea while I’m falling asleep.

When I’m not reading, I’m trying to think about what I’ve just read. I don’t pull out a book while I’m in the checkout line at the grocery store. While everyone else is playing the “which line is longer game,” I’m toying with something I’ve read recently.

Ignorance is more expensive than a book.

Investments

The biggest problem with reading so much is money.

Books are expensive. I often joke that the only group I’m in the 1% of is Amazon customers.

After I graduated from university, I made a choice that I’ve rarely deviated from: I don’t worry about any money spent on books. I’m not alone. I know other people do this, too.

The first thing I did when I started making money was to call my younger brothers and tell them that until they graduated high school, I’d buy them whatever books they wanted as long as they promised to read them. As many as they wanted; whatever they wanted.

Why Do You Read?

Some people read for entertainment. Some people read to acquire knowledge. Some read for both.

To me, reading is more than a raw input. I read to increase knowledge. I read to find meaning. I read for better understanding of others and myself. I read to discover. I read to make my life better. I read to make fewer mistakes.

To borrow words from David Ogilvy, reading can be “a priceless opportunity to furnish your mind and enrich the quality of your life.”

Remember the tagline of this website: Mastering the best that other people have already figured out. That’d be nearly impossible without reading. In fact, it is largely through reading that we walk this path.

We’ve been recording knowledge in books for a long time. That means there’s not a lot that’s new; it’s just recycled old knowledge. Even Nassim Taleb, author of Antifragile, points out that several ancient philosophers grasped the concept of antifragility. Odds are that no matter what you’re working on, someone somewhere, who is smarter than you, has probably thought about your problem and put it into a book.

In The Prince, Machiavelli writes, “A wise man ought always to follow the paths beaten by great men, and to imitate those who have been supreme, so that if his ability does not equal theirs, at least it will savor of it.” That’s not to say that this is the only way, but why not start with the best thinking that has come before you? Seneca, on the same subject, wrote, “Men who have made these discoveries before us are not our masters, but our guides.”

The Library

When I get into detailed discussions on my book buying habits, people often ask why I never use the library. “Think of all the money you’d save,” they say.

The truth is, I keep most of the books I read and I go back to them. “If you are OK giving the books back after two weeks,” writes Ryan Holiday, “you might want to examine what you are reading.” I take that one step further: If you’re not keeping what you read, you probably want to think about what you’re reading and how.

While not impossible, it’s harder to have conversations with library books. You can’t pull out a pen and write in the margin. You can’t highlight something. Having conversations with books is one of the ways that I learn.

“The rich invest in time, the poor invest in money.”

— Warren Buffett

If you wanted to look something up again in a library book, you’d have to get in your car and drive back to the library. But how much time have you spent now driving back and forth?

How do you value your time? We can make more money; we can’t make more time.

Charlie Munger, voracious reader, billionaire, and vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, once commented: “In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn’t read all the time – none, zero.”

It’s pretty simple: Either you read or you don’t. If you read, you probably want to do it more. If you don’t read, I’m not going to convince you to put down the remote.

Reading more isn’t a secret. It comes down to choices.

Warning: Side effects of reading more may include (1) increased intelligence; (2) an uncomfortable silence when someone asks you what happened on Game of Thrones last night and you say “Game of what?”; (3) better ideas; and (4) increased understanding of yourself and others.

So what are you waiting for? Cancel your cable and buy some books. Looking for a place to start? Try here or here. And here.

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The Art of Reading: Analytical Reading

Analytical reading is the fourth part in my series on ways to improve our reading skills.

The first rule of analytical reading is that you must know what kind of book you are reading.

Are you reading a novel, a play, or is it some sort of expository work – a book that conveys knowledge?

This sounds simple but it’s not. For example, is Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint a work of fiction or a psychoanalytical study? Is Gone with the Wind a romance or history of the south?

Any book that consists primarily of opinions, theories, hypotheses, or speculations, for which the claim is made more or less explicitly that they are true in some sense, conveys knowledge in this meaning of knowledge and is an expository work.

The goal is more nuanced than distinguishing fiction from nonfiction, because there are various kinds of expository books.

It is not merely a question of knowing which books are primarily instructive, but also which are instructive in a particular way. The kinds of information or enlightenment that a history and a philosophical work afford are not the same. The problems dealt with by a book on physics and one on morals are not the same, nor are the methods the writers employ in solving such different problems.

The best way to do this is through inspectional reading.

Practical vs. Theoretical Books

One of the things we need to focus on is the distinction between practical and theoretical works. While we all use these words not all of us understand the meaning.

