Saturday, October 1, 2011

Mark Forster on reading books

I wanted to share this (I think) phenomenal advice for people like me: Book lovers who sort books into two kinds:

  1. Books I want to read, and
  2. Books I want to have read.
Why even have the second category? Because there are books that have something to teach me but that for various reasons might not be exactly what I enjoy reading the most. Honestly, if it was just a matter of instant gratification, I'd probably stick with Terry Pratchett books and only occasionally throw in some non-fiction. Non-fiction - especially science and philosophy - requires a lot more attention, a lot more focus and a lot more work after you put the book down to absorb the stuff in it. But I want to learn, and sometimes I have to force myself to leave The Fifth Elephant on the night stand and instead work through a chapter of Dan Dennett's Elbow Room. And the best way to accomplish this I've found is to use Mark Forster's technique of having a rotating stack of five books:
 I chose five books as my "active" books and put them in a pile. Then I take the top book from the pile and read as much as I want to in one session. At the end of the session, it goes at the bottom of the pile. Then for my next reading session, I take the next book in the pile, read as much as I want to of that, and put it at the bottom of the pile. The two most important rules are:
1) I don't allow myself to read any book that's not in the pile. If a new book arrives it has to wait until one of the others is finished.
2) I don't allow myself to keep a book on top of the pile for more than one session. Once I've put it down, it has to go at the bottom of the pile.
This works like magic because the variety keeps my interest going. 
Honestly, works like a charm. It keeps my interest fresh in the books I'm reading, I don't find myself "skimming" through chapters just to get it over with when my interest wanes (if I can no longer focus on it, it just goes to the bottom of the pile) and it lets me read a varied range of books. Wholeheartedly recommended if you're anything like me.

Downside is you need to keep five bookmarks on hand. Quite the first-world problem.

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