How to Read a Book

I read for at least a couple hours every day and have been a passionate reader since I was a teenager. There are times when I think I know everything about how to read.


Recently I’ve read several writers with fresh ideas about how to read effectively. Following are some posts that got me pumped about reading all over again.

Michael Hyatt —How to Read a Non-Fiction Book

Michael is chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers, the 7th largest trade publisher in the U.S. He makes several intriguing suggestions:

Remember that you do not have to finish every non-fiction book. “Not to be cynical, but most books aren’t worth finishing. I read until I lose interest. Then I move on to the next book.”

Read the table of contents. This is a map for the journey that the author has planned for you. The TOC puts ideas in context. And, a well-written TOC actually reveals the core messages in a non-fiction book. (Note: If you’re writing a book, create an annotated TOC for your readers.)

Take notes in a systematic way. In the margin of key pages, Hyatt writes:

• A star next to important points

• A question mark next to statements that call for further research.

• A ballot box (open square) next to statements that call for action.

Then he transfers the “ballot box” items to a to-do list. This demonstrates a high level of literacy—putting an author’s ideas into action.

Michael Hyatt—How to Retain More of What You Read

Michael also mentors a group of people who write 2-page summaries—”net-outs”—of their favorite non-fiction books. Each summary includes a:

• One-paragraph “elevator pitch” for the book

• List of key insights

• List of 2 or 3 things that the reader intends to do differently as a result of reading the book

• List of memorable quotes

In this post, Michael links to a sample summary and offers a template for creating them.

Seth Godin—How to Read a Business Book

In addition to writing best-selling books, Seth posts daily to his popular blog. Here he reminds us that reading—besides being a form of magic—can also be a high-stakes game. If you want to succeed at business, then there are books that you cannot afford to miss.

I often quote Seth on the structure of books: “The recipe that makes up just about any business book can be condensed to just two or three pages. The rest is the sell. The proof. The persuasion.”

One trick of reading is to find those pages—or to construct them from a list of the author’s key points.

Seth also offers a three-point reading program:

Begin with an intention to change. Set a goal to change three behaviors based on what you read.

See notes as “marching orders.” Highlight the passages that explain how to implement those three changes, or list them on an index card that you place in the book.

Pass it on. Share your favorite books and talk to people about them. “The single best use of a business book is to help someone else,” Seth writes. “A book is a souvenir and a container and a motivator and an easily leveraged tool. Hoarding books makes them worth less, not more.”

Bonus Suggestion

I stole the title of this post from a classic by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren. First published in 1940 and revised in 1972, it remains a treasure for people who love reading.