Some friends asked me about how I read my books, instead of repeating from time to time, I decided to capture the process here.
Ok, I lied. Instead of forcing them to listen to me in person-to be less annoying-I will send them a link here instead. (Ok, ok, they didn’t even ask).

Like most of the Facebook-celebrities, I have a complicated relationship with reading.

After “done” reading a book, I would go to brag to others about how great it is. For most of time, being polite as my family and friends always are, they will ask “What is it about?”. Then they would probably hear “er.. it’s something like this, like that, err… I promised it is much better than what I said”.

I struggled with that for countless times. Bragging rights for small talks in cocktail party asides, I wanted to optimize as much as possible my reading experience. That meant maximizing comprehension and retention within the same amount time spent.

Let’s back to square one, what are most of us struggled with? These are my personal experiences, but I imagine lots of people will find them resonate:

  1. Only has a vague sense of what the book is about after a while.
  2. Feeling bad for not completing a picked-up book.
  3. Self-loathing, boring to re-read an incomplete book.

Problem #1: Only has a vague sense of what the book is about after a while.

Well, I would argue that there is nothing inherently wrong with #1. What you able to actively recall is declarative knowledge, which is not the only thing you get out from reading a book. A good chunk of it is probably lurking out somewhere in your mind, the world view, the feeling, the procedural knowledge awaiting to be pattern-matched has probably being ingested to an non-verbalized form.

Problem #2: Feeling bad for not completing a picked-up book.

You have my full sympathy. That nagging feeling you got when abandoning a book for whatever reason (it’s boring, it’s difficult, it’s too long, or just simply out of interests, or the interest now place its eyes on a different book). We all have that completionism instinct. I guess that is from a very misconception of “done” reading a book. When someone says he/she read that book, what does that actually mean? What differentiate between a careful analytical read from a mindless single pass?

This kind of pondering has made me shift my relationship and interaction with books to a more dynamic manner. I treated my book collection as a tsundoku, and reading more syntopically rather then like a queue of tasks. When I decide to “adopt” a book after some inspectional reading, it is there to stay with me indefinitely. I don’t feel guilty to put it aside for awhile. I enjoy leaving a part of it “undiscovered” and get unveiled from time to time. I feel joys when encountered something that I could find relevant in an “ever-complete** book, and happily read the relevant part again now with real-life experiences.

Problem #3: Self-loathing, boring to reread an incomplete book.

This is the most interesting one. Unlike the other two, you cannot just “flip the mindset switch” it is rather a technical and mechanical problem. The problem is further amplified if you do syntopical reading. The major pain resides in the dilemma of having to decide whether to re-read a certain part. You did have a hazy reminiscence that you already read it. But it is hazy enough that you felt the need to read it again.

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There many methods to attack the problem of inefficient reread. The two prominent ones are:

One of the method to attack the problem of unproductive reread is [incremental reading] by SuperMemo. While I don’t use their software, I did a straw-men replication by compose some services together:

Read on Kindle / Reader app → Highlights → Readwise Integration → Tana → Progressive Summarization → SRS.

Imagine this likes a funnel. It’s not necessary that all “processed” items in an earlier step get cascaded into a later step. While sounding hairy, it is nothing like a pipeline that I have to go through whenever reading a book. Each step has natural occurrences based on contexts.

Read: I pick up my Kindle whenever in the mood of reading.

Highlights: I highlight while reading if I found something fascinating and/or guessing that I will look it up later. I won’t thinking too much or try to do a threshing process. It is more important to maintain your joy and reading flow rather than nitpicking for highlights. The rule of thumb is if you wonder, then just highlight it.

Highlights → Readwise Integration → Tana: happens in the background and generally doesn’t involve human interference.

After this stage, which involved only two activities (read, and highlighting), I already have a library of passages that I personally found relevant. When the need come, I would search in Tana, usually I’ll able to get to it in matter of seconds. Although, in some cases, This discoverability would be further enhanced by the Progressive Summerisation describe blow.

Progressive Summarisation: I only do this when the need for reviewing come. a method from Tiago Forte. Basically you have multi-level of summarization. From the raw synced passage, to bold, to yellow-highlighted, and to self-phrased summary. Another hairy sounded