The practical has to do with what works in some way, at once or in the long run. The theoretical concerns something to be seen or understood. If we polish the rough truth that is here being grasped, we come to the distinction between knowledge and action as the two ends a writer may have in mind.

But, you may say, in dealing with expository books, are we not dealing with books that convey knowledge? How does action come into it? The answer, of course, is that intelligent action depends on knowledge.

Books only interested in conveying knowledge itself limit themselves to one type of communication and leave the rest to others. Others, it can be said, have an interest beyond knowledge for the sake of knowledge and concern themselves with problems that knowledge can solve.

Making knowledge useful involves the transformation of knowing that and knowing how.

Theoretical books teach you that something is the case. Practical books teach you how to do something you want to do or think you should do.

Practical books will tell you how something should be done along with an argument for the right way of doing something. A theoretical book, in contrast, will argue that something “is” true.

Blueprints

Every book has structure. This leads us to the second and third rules for analytical reading.

The second rule of analytical reading is state the unity of the whole book in a single sentence, or at most a few sentences (a short paragraph).

This means that you must say what the whole book is about as briefly as possible.

The third rule is to set forth the major parts of the book, and show how these are organized into a whole, by being ordered to one another and to the unity of the whole.

The reason for this rule should be obvious. If a work of art were absolutely simple, it would, of course, have no parts. But that is never the case. None of the sensible, physical things man knows is simple in this absolute way, nor is any human production. They are all complex unities. You have not grasped a complex unity if all you know about it is how it is one. You must also know how it is many, not a many that consists of a lot of separate things, but an organized many.

There is a difference between a heap of bricks, on the one hand, and the single house they can constitute, on the other. There is a difference between a single house and a collection of houses. A book is like a single house. It is a mansion having many rooms, rooms on different levels, of different sizes and shapes, with different outlooks, with different uses. The rooms are independent, in part. Each has its own structure and interior decoration. But they are not absolutely independent and separate. They are connected by doors and arches, by corridors and stairways, by what architects call a “traffic pattern.” Because they are connected, the partial function that each performs contributes its share to the usefulness of the whole house. Otherwise the house would not be livable.

The analogy is almost perfect. A good book, like a good house, is an orderly arrangement of parts. Each major part has a certain amount of independence. … As houses are more or less livable, so books are more or less readable.

The best books, Adler argues, are those that have the most intelligible structure.

Though they are usually more complex than poorer books, their greater complexity is also a greater simplicity, because their parts are better organized, more unified.

How important is it to determine the structure of a book?

We think very important. Another way of saying this is to say that Rule 2— the requirement that you state the unity of a book— cannot be effectively followed without obeying Rule 3— the requirement that you state the parts that make up that unity.

A very simple example will show what we mean. A two-year-old child, just having begun to talk, might say that “two plus two is four.” Objectively, this is a true statement; but we would be wrong to conclude from it that the child knew much mathematics. In fact, the child probably would not know what the statement meant, and so, although the statement by itself was adequate, we would have to say that the child still needed training in the subject. Similarly, you might be right in your guess about a book’s main theme or point, but you still need to go through the exercise of showing how and why you stated it as you did.

If these rules seem like they could also apply to writing, they can. “Writing and reading are reciprocal, as are teaching and being taught.” While the rules can work for both, the roles are not the same. Readers try to uncover the skeleton of the book. The author starts with the skeleton and covers it up, say, by putting meat around the bones.

The fourth rule of analytical reading is to find out what the authors problems were.

The author of a book starts with a question or a set of questions. The book ostensibly contains the answer or answers. The writer may or may not tell you what the questions were as well as give you the answers that are the fruits of his work. Whether he does or does not, and especially if he does not, it is your task as a reader to formulate the questions as precisely as you can. You should be able to state the main question that the book tries to answer, and you should be able to state the subordinate questions if the main question is complex and has many parts.

This doesn’t mean you need to go into what the critics call, the intentional fallacy. That is, thinking that you can discover what the author was thinking as he wrote the book. Commonly this applies to literary works. An example of this would be trying to psychoanalyze Shakespeare from Hamlet. There is a big difference between trying to figure out what questions the author set out to answer and trying to determine what they were thinking at the time of writing.

How do you Find What a Book is About?

1. Classify the book according to kind and subject matter.
2. State what the whole book is about with the utmost brevity.
3. Enumerate its major parts in their order and relation, and outline these parts as you have outlined the whole.
4. Define the problem or problems the author is trying to solve.

While there are four levels to reading — the fourth being syntopical reading — I’m stopping here. If I’ve whetted your appetite to learn more, you should read the book.