Should you read more or less?

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I've been reading almost everyday since March of 2020. I read a significant amount of books and articles in this time and it is proving to be a great investment. But I've also been wondering whether one should read a lot or should read less and retain more?

There is no right answer to this than trusting your instincts. I'm inclined towards reading more. Let me tell you why.

The easiest thing is to read within your field of work. But I believe in Creative Intersection and want to read from diverse topics such as Behavioral psychology, History, Physics, Software Engineering, Philosophy, Startups, and of course Fiction.

Before started taking notes, I wasn't worried about what or how I read. Reading was a fun activity even with non-fiction. Once I started taking notes this changed a bit. I did not take notes the right way though. Just collected random quotes without internalizing. For a few books I tried to export highlights, I hit Amazon's export limit.😬

Reading How to take smart notes changed how I take notes from the material. Now I only take notes about ideas that can fit into what is already my notes or those that can be potentially used in other contexts.

I read 30 books in 2020 and don't remember a lot of the content. But we don't need to remember all the details. Books and language work on a level deeper than our rational brain. Whatever you read can change you in ways you don't realize.

Paul Graham summarized this in a much better way in his essay How you know.

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.

You can make a decision based on what you expect out of reading. My goals are,

  1. If not obvious, I'm trying to become a polymath.😊
  2. Reading expands the surface area of your knowledge. It increases your chances of stumbling upon a great idea.
  3. I'm trying to write blog posts, notes, etc. Creativity can't happen without enough input through consumption.
  4. Reading is fun, and who would say no to more fun?

Based on the above, I'm currently inclined towards reading a lot and try to retain a part of it, but not to be obsessed over retaining. I am hoping that the dots will somehow connect.

If given a choice, would you choose to read more or read less and retain more?

Catalin Pit's photo

It depends on what I'm reading.

If I read technical books, I'd rather read less and retain more.

If I read "for fun", I don't really mind whether I retain something or not.

Vignesh M's photo

Thanks for dropping by Catalin. I often read technical books for fun too. So the line is blurred in my case.

Ana Vela's photo

I'm glad you bring this up! I tend to make a few if any notes whenever I read or listen to an audiobook. Writing notes feels like I'm slowing down, but then I don't remember much about a book months and years later if I don't have anything written about it. I've been trying to make it a habit to write notes or at least write a few thoughts down while I'm reading. I love reading books, but I'm finding that I am slowing down the number of books to get more out of each one. Do you have a format you follow when you do make notes?