Saturday, April 29, 2017

I don't read; I study

This year is turning out to be a year of new systems. I had already implemented two systems, which I've dutifully blogged about in this post here. I'm still using them and they are serving me very well.

This new system is a overhaul of a old one that dated back in 2007, so it has been active for about 10 years. I used to have a reading target of 52 books a year. I say 'used' because the new system seeks to overhaul this old one. Reading 52 books a year means essentially reading one book per week. While I failed to hit target in some years, I succeeded in some too, and overall I'm the greatest benefactor of this reading habit. If you have to read one book a week, I'm sure you won't have a lot of time to watch TV or surf the internet and such time wasters. In trying to find 52 worthy books to read, I also have to spend some time curating the good books that other people are reading.

The bad thing about reading 52 books a year is that I always find that I'm rushing to finish off the book and go on to the next one. While the goal is a notable one to urge me to read more, it has slowly become one of those checklist that I want to fulfill. In other words, I read for the sake of reading and to fulfill that goal. That makes the goal meaningless. There's scarcely time to reflect. When I did was to devour plates and plates of brain food in a endless stream of buffet items without really having enough time to savour and digest each mouthful. It wasn't totally useless, because while I do not have the depth of understanding each book as fully as I would like to have, I did have the breadth and with it comes the knowledge of what I like and do not like.

The motive for a change of system came when I became a father this year. I thought I had fully utilised my free time before I was a father, but I thought wrong. There are always more pockets of time that I can squeeze, that I need to squeeze. It became clear that I won't have the time to do 52 books a year anymore. What if I am reading and missed the first smile by my son? What if I missed his first step? The cost is too great.

Thus, it's high time to reduce the breadth and go deep. I don't read books these days; I study them. I study them by reading it once, then type a summary of each chapter or the points that cry out to me for the entire book. I'll read the summary a few more times when editing them before declaring I'm done. I've done it for a few rounds already and here's what I found out:

1) This is such a good experience. When is the last time I've studied something like that? I might want to do an experiment where I only read just 1 book in one year. I'll read it again and again and again just to have a contrast between the old system where I was reading so many books. One is breadth while the other is in depth.

2) The amount of things I retained from merely writing a summary is tremendous. Usually after reading it only, I can remember a few key points and these key points will be forgotten in 1 month, 6 month or in a year's time. By actively summarizing and typing it out, I get maximal retention. Even if I've forgotten the key points, I can always review the summary again to refresh.

3) I effectively shifted my focus from hitting "x" books a year, a meaningless target, to learning as much as I can from each book. The shift in focus is very liberating to me.  

4) Having practiced summary writing for a while, I find that while reading, I will also subconsciously try to find an overall structure to each chapter. I will browse through each chapter to get a feel of the layout before I begin reading. The structure acts as the skeleton while the points and example as the flesh that clings on to the structure. Within the book there is also an overall structure that lays out the main argument of the book clearly. I find myself going back and fro and looking at the table of contents a lot more these days. Now I'm wondering if I'm actually reading a book in the past 10 years! There's so much things that I can get out from a book and yet I'm only reading the text!

5) It takes me about 1-2 weeks to get the summary done. During that time, I will be reading the re-reading previous chapters to feel the overall structure. That gives me plenty of time to reflect and think and integrate the new materials.

To play a piano while, we first learn the rules and obey it strictly. When we can do that very well, we earn the right to 'play' the piano. Thereafter, we ignore the rules, experiment and improvise. Isn't that what I'm doing here too? I begin with an unforgiving goal - to read 52 books a year. I've done it a couple of times to know that I can read. Now, it's time to really play-read a book.


Singapore Man of Leisure said...



It's about time!!!

Ever since you had your 52 books a year goal, I've been meaning to poke you on it ;)

Its not sustainable...

I held my tongue because I have others to poke on "goal settings" - I think you know who! LOL!

I've been patiently waiting to see when you will see the "light" :)

We read for the love of reading.

When we feel like it, read. Don't feel like reading, don't read lor!

When reading becomes a habit - like reading for 30 minutes before we go to bed - then how many books we managed to finish in a year will be just a by-product.

Good books I read at least 3-4 times, each time gaining new insights. Books I like I want to own them; I can have access to them whenever I need them again.

Lousy books I either donate them to National Library or sell them at Bras Basah. Let them go before they poison my mind!

Tip: Do summaries only for good, great, and fantastic books ;)

Mediocre books, what's the point again?

