From Robert Heaton:
Five years ago I realized that I remembered almost nothing about most books that I read. I was reading all kinds of non-fiction – pop-psychology, pop-economics, pop-sociology, you name it – and felt like quite the polymath auto-didact. But one day, after I had finished blathering at a friend about how much I had enjoyed Thinking, Fast and Slow, they asked for a quick summary of the book’s overall thesis. I thought for a while, mumbled something about System 1 and System 2 and how I had only really read it for background knowledge, and adroitly changed the subject. As I was falling asleep that night it occurred to me that calling yourself an auto-didact doesn’t mean you actually know anything.
. . . .
As adults we read non-fiction books because they are fun, and because we want to know and remember the things inside them. However, it’s not surprising that we don’t remember much about what we read. Learning comes from repetition, and few people have occasion to think about capital-income ratios after finishing Capital In The Twenty-First Century. Even fewer spend much time immersed in black holes post-A Brief History of Time.
One completely valid way to deal with this fact is to decide that you are fine with it. Reading Manufacturing Consent is an enjoyable experience and worth doing for its own sake; you don’t want to be viewing all of your leisure activities through the lens of a strict cost-benefit analysis.
. . . .
Learning comes from repetition, but books are long and verbose and not designed with this in mind. You can get a macro, high-level form of repetition by reading multiple books about the same topic, but even this doesn’t guarantee that you will remember the specific things that you want to or how it all hangs together.
To try and get more reps in, I think that books should be read in two phases:
- Read and annotate the book in a way that makes it easy to scan and digest once you have finished
- Once you have finished the book, make a “writeup”. This involves summarizing the book, doing further research and making flashcards (using Anki)
Link to the rest at Robert Heaton