4 simple rules for getting more out of the books you read


Tim Denning, prolific author and blogger and reader of books, answered a question about how to get more out of the books you read. Lawyers obviously read a lot and might want to note Denning’s rules, all of which I agree with and practice.

His first rule is to “stop finishing books”. If you’re not getting anything out of a book, or getting enough, move on.

“Don’t waste your life on crappy books,” he says.

I routinely do this with ebooks that don’t deliver on their promise. In other words, most of them. I’ve donated hundreds of paperbacks to the library bookstore, many of which I barely touched.

I spend a lot on books but following this rule has saved me a lot of time, and I have to score this as a net profit.

My corollary: Books are like a meal. Just because you paid for it doesn’t mean you have to consume it.

Next, Denning says he focuses primarily on the first few chapters of a non-fiction book, where, he says, the author will provide the best bits in an effort to hook the reader. “The rest of a book is filler,” he says.

In my experience, this is mostly true, but not always. If the opening chapters don’t get me, I usually skim the next few and often find some gold; if I don’t, off with its head.

Denning’s third rule is something I do only occasionally but think I should do more: “Go to the table of contents and read the chapters that appeal to you.”

Meaning, skip the chapters that don’t.

Sometimes, I start with the chapters that grab me, and come back to the others.

I like to give the author (and reviewers) the benefit of the doubt. I keep thinking I’ll find a nugget or two in a chapter that seems less relevant, but if I’m honest, it doesn’t happen often enough to justify reading an entire book to find those nuggets.

Last rule: Re-read the books you love.

100% agree.

I always get something new out of a second or third or fifth reading of a good book. I highlight my highlights, make notes in the margins, and write my own “permanent” notes in my notes app.

Books are like a meal. Good books are like a feast.