Definitely not because you have a goal to do summaries for every book you read?

Or? LOL!

la papillion said...


I knew you'll poke me - well, I sort of deserve it and had it coming :) Oh no worries on summarizing everything...nah, I won't. The lack of leisurely time is a great clarifier and separator of nonsense :)

Singapore Man of Leisure said...


You walk you path; I walk mine.

Sometimes our paths intertwined.

Like thieves, we instantly recognise each other.

A nod and a knowing smile.

As we pass each other on our pathless road...


Sillyinvestor said...


During the course I have the luxury of time of reading. I read in 3 months more books than I read in 3 years. But it is not the number of books that I read that perks me. Some I scan and threw them aside.

I realize basically we seek knowledge from
Books. There are few levels of knowledge

1) I just understand it as I read, it is kept at sensory level or short term memory. It is just a input process. But if we dun even understand what we are reading, it doesn't even get input

2) The next level is long term storage and retrieval. Things like summaries, key points etc. help processed the information and link them to long term memory and allow more codes and avenues for retrival as and when we need it. But this is still Exam/ surface or direct level use of knowledge. I remember hence I can use. Like add water before hot into milk bottle
Then finally milk powder.

3) third type of knowledge from books is most useful. It's application and then transfer. It went from theory tonideaa to trial and error in life to make things run simpler and more efficient. Gave u meaning and clarity of what can be done. It became contextualize and the knowledge from books became your knowledge

Depth of learning and reading is something I can reasonate with. But I seldom read a book more than twice. I will be thinking how to use it and trying it and refining my knowledge. But my books are work related. Not applicable to all I stances

Sillyinvestor said...

There are also 3 types of books.

1 focus on the Why. Explain why it's important and the consequences of not following. Seeking to convince and bring you to a side.

2 focus on the how. This assumed u already converted, and the many ways to do something

All books have both, but it's clear the author has which as emphasis. It is very risky to just know why and not how. It is just shouting slogan with not clarity.

It is also dangerous to know how but not why. U focus on the form and not the substance of things

la papillion said...

Hi SI,

Thanks for the clarification on the categories of books. I didn't know that you don't read books outside your domain. How come? I thought the best gems are those cross fertilisation that you get from reading things that are off tangent to your current path? I read all sorts of genres (except chinese books, cos it's too painfully slow to read lol) and I'm out there to acquire different models of thought haha

I've read a book on 'how to read a book'. Maybe i'll revisit it back then. It was an old tome written in the 1900s, when people are listening more to radios than reading. Though we're different times now, but it's still the same haha!

Sillyinvestor said...

Oh I mean the bulk of books I read during course is work related. LOL.

Before that I read investment books and all sorts la, even go online and try to understand 孙子兵法muhahaha

The only non-work related book I read this window is Philip Yeo's book. It is one of the best !

la papillion said...

Hi SI,

Ah, understood :) Of course, during course must be course related materials :)

Okay, I should go read that book too :)

Sillyinvestor said...

Yup LP,

It's a nice book. The best quote is "easier to seek forgiveness than approval"

All the books I read are not mandated by the course Muhahahaha my own interest

I recommend 2 more. Very good

1) Creatuve schools by Ken Robinson
2) How the brain thinks by David Souza

I would say those books are inflection point in my education journey lol

la papillion said...

Hi SI,

I read a book by Ken Robinson before and it was really boring lol! He was those type of university professors who goes on and on in print form, and I find him better 'live' in TED talks. But since you recommended, I'll take a look again :) Will put these in my waiting list.

I'm now devouring a childhood education/development textbook lol

Unintelligent Nerd said...

Hi LP,

"When I did was to devour plates and plates of brain food in a endless stream of buffet items without really having enough time to savour and digest each mouthful."

That particular sentence somehow reminded me of the philosophical concept of qualia. I think I need to learn to "stop and smell the flowers" and experience that aspect of qualia again.

Speaking of qualia, have you read "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" before? Yup, it's on metaphysics.

Developmental psych textbooks are good fun to read. Always enjoy reading them, but not memorizing them for tests/exams in my undergrad days >.<


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la papillion said...

Hi UN,

Haha, I've heard of that book and it's in my waiting list of books to read :) You must be doing something in related/similar fields. I don't envy you lol!

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Hi UN,

Thanks for the book recommendation!
Read a few pages of it and found it intriguing.
Really like it!