- Why The Way We Read Sucks, And How To Fix It: Part 1
- Why The Way We Read Sucks and How to Fix It: Part 3 — The Unified Reading Process
- Why The Way We Read Sucks and How to Fix It: Part 4 — Why SRS Personal Development Books?
- Why The Way We Read Sucks and How To Fix It, Part 5: Examples Shown and Questions Answered
- The Wait That Kills: Before You Pwn Books, You Must First Own Books
- All Reading Is Skimming
This is the third post in a continuing series on Why The Way We Read Sucks and How To Fix It. Go here to read the series from the beginning.
Please take all this advice cum grano salis. Take it for what it is — one star (don’t say “yeah, a supernova”, really…just don’t) in a galaxy of information about reading. Everyone has their pet-techniques, and everyone’s situation is different to some degree. As a wise young woman on the Internets once said:
“no method will ever be 100% perfect for anyone except its creator.”
All of this, this entire site, is just my personal…thing, so…don’t take it too seriously. You definitely want to try, pick and choose what works and what doesn’t for you. My own methods are constantly evolving, so in a sense you could say I end up disagreeing with myself now and then. And, if I disagree with me sometimes, so should you . A few months from now, I may not even be using any of the techniques I’m about to share with you. So, keep that in mind .
Why did I get into this reading technique thing anyway?
Well, It’s complicated. But only slightly so. Basically, I had two different sets of reading problems with (1) native-level languages, and (2) sucky-level languages. These two problem sets ended up being fixed with the same solution. And that’s what makes this article-series seem complicated: I’m really attempting to discuss two things at the same time. Confusing, I know. I’m a cruel, inconsiderate man — get used to it.
One thing common to both sets of problems is that, despite continuing efforts, electronic books are yet to reach the level of availability, let alone convenience, to allow one to go “all electronic”. My ultimate goal is 100% digitization, which would render a lot of this book-handling business obsolete.
Anyway, here are some issues that were unique to each set of problems:
Problem Set 1: Native-Level Languages
- Too many books in possession — major life decisions are starting to be made aroundthe welfare of the books that are supposed to be getting read or re-read at some point, but aren’t.
- Books are getting “lost in the sea”, hidden under and behind other books.
- Reading a bit, but wanting to read much more, and also suck the most value out of each book.
- A lot of good half-read books that warrant more reading (full of potentially good information), but that have been side-tracked by other books.
- Forgetting the content of fully-read books, leading to a desire to keepbooks “for future reference/re-reading”, even though there are already…too many books in the house, and the world.
- I especially had the desire to have the content of personal development books more readily available in my head, in my life, where it could more readily affect my behavior. This basically lead me to start SRSing quotes. More on that later…
- Guilt about skipping pages.
Problem Set 2: Sucky-Level Languages
- Have books, keep getting more, but not reading any of them because the reading is too painful
- Too many stops (“better SRS this; no pain no gain, be arch”).
- Too much guilt about skipping.
- Trying to catch everything and getting bored/tired out.
Two different sets of reading problems united by a single solution. Hence, the Unified Reading Process.
URP: The Unified Reading Process
The unified reading process (this sounds so…Proctor & Gamble…I love it) I currently use for each book is:
- Read & Dog-ear
- Un-dog-ear & Enter quotes into SRS
- (a) Discard (give away, resell) || OR ||
- (b) Keep & Reprocess from step (2)
In the case of native-level languages, I tend to discard — i.e. give away to friends or resell. In the case of sucky-level languages, I tend to keep and reprocess. This has less to do with the languages themselves, and more with the fact that the very nature of things means that the more proficient one is at a given language the more likely one is to have a surplus of books in it.
The key to discarding is to not force yourself to instantly make a permanent decision (while still retaining that defining characteristic of real decisions: clarity). Instead, split the decision into two clear, instant parts. In my case, I have a temporary “to discard” box with a deadline on it. Once the deadline is reached or the box becomes full, then the permanent discarding happens. So a book could be waiting there in the temporary bin for a month or more. Plenty of time to reconsider any decision.
Anyway, as you can see, it’s a really simple process. Here are just some of the benefits:
- Books are always more or less in a clear state: Unread, In-process, or Read. This leads to less ambiguity, and therefore easier management.
- Books turn into pieces of clearly memorized knowledge rather than just space-consuming things that are “good to have”, or things that you read once and kind of remember, but need to read again to “brush up”.
- You get to do a lot of reading without the long-term burden of physically owning/moving/storing a lot of books.
Low Conversion, Revisited (skip this part if you want)
At the risk of repeating myself, the keyphrase throughout the process is low conversion. By “conversion”, I mean the fraction of the book in question that gets:
- Read closely, and/or
- Converted into SRS cards.
Only a fraction of the pages of a book get read closely, in detail. Only a fraction of these pages get dog-eared. Only a fraction of the content of a fraction of the dog-eared pages gets entered into the SRS. Fraction. Fraction. Fraction.
No matter how much you own or suck at the language, conversion is low by nature. In fact, ironically enough, the more you suck at a language, the lower your conversion will probably be (for one thing, there’s only so much you’ll be able to read well…and then there’s the other extreme, where your conversion goes low because you already have so much prior knowledge). You see, conversion takes work. And there is only so much work that you can do. Far less than you wish you could. But that’s okay, because humans are smart; you could argue that we’re built to be lazy and low-conversion.
Even people who intend to have high conversion end up with low conversion. In fact, the more pressure you put on yourself to convert, the more likely you are to (eventually, unconsciously) rebel and end up with 0% conversion. Zero conversion is fine if the book sucked that much, but it’s not so fine when the book is otherwise good — well-written, and about a topic you’re interested in.
The way to deal with sucky books is simple — throw them away as soon as the suck is clear; get rid of them. My problem was that I was having trouble approaching the books I liked, books I had chosen, books I knew were good; I wasn’t even picking them up any more. And the root of the problem was my attempt to have high conversion.
Anyhoo, that’s all for now. But the series continues!
Next Article: Why SRS Personal Development Books?
Wherein are discussed the reasons for and benefits of subjecting personal development books to the Unified Reading Process.