by Bernie Goldbach in Clonmel, Ireland
MY TEENAGED DAUGHTER inspires me to read more because I see her perched in the corner with a paperback nearly every evening. She is a smart person because she reads a lot.
There's something about reading that makes you smart but the smartness isn't measured by how many pages you scroll on your Kindle or how many books you buy in the shop.
Simply reading doesn't make you smart.
If you don't think about the words you've read, you don't learn from the pages you've seen.
I can clearly remember the name of the book I've read most recently. It was Tom Crean The Brave Explorer. I read the book with my primary school son. Unfortunately, besides remembering where Tom Crean grew up in Ireland, I don't remember the specifics about his role in exploring Antarctica, a place I supported as a C-141 pilot. (Photo below was taken in Greenland, another cold part of my flying experience.
I've looked into what smart people do when they read. They think about what the author is saying. They take time to reimagine sections of the books they've just read. This is an important process because when you're reading, you're just following the narrative set by the author. You're letting the author offer a mental map but you often don't know where the map is taking you.
At least that's what I think is happening when I'm just flipping pages and scrollling text. I believe to read better you need to read actively.
Highlight as you read
I highlight parts of paragraphs that resonate with me. Sometimes those sections are items that cause me to think. Other times, the highlights are sections I need to remember for classes I teach. I see my daughter highlighting parts of her school books and then using those highlights as points of reference. My highlights often fold into Readwise where they resurface as part of a daily routine. I get to see the highlights as part of email summaries and inside the Readwise app. I know that this mass exposure effect cannot be used in isolation because simply scannining hightlights doesn't make you more intelligent.
Annotate your highlights
I think it's important to know why you highlighted an item. For that reason, I add short notes to most of my highlights, either when initially saving them in Readwise or when I spot them inside Obsidian, my personal knowledge management system. It's very important to read why you hightlighted an item and then to review the words you wrote about the highlights. Writing in your own words (instead of copying and pasting the original text) forces you to think about ideas more thoroughly. Seeing your perspective about someone else's idea improves your thinking.
Review your highlights
I spend a lot of money on paid subscriptions, e-books, and traditional books. This could easily be money I flush away without even opening the cover of the book I bought. Most of the people I know will at least read cover notes of the books they own but they don't take notes on what they read. That's a recipe for forgetfulness because I know that I need to review my notes constantly because when they resurface, I'm often in a different place or I need additional support material provided by the notes. Reading my perspective from years ago helps me improve my perspective.
I hope to improve my reading because I want to develop better and enhance my insights. At this mature stage in my life, I know my notes will never be complete because I can always update and enhance them. Good notes are like green shoots that grow and cross-pollinate. But this growing process never happens if you do not regularly review notes you make from items you read.
I'm looking at a way of being able to share notes that I've made through Craft.do, a top-rated well-designed iOS app that's also on my Windows 11 Surface Book. Click here to see my shared notes about this blog post. I treasure the ideas I've shared online. I get excellent follow-up ideas from friends who often blast me for my unformed thoughts. The thought leaders I hear on podcasts tell me that they have built their audiences and grown their opportunities by sharing ideas. And I know that oftentimes the most-discussed items aren't original thoughts because well-read people keep notes about things that have evergreen characteristics.
Now it's time for more deep reading and note-taking. And if I'm successful with this goal today, I'll crank out a Topgold Audio Clip to share what I've annotated during today's 100 page reading session.
If you're a deep reader too, let me know if you would add to these tactics that I'm using while learning to read better.
[Bernie Goldbach teaches digital transformation on the Clonmel campus of the Technological University of the Shannon.]