How to Read Smarter, Retain More Information, and Learn Faster
Reading gives you superpowers. It just does. I don’t know the exact science behind it but reading books opens the world to you. It expands the “adjacent possible,” the process of opening new pathways in your brain to help you connect ideas.
The verdict is in, and it can be summed up by the prolific reader Charlie Munger:
“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.”
Of course, there are exceptions to this, but if you’re the type of person to point out exceptions to rules for pleasure, you’re annoying.
Before we get into my personal favorite reading comprehension strategies, let’s start by talking about the idea that ties them all together.
Don’t be This Person
Some people treat reading like a sport.
You know these people. They talk about how many books they’ve read. It seems like they’re reading just to increase that number.
People like this don’t read to learn, they read to signal virtue. They read toappear smart, instead of reading to be smart.
The point of reading more is…whatever you want it to be. It’s a means to often unknown ends. You’re just learning, having fun, expanding your brain with new material across wide subjects.
I started reading because my life sucked and some smart people said reading could help me fix that. The fact that I didn’t know exactly what I was trying to achieve and didn’t use books as a status symbol helped me read the right way.
Follow Naval Ravikant’s advice:
Following your genuine intellectual curiosity is a better foundation for a career than following whatever is making money right now.
If you read to follow your genuine curiosity, you’ll reach that end goal you’re looking for without knowing what it is beforehand.
If you read so you can tell people how many books you read, you’ll have nothing more than empty status.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let me share my unusual reading comprehension strategies with you.
Don’t Try so Hard
The fact you’re reading a post about reading comprehension strategies tells me you care a little bit too much about comprehending what you read in the first place.
James Altucher says you only retain about two percent of what you read. That sounds about right. This is why you read many books within the same subject and also read books in other subjects.
You’ll notice many authors use similar stories and information. Eventually, you’ll see the same anecdotes and insights so often, they’ll stick.
Don’t try to speed read. If you read slowly, read slowly. Books are meant to be enjoyed. Trying to speed read puts you in the same mindset as someone trying to learn enough to pass a test and then forget all the information.
Being less goal-oriented about your reading habits actually makes reading more enjoyable and helps you retain the information better.
I’m a reformed book junkie. I used to beat myself up when I didn’t read enough (dumb). Now, I look at every book as an exploration and I don’t put too much pressure on myself to get something out of it.
Ironically, the information sticks much better when you’re not obsessed with the reading comprehension strategies du jour.
Never, Ever, Ever, Ever Do This
I remember buying a highly touted, must-read, New York Times bestselling book that I won’t name. About 50 pages in, I found it very hard to finish.
Not because the material was too dense. I’ve read dense books that were hard to understand but were also interesting.
No, this book was flat out boring and didn’t seem useful. Part of me felt obligated to finish the book. This was, again, at a time where I was in book junkie mode. When you’re in this book reading cult, you feel like you have to increase your notch count at all costs. You don’t.
I put the book down and never read it again after about 50 pages. I had the realization that reading books for the sake of reading them is useless. Now, if a book doesn’t grab me pretty quickly, I’ll just stop reading it.
Life is too short to read bad books. Reading comprehension is also about what you don’t read. Filling your mind with junk makes it harder to understand golden wisdom because bad books can actually lower your intelligence.
Understand What a Book Actually Is
Books are portals into people’s brains.
See, instead of just focusing on the content of the book, you can comprehend the material even better by focusing on the person who wrote it and the strategies they used to write it.
Think about their motivation for writing the book, the experiences that shaped their worldview, why they choose to write in the style they write.
Looking at these deeper layers of meaning increases your reading comprehension because the deeper meaning is the point of the book in the first place. Facts and data are nice, but the underlying meaning is everything. Since the author is the vessel for the message, it’s wise to focus on them.
I’m reading Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski. It’s a semi-autobiographical novel about the upbringing and life of the average...