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.


The need to read (books)


If you are a book lover like I am, you know there’s never enough time to read everything. In, “How to read a lot of books,” college student and fellow book lover Dan Shipper shares how he read lots of books.

First, he keeps track of everything he wants to read in Evernote. He always has his list with him so he can pick up books on his “want” list any time he’s in a book store. Of course I keep lists in Evernote, too, but I buy mostly ebooks, now.

Next, he prioritizes his master list (using Trello) so he knows what to read next. I’m more of a shoot from the hip kinda guy, so unless I’m working on a project that calls for me to read a certain book, I just pick something I feel drawn to and read that. If I did prioritize my list, however, I would use Evernote tags instead of another application.

As for actually reading the books, Shipper follows this rule: “I never read more than one book at a time, and I always finish every book I start.” Here, I disagree.

I often read several books “simultaneously”. No, not literally. I start one book, then switch to another before finishing the first. I may go back to the first or go on to another. Why? I like the variety, I guess. When I get tired of hearing one author’s voice, I like to tune into someone else’s.

As for finishing every book, I must ask why? There are a lot of bad books out there. Why continue reading something that’s boring or that doesn’t deliver on it’s promise? Why punish yourself? So you can say you finished what you started? So you can tell yourself you gave the author a fair shot?

Besides, the 80/20 rules tells us that 80% of a book’s value is contained in 20% of the pages. If you can deduce that value by skimming or by skipping chapters, why wouldn’t you do that?

I guess it depends on why you are reading. I read to gain information, mostly. (I don’t read much fiction these days.) When I can get most of the information I need or want without finishing the book, I do.

Not finishing books is one of my top productivity strategies.

Finally, Shipper says he takes notes as he reads and records the page numbers, so he can refer back to those notes in the future. I do that, too. On Kindle, you can highlight passages and add notes and the system will keep track of those highlights and notes, along with the page numbers. (I haven’t figured out how to export them, though. I’d like to save them in Evernote.)

So, that’s what I do to read (or skim) lots of books. What do you do?

Glad I’m done with this post. I’ve got five books I’m planning to start.

If you use Evernote, get my Evernote for Lawyers ebook. If you don’t use Evernote, helloooooo!