Books: Know why you're reading it
Something which I frequently forget while reading books is that it’s actually quite useful to know exactly why you’re reading it i.e. what knowledge are you trying to gain by doing so.
I noticed this again recently while reading The Agile Samurai - it’s one of the books we ask ThoughtWorks University participants to read before they come to India.
Implicitly I knew that I just wanted to get a rough idea of what sort of things it’s telling people but I somewhat foolishly just started reading it cover to cover.
I only realised that I’d been doing this when I’d got a third of the way through and realised that I hadn’t really learnt that much since the book effectively describes the way that ThoughtWorks delivers projects.
In Pragmatic Learning and Thinking Andy Hunt suggests the SQ3R reading comprehension method which I always forget about!
- Survey – scan the table of contents and chapter summaries
- Question – note any questions you have
- Read – read in entirety
- Recite – Summarise and take notes in your own words
- Review – Re-read, expand notes, discuss with colleagues
I don’t think it always needs to be quite as organised as this but I’ve certainly found it useful to scan the chapter headings and see which ones interest me and then skip the ones which don’t seem worth reading.
When reading The Art of Unix Programming I felt that I was learning a lot of different things for the first ten chapters or so but then it started to get quite boring for me so I skimmed the rest of the book and ended up reading just half of the chapters completely.
The amusing thing for me is that I knew about this technique a couple of years ago but I still don’t use it which I think that comes down to having a bit of a psychological thing about needing to finish books.
At the moment I have around 15 books which I’ve partially read and at the back of my mind I know that I want to go and read the rest of them even though there will undoubtably be varying returns from doing that!
I need to just let them go…