Interesting article about reading

I was on Medium the other day and I came across the following article.

@joebuhlig and I’ve had a number of discussions on whether or not you need to finish a book when you start one. I am of the opinion no and the article agrees with me. But I see Joe’s point on perseverance and completing a book. Anyone have thoughts on how they read books?

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Though I sometimes would like to put unfinished books away, there’s this nagging feeling that I’ll miss something interesting. Maybe this is a good thing because most of the times, when this happens (and my expectations go a bit lower about that book) I tend to pay more attention and find some gems.

In academia, we have the AIC method of reading scholarly journal articles: Abstract, Introduction, Conclusion. If you really dig what you see, you can read the other parts (review of the relevant literature, research methodology, data analysis, discussion of the findings), but if you’re just cruising through a set of articles you need to cite for a new paper, it gets the job done with only reading about 20 percent of the full paper. That said, I do a similar thing with books:

  • I start with the foreword. I know, this is usually a skippable part of the book, but sometimes an author does the right thing here and gives a good synopsis of the background of the project: where it came from, what the author hoped to accomplish, and how she went about doing that. To me, this is the brown M&M test for the whole book.
  • Then I go through the introduction. Here I look for two things: 1. A good thesis, or single-sentence summary of the book’s argument; and 2. A roadmap or plan of the rest of the book. These show the author has a good argument and an organized way of presenting supporting evidence.
  • Last, I skip to wherever the author actually tells me how to implement the argument in my daily life. Although this is usually the point for self-help books, I also look for this in nearly everything written. After all, writing is telling a story, and if the author doesn’t help me relate that story to my own life, then what’s the point?

Everything else in the book is usually details. If the author sold me on the first three points, then I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and carry on with the rest of the book. Still, a lot of this can be skimmed. David Allen’s Getting Things Done or Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit includes a lot of skimmable details or anecdotes; on the other hand, I found nearly every word of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits valuable. Of course, this is subjective, and you should base your approach on the three points above if you want to read this way.

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