Previously, we discussed the reasons why it’s difficult to remember the content of non-fiction books. In brief, we pointed out that the format (too much information, a great deal of narrative) and approach to reading (many pages read over a short, intermittent period of time) non-fiction books is not conducive, and is often detrimental, to remembering.
In this post, we will provide an approach to reading non-fiction books that will help you to remember more of what you read. The pointers provided here are loosely based on an article by Paul N. Edwards of the University of Michigan. Although Professor Edwards’ piece is aimed at college students who often have different reading goals than lifelong learners, much of what he advises is applicable to reading non-fiction in a non-academic environment.
The first step to better non-fiction reading is to familiarize yourself with the overall structure of the book by reading the Introduction, Table of Contents and the first and last paragraph of each chapter. This will provide you with a rough initial framework. After getting an understanding of the structure of the book and its subject matter, try to hone in on the three most important points of the book (unless your book specifically makes more than three major points, i.e. the 7 Habits) and write them down.
Then, go back through the Table of Contents and skim the chapters to locate the areas where the author explains these main points and read them slowly. In addition to gaining an understanding of each major point, try to get an understanding of the interrelationship between the major points. This is often something that can be found in the Introduction and the transitional points between two major subjects.
To summarize, better reading starts with understanding the structure of the book, determining its main points and understanding each point and how they relate to each other. This system won’t give you the revelational experience that authors try to create, but you will discover, understand and remember more. Then, of course, if you read the entire book, you’ll get much more out of it.