Unconventional ways to retain more information from books
Ever since I learned the definition of “hobbies”, my answer to questions about my favourite would invariably be “Reading!”
I have read more than 700 books in my life, and each year, I add at least 50 new books to the list.
Several of my friends had asked me how I got so much reading done, and to address all their queries, I had written an article with all my personal tips and hacks.
One can argue that merely reading a book is not enough. You need to remember the points that spoke to you and apply them in your life. I believe that the point of reading was never mindless entertainment. Rather, the point of reading is to let the books be our crutches to move on to a better world, to a better version of ourselves.
Throughout all my time as an avid reader, I had been subconsciously following some steps to retain most of what I read. In this article, I am going to share five ways to get the most out of a book.
1. Underline, Highlight, Annotate
Some readers like to keep their books pristine. I am not one of them. I love the look of a well-thumbed book — dog-eared pages, creased spines, and page markers of different colours littering the edge. They give the feeling that the book has been read and cherished. That the reader intends to come back to the pages and go over those precious lines again.
In the past few months, the book I found myself highlighting the most was The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy (picture attached). The prose was so beautiful, I ended up highlighting sentences on almost every page. These page markers ensure the book doesn’t look new anymore, but they make it look like the book is mine. And the best part is that I can flip it open to any of these pages and read the beautiful passages that took my breath away when I read the book the first time.
Apart from the page-markers, it is completely okay to make notes in the margins. When a passage speaks to your heart, write down what and how it made you feel. For non-fiction, this gets easier because you can write the life lessons you learned.
Highlighting and making notes help you read the book actively, not passively. This way, your reading will never be lost. When you come back to the book years later, your annotations will help you remember how the book impacted you on the first read and how much you have changed as a person since then.
2. Write A Book Review
I know writing a review sounds like a chore, but, hear me out: when you sit down to write a review immediately after you have finished reading the book, the emotions that ran through your head while reading will remain fresh in your memory. In the heat of the moment, you can accurately pen them down and save them for later.
I had never written a book review in my life until 2018. But, after my first book, Stolen Reflections, was released, I realised how critical reviews are for authors. I started reviewing each book I read.
This started out as my way of thanking the author. But, as time passed, I realised how the reviews were helping me process the welter of emotions that ran through my head after I was done reading a book. Here are some unexpected ways I discovered reviews could help you retain information from a book better-
Organisation of thoughts
Writing a review will help you sort through your thoughts. When you arrange everything that you learned from the book in the form of a review, it helps you introspect over the lessons you learned and present them in a way that can be relatable to others.
Preserving your learnings
Your views on the book are preserved forever. Years later, when you want to revisit the book, reading your summary (in addition to the highlighted passages and annotations on the book) will suffice and help you remember the parts you had forgotten.
When you post the reviews on Amazon or Goodreads, it can be read by thousands of readers all over the world. If someone else agrees or disagrees with your views, they would comment on your review. This will not only give you a different perspective of the book but will also help you connect with like-minded readers.
Improving writing skills
Writing a review for each book you read polishes your writing skills. Consistent posting teaches you to present your thoughts better in front of the world.
3. Watch Author Interviews
What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.
~J. D. Salinger (The Catcher In The Rye)
No, sadly, every author you loved reading cannot be your friend. But thank heavens for social media!
If I love a book, I have a habit of stalking the author on social media, looking up their interviews or TED talks online and reading their blogs. There is something extraordinarily powerful about hearing a creator talk about their creation.
You get an insight into the mind of the author about what had been the thought process behind writing the book. You understand the perspective they wanted to share and learn about the circumstances in their life that led them to write the book.
When you connect with the author on such an intimate level, their words stay with you longer.
Also, when you watch video interviews or TED talks, hearing the author speak about concepts you just finished reading will reinforce those ideas in your brain. There have been several studies that prove videos help people retain information better than text.
In case the book is a classic, and the author is long dead, you will be surprised by the amount of information reading through their Wikipedia page can give you. I recently read Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar and was so caught up by the author’s writing, that I spent hours reading through every bit of information I could find on her. Later, when I read Plath’s poetry, this background information stuck with me and helped me make sense of several emotions she depicted. Her poems hit harder because of the background research I did.
4. Read and Hear at the Same Time
Here is a kickass productivity tip no one else might tell you: when you read a book and hear the audiobook together, the author’s words come alive with a different kind of magic.
This works for non-fiction just as well. But when it comes to fiction, reading and hearing at the same time is a rare treat no lover of literature should miss out on. The text will help you imagine what the author is describing, but the emotions, inflexion, and voice modulation brought in by the narrator would help you visualise the writing better.
In my experience, most voice actors use a different voice for each character, eerily well-suited to the mannerisms of the character as the author had described. This reinforces the difference in character traits more concretely and makes even the minor characters feel more real, more human.
When the genre you are reading is fantasy, you don’t have to guess how the complex names of characters and places (Is it even fantasy if the character names don’t have at least one apostrophe?) are pronounced anymore!
5. Read With A Friend(s)
No two persons ever read the same book.
They don’t. And that is why healthy discussions about a book always enhance your understanding of it and help you remember the contents for longer.
When you join readathons (reading marathons) or are a member of a book club, having discussions about each section of the book with equally enthusiastic readers helps you in several ways-
- You pay more attention to the core message in the book because you will have to discuss it later.
- Listening to different perspectives broadens your horizon and helps you see a different angle to what the author might have been trying to convey.
- When your opinion about a plot point or character conflicts with another reader’s, there’s potential for a healthy discussion to blossom. You can either defend your view or get convinced they are right. Of course, you both can agree to disagree too. Whatever the outcome, the discussion will help you remember this idea for longer than merely reading the book and moving on to the next.
The Bottom Line
When you find the right book at the right time, it has the power to change your life forever. These were the steps I followed over the years that helped me retain more from the books I read and implement the lessons in my life (and my writing). I hope you will find them useful and let books become your closest friends as I did. Like Charles Eliot famously quoted-
Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.
If you enjoyed this article, here are a few others you might find useful-
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