How to Read More Books: Learn from the Masters

photo of woman reading book
Photo by Polina Zimmerman on Pexels.com

Are you looking to read more books but can’t seem to find the time or the motivation? You’re not alone. The world is full of distractions that can waste your time and energy. But for those who have a passion for the written word, there are ways to overcome these hurdles and cultivate a robust reading habit.

Reading more books is an admirable goal that can expand your mind, improve your cognitive abilities, and offer you a richer, more nuanced understanding of the world. Bibliophiles like Tyler Cowen and Ryan Holiday are well-known for consuming vast quantities of books yearly. Let’s explore their strategies and learn from their habits.

Tyler Cowen: Quantity and Quality

Economics professor and co-founder of the blog Marginal Revolution, Tyler Cowen, is known for his voracious reading habits, consuming hundreds of books per year. How does he do it? Here are a few insights.

1. Skim first: Cowen advocates for speed reading or skimming through a book before deciding whether to devote more time to it. Skimming allows you to get the gist of the book, which can help you decide if it’s worth delving deeper.

2. Don’t be afraid to quit: If a book isn’t engaging or useful, Cowen recommends abandoning it. There’s no sense in wasting time on a book that isn’t providing value. Life is too short, and there are too many good books out there to stick with one that’s not working for you.

3. Read broadly, but specialize too: Cowen suggests reading widely to expose yourself to a variety of ideas, but also recommends specializing in certain areas. By focusing on specific subjects, you can develop a deeper understanding and knowledge base.

Ryan Holiday: Deliberate and Reflective Reading

Ryan Holiday, author, media strategist, and populizer of all things stoic philosophy, is another avid reader who goes through hundreds of books a year. He has a different approach to reading than Cowen; here are some of his strategies:

1. Always have a book with you: Holiday suggests always having a book on hand. This allows you to fill in those idle moments with reading rather than scrolling through your phone.

2. Note-taking and marginalia: Holiday is a firm believer in active reading. He takes notes, underlines passages, and writes in the margins of his books. This helps him engage more deeply with the material and aids in recall later on.

3. Reflect and review: Holiday recommends reviewing your notes and even rereading books to ensure comprehension and retention. By reflecting on what you’ve read, you can deepen your understanding and apply the knowledge to your own life.

Conclusion: Develop Your Own Reading Habit

While Cowen and Holiday have different strategies, they share a deep love of reading and a commitment to making it a priority. If you want to read more books, consider trying some of their strategies.

Remember, the goal isn’t just to read more books for the sake of quantity but to enrich your mind and life. So skim or dive deep, read broadly or specialize, take notes or reflect — find what works best for you and make reading a part of your daily routine. The world of books is vast and varied, and there’s always something new to discover.



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Assorted Links for Friday, 20 May 2022

Photo by Colton Sturgeon on Unsplash
  1. R.I.P. Vangelis: The Composer Who Created the Future Noir Soundtrack for Blade Runner Dies at 79
  2. David Letterman hosted the Late Show for the last time seven years ago today
  3. Panic Over SEL Is Unfounded. Here’s Why.
  4. Reducing Stress Through Tech – Podcast
  5. The Summer Reads Edition from Why is this Interesting?
  6. 13 Strategies That Will Make You A Better Reader (And Person)
  7. 13 Websites That Provide Lots of Digital Books for Summer Reading

And now, your weekly wind down…

Crafting a Digital Commonplace Book

commonplace book
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

One of the most fulfilling tasks I do on a regular basis is updating my commonplace book. What’s a commonplace book? Simple: it’s a place to store all those quotes, lyrics, poems, passages, etc. that mean something to you.

It’s a way to store all the things you read, regardless of their format, in one place so that you can access it any time you want. The concept isn’t new by any means; people across history have kept some form of a commonplace book. Marcus Aurelius had one that would later be published. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Mark Twain, and Virginia Woolfe all had one.

Modern authors like Austin Kleon and Ryan Holiday keep one. The formats change based on the person but they all serve the same purpose: a way to keep track of things that mean something to you.

Ryan Holiday has famously used his note card system as the basis for writing his books, something he picked up while working for Robert Greene.

If you want to dive deeper into this system of note-taking, writing, and organizing, read up on the Zettelkasten Method.

Personally, I keep a daily journal and I’ve been using my own version of the notecard system for the past couple of years. However, as I’m heading into my doctoral work this fall as I write, I’m attempting to update my commonplace system.

While I agree there is tremendous benefit in writing things down on paper – I write in my journal by hand in cursive daily – the real power of keeping a record of all the things in your commonplace book is when you can make connections between different entries.

I’ve tried making those connections with my note cards, but it hasn’t worked for me. So I needed to come up with something better. Something digital.

I’ve come up with a two-pronged approach. One of those prongs is this blog you are reading now.

For too many years, I tried to take blogging far too seriously. Always trying to write something meaningful and important while sharing things that I found or learned with the world.

My anxiety (which turns out to be pretty crippling and only in the last year have I really begun to get a handle on it) wouldn’t let me craft those perfect blog posts.

But, I can create short posts that I can share quickly with the world and store on this blog while organizing it pretty quickly into different topics.

The inspiration for this shift comes from Cory Doctorow. He refers to it as “The Memex Method” and many writers use it to create a commonplace book that doubles as a public database.

memex method
Photo by Patrick Perkins on Unsplash

Enter the Memex

Vannevar Bush famously described the memex as “an enlarged intimate supplement to one’s memory.”

Cory’s link blog is here.

Longstanding tech columnist John Naughton has one here. And I’m sure there are many others out there you could look through.

This blog that has been in existence in one form or another for 16 years is now becoming my public memex, my online database of things I learn, like, and use regularly.

Using WordPress tags, I can quickly filter posts into multiple topics and save them for later reference. And so can any of my readers. Of course, building this will take time and input data on a daily basis.

The second prong of this memex is my personal database, powered by Evernote. I’ve had an Evernote account since March of 2008 while it was still in beta, I think. But I’ve never used it very well.

Now, I have one notebook in my Evernote account. But a bajillion tags. I’m still working through all my existing notes and adding tags which will take some time but I’m feeling good about that progress and excited for the results.

I’m also taking all my existing note cards and scanning them into Evernote for tagging. The tags will sort and connect the ideas from various notes, giving me lots of sources for new articles and possibly even books.

As Robert Greene has said, “Everything is material.”

I just had to find a way to keep my material organized. I’ll keep you updated here on my progress.

Why is this important for educators?

I don’t know. Maybe it isn’t. If you’re a researcher, I can’t help but think it would be useful to have a very organized and connected system for your research.

But for the classroom teacher or administrator, how helpful would it be to connect the threads of all your work over the years? Likely, very helpful. And think of what you could share with your colleagues or future students.