I always thought I was a fantastic reader.

In 2019, I read 100 books in a year, but, honestly, I barely remember anything I read.

While I don't mind forgetting fiction, as I read it for entertainment, I do not want to forget books I read for learning (usually non-fiction).

The problem was that I was passively consuming books. I thought I was a good reader, but I had yet to master the art of active reading.

This article aims to share how I have changed my approach to reading non-fiction books. Furthermore, I hope and to give you some ideas to develop your active reading.

How I Choose What to Read

When selecting a non-fiction book, I generally stick to a few topics of interest: productivity, health and wellbeing and learning.

Like many, I am interested in bestsellers; however, I do not automatically choose them. I take pleasure in finding those hidden gems that possibly influenced the bestsellers. It's always a bonus if those gems are relatively short to satisfy my limited attention span.

On the subject of attention spans, I confess that I do not always finish books. I firmly believe life is too short to struggle with a book you are not enjoying.

How I Read

Audiobooks are amazing, but they are also one of the reasons I did not remember much from the non-fiction books I consumed in 2019. The problem was, I usually listened to an audiobook while doing something else. The book had a little of my attention, and that was it. I didn't actively engage with what I was read (listening to). I didn't capture highlights and revisit them or make notes.

To remember and ultimately learn from what you read, it is essential to interact with it rather than passively consuming content. For me, this means highlighting, annotating and writing notes in my own words (ideally from memory).

Reading needs to be active, not passive.

This year I made the strategic decision to only listen to fiction audiobooks. I read non-fiction books on my Kindle.

How I Make Reading Active

I make reading active by:

  1. Highlighting and annotating the book.
  2. Making notes on what I have read in my own words.
  3. (Eventually) creating new content from what I have read.

I choose to read non-fiction books on my Kindle because I can easily extract the highlights and annotations I make and send them to my notetaking tool, Obsidian, via Readwise.

Highlighting and annotating is far easier on the Kindle app on my iPhone and iPad. However, I tend to read in the evening, so I choose my Kindle to minimise exposure to harmful blue light.

I use the Readwise app on my mobile to resurface the quotes I have highlighted.

Once I have finished a book, I review the highlights and annotations I have made (in Obsidian) and create notes in my own words. These notes might ultimately become a blog post, article, book or contribute to my academic work.

Areas for Development

The early stages of my reading process are working well, and I am happy with the technology 'stack' I have chosen. However, there are still aspects of my approach to active reading that need work.

My main issue is making time to read. Life is busy, so often, I read in bed before I fall asleep. I find reading relaxing, so I usually only get through a few pages before dozing off. I read far more and better in the morning and need to make more time for this.

I often have several books on the go, and I read slowly, so it takes me a long time to get to the final notetaking stage of my active reading process. My learning and content generation from reading is slow; as a result, this too needs work.

Having said all of that, I believe learning to learn is a continual work-in-progress, which I plan to do in public.

How do you approach active reading?

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