I’ve changed the way I read. I know this sounds strange, given my age (old dogs, new tricks and all that) and that I’ve read more than 100 books a year for the last six years. Like why change something that clearly is working? But I’m not entirely sure what I was doing worked.
I have loads of non-fiction books on my shelves that I’ve read, highlighted and took notes in the margins of. I do those things to remember important passages I’ve read, but also to note what I want to share with students, usually by either posting it on social media, writing a blog post around the idea or adding it to an existing class lecture on the topic.
The problem is that, once I finish reading the book, I can’t always recall exactly what it was about what I highlighted that sparked an idea or what I wanted to do with that material. Even worse, I sometimes don’t get around to looking at the book again, so the material never is shared.
I bumped into this post from Hollis on LinkedIn about How to “Read” a Nonfiction Book. I’m not even sure what made me click on it, because I’m obviously a hearty reader, but the title drew me in.
Hollis writes that she reads non-fiction books as “a class to study rather than a passive way to spend some time” so she can actually apply the knowledge she learns. Between this and the intriguing picture of her notes at the top of the post (Seriously, go look.), I had to read it.
While I don’t agree with everything Hollis wrote (I rarely reread books. There are too many great books I still haven’t read.), I decided to apply her approach to some of my non-fiction reading.
Here’s what I learned by reading non-fiction Hollis style:
There’s a time and place
If you’re reading a non-fiction book to take notes and really learn from it, you can’t do that whenever or wherever. Hollis actually mentions this in her post. She’s right.
I read this type of non-fiction while it’s quiet in the house, usually during my morning coffee or late in the afternoon before my husband and son are home.
I read a chapter, then record my notes on it in a journal used only for book notes. If I don’t feel focused by the time I record my notes, I lay the book down and pick it up the next day or when I feel ready to focus on it again.
I also do this reading in a comfy chair in the family room. I tried to do reading and note taking on the sofa where I usually sit and I got ink on the sofa. No bueno.
I get more
I quickly discovered that I was going to need to add a step to my reading process. I would read a chapter, take notes, then sometimes be inspired to share what I had learned or considered in a post here. My past told me that the idea might be fleeting if I kept reading before writing those posts, so I didn’t. Instead, I sat down and wrote the post as soon as possible.
By writing the posts as soon as possible, I got more and shared more from the non-fiction books I read after adopting this method.
- How You Can ‘Make Time’ By Eliminating Tech Distractions
- Advice for Managing Your Overflowing Inbox
- 6 Ways to Energize Yourself Every Day
- What Excuses Are Holding You Back
- You Are What You Believe
- Not Ready? 3 Ways to Push Yourself to Do It Anyway
- 9 Ways for You to Fight Imposter Syndrome
It reminds me of how I tell student journalists that every story should lead to another story and every meeting should result in multiple story ideas. Most of the non-fiction books I’m reading now are resulting in multiple posts and even more quotes and ideas shared on social media.
It slows me down
I’m getting more and sharing more from this method of reading, but it slows me down. It takes longer to read a book when you’re taking notes, focusing on the content and refusing to move on when there’s a post to write. I don’t know that this is a terrible thing. I’m still averaging one non-fiction book a week.
It’s not for all books
I used to mostly listen to non-fiction audiobooks. Obviously, I can’t do that now with books that I think I want to take notes from. Also, not every non-fiction book is one for notetaking, as Hollis mentioned in her post.
I recently read my friend Joe Hight’s book Unnecessary Sorrow. The book is about Joe’s older brother becoming ordained in the Catholic Church, then being cast out because of mental illness and later being shot and killed by police. The book gave me a lot to think about in regard to how we treat people with mental illness. However, it was not a book that I needed to take detailed notes from to share with students.
It makes me want to reread
I’m getting and sharing so much more from the books I read now that I want to go back and read a few of the non-fiction books I really loved and take notes on them. Maybe Hollis was right about the rereading thing.
Overall, this new way of reading and note taking is serving me and, by proxy, you well. I think I’ll continue doing it this way.