Netflix's docuseries Inside Bill's Brain: Decoding Bill Gates opens with him reading the Minnesota state budget. Beside him lie 37 more state budgets. It's a fitting introduction for a man who spends a significant portion of his waking hours reading.
It is generally well accepted that reading is a good habit. Almost every successful person says so. So how do we make sure we're actually engaging with the books we read?
During my semester abroad in Madrid, I found myself with a lot more free time. I used this time to read more, and ended up finishing over 10 books during the semester. In doing this, I was confronted with 2 problems:
Paul Graham doesn't have a problem with this.
Reading and experience train your model of the world. And even if you forget the experience or what you read, its effect on your model of the world persists. Your mind is like a compiled program you've lost the source of. It works, but you don't know why. — Paul Graham
This gave me some comfort but I wanted to do better, especially with the engaging aspect. In other words, I wanted to be an active reader, not a passive one. But how? Many people (Gates, Newton, Fermat) write in the margins of their books. I tried doing this for a while but I often didn't have enough space, or I didn't own the book.
So, I decided to modify this technique by using post-it notes. Basically, whenever I come across something intriguing, something I disagree with or a new idea of my own - I write it down on a post-it and also note down the page number. I stick the post-its on the inside cover of the book. Check it out below.
There's no algorithm for what to write down, it's really just based on your judgment. Many times I'll summarize an interesting argument that spans multiple pages into a sentence or two.
In a week's time, I revisit the book and try to write about it using my notes as reference. Again, there's no format on what to write - I just pretend I'm giving a friend my take on the book. This is the purpose of the bookshelf section of my website, it's just a way for me to better engage with the books I read and well, give you my take on the book.
This technique certainly won’t work for everyone. I know many people use Kindles, where this analog approach isn't even feasible. Either way, I highly recommend developing your own technique to become a more active reader. Feel free to use this technique as your first iteration!