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What I Have Learned About Reading



There is a cognitive bias called the sunk cost fallacy. We hesitate to abandon a strategy or a plan because we already have invested time, money, energy in it, even if dropping that specific action would be more helpful for us. With the sunk cost fallacy in mind, we would gain more if we do not finish a book we do not enjoy.

Time is non-regenerable and is not worth spending our time on boring or bad books. Usually, after 50-100 pages, I can guesstimate if I want to finish the book I am reading. Furthermore, some books are nothing more than glorified blog posts. I skim through such books once I understand the main idea, and I do not necessarily complete them. 

“You cannot step into the same river twice”

As Heraclitus remarked, we can’t cross the same river twice, as we changed, and the river changed. Similarly, we cannot read the same book twice. The insights we gain from a book change with each rereading.

Adam Grant says in his Originals book:

Déjà vu occurs when we encounter something new, but it feels as if we’ve seen it before. Vuja de is the reverse — we face something familiar, but we see it with a fresh perspective that enables us to gain new insights into old problems.

Books we found impressive as teenagers metamorphose as entirely different books in our adult years. We changed, we have other perspectives regarding the book’s topic, we experience deja vu.

The prepared environment

Like I wrote in a previous article, I tend to prepare my environment. I have books in the living room, books in each bathroom, books on my desk, and books in my bag. I also read between three or five books at a time. In this way, there is always a book for my mood. If I have more time, I can settle into a non-fiction book. If I feel exhausted, I will enjoy a light read. 


Marginalia, or taking notes on the margins of a book, is a disputed topic. Some would cry Sacrilege! Others see marginalia as a required method for understanding the reading materials, an effective way of transferring knowledge from author to reader. What I do is that I mark the corners of the pages where I underlined text passages or where I scribbled notes.

The paper versus digital books debate 

Research shows that the reading medium matters. There are differences in reading comprehension between print and screen mediums, and it is more efficient to read from paper, especially for non-fiction or academic research. It is unrealistic to avoid reading from digital devices. Thus, researchers suggest active reading reduces the differences between reading on paper versus reading on screen: highlighting, thinking, note-taking. 

Taking notes 

I started to have more insights from the books I read after I committed to taking notes. This step is crucial for me as some articles of mine began to grow after I noticed the same idea referenced in different books (e.g., Shoshin, the Zen concept that applies to companies, science, and personal development). I write the quotes or the notes from a book’s pages I marked in a Leuchtturm notebook.

On the content section of the notebook, I write the book title and the page number where I started taking notes for that book. As I read multiple books simultaneously, I found that it is better to take notes after reading, not while reading a book. This way, I get a mental space for the concepts and ideas from that book to settle.

Input versus output

Reading 20 books

As to reading, there is little value to gain in focusing on the output (e.g., I will read 50-100 books in one year). I could easily read three short books in one week or barely finish an enormous book in one month. By setting a fixed number of books per year, I might hurry through short books, racing to achieve a goal. And that takes from the pleasure of reading.

“In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.” ― Mortimer J. Adler 

It is more important to focus on the input by creating a reading habit. E.g: I will read for ten minutes every day. I will read three pages every day. Whenever I want to check social media, I will read one page.

It might not surprise you how much I can read in a day if I replace my phone interactions with reading a book. The beauty of compound interest in reading is that the more I read, the more time I seem to find for reading.

Reading recommendations

I am wary of recommending books. What I find exciting and compelling, others could find dull and boring. Then, reading is context-depending. Some books would be tremendous at one stage in our life and perfectly ignorable at another stage of our life. Thus, even if somebody recommends me a book today, unfortunately, I might truly absorb that book’s essence later in my life … or never. We all have our peculiar reading tastes that we don’t need to defend — de gustibus.

Over two thousand years ago, the Greek historian Polybius remarked that “the most instructive, indeed the only method of learning to bear with dignity the vicissitude of fortune, is to recall the catastrophes of others.” From Roman soldiers to women fighting in the second world war, from fantasy to autobiographies, from mystery novels to poetry, from social movements to psychology, books allow us to live multiple lives in just one.

The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours. ― Alan Bennett

Previously published at https://www.roxanamurariu.com/what-i-have-learned-about-reading/.


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