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The Unorthodox Reader

December 5, 2012

I will admit it.  I have a horrid vice that is causing me both psychological and financial stress.  I buy A LOT of books.  I estimate that in the last year, I’ve probably bought at least 50 whether they come from Amazon, the B & N down the street, PDFs, kindle, books on tape, or through my Audible account.  I don’t just buy them and let them sit, mind you.  These books almost always get read.  I just read them in a different way than I assume most people do.  Today, I have read portions of three books: Seth Godin’s Purple CowStephanie Vance’s The Influence Gameand Nate Silver’s new book, The Signal and the Noise.  On deck for this evening, I’ve got a PDF copy of Robert Cialdini’s classic book, Influence On top of that, I’ve perused some of my notes and dog ears from Monkey Mind, a book I referenced in my last blog post.  Add to that some blogs, and I’ve got my hands full.  I realize that a lot of people often take this scatter-shot approach to reading.  It’s kind of like the reverse of what Ryan Holiday calls his “Swarm” strategy.   Just off the top of my head, in the past year I’ve read books on: marketing, political history, statistics, polling, political strategy, memoirs, social marketing, owning a business, baseball, self-help, and a couple of works of fiction for good measure.  Pretty good list of topics, if I do say so myself.  That I’ve read these books simultaneously is a bit unorthodox.  I have my reasons, though.  This strategy, which I used to think of as a kind of deficiency  has really gone a long way in shaping how I absorb and retain information.

A few weeks ago, I was at a doctor’s appointment and we got to talking about how I love to read, but how I almost always do it in a really roundabout manner.   So naturally, the conversation was steered towards ADD.  I told him that one book at a time rarely held my interest before another could come in and pique my interest enough to motivate me to pick it up in lieu of what I was previously reading.  I told him that I was currently reading about 8 books.   We got to talking about how long it would take me to get through all those.  I thought about it, and came up with my answer:two months.  He looked a bit surprised.  I thought I might have sounded like an idiot.  On the contrary, he informed me that if I was clipping off an average of one a week, I was doing pretty well.  “So you don’t think I’m actually ADD?” I asked.  “Oh, no,” he said.  “You definitely fall in the spectrum, but if you’re making it work for you, then I say keep it up.”  That was kind of an “AHA!” moment for me.  While how I studied and researched might seem a little strange, I was getting through a plethora of information at a quick rate.  So I went home and jotted down some of the tactics I use.  I’ve tried to firm them up and streamline them a little bit so they make sense.

  1. Read ALL the time: I am somehow, about 75% of the day, connected to a book in one way or another.  Whether I’m listening to one on a long drive, carting one around town with me, or reading one on my laptop, I try to make sure that I always have a book near me.  Some days I can crank out 150 pages on the couch, other days I may get  30 minutes to read.  Whatever the case, I try to incorporate reading into everyday life.  It’s become so commonplace for me that I kind of feel lost without a book nearby.
  2. Read on different subjects: This is the biggest key to me.  For work, I read lots on politics, marketing, and data.  But I don’t want to just sit and crank out 6 marketing books, then a couple political books, then an online course or two in statistics.  I’d rather read a couple chapters on each subject a day.  They are all pertinent to work, so why should two months of my time be dominated by one subject? I’m just going to forget all this stuff when I move on to another category.  Similarly, why read one book front to back and then move on? If I’m reading two books on political strategy, I prefer to read a little bit of each at a time then move on to the other one.  That way, I see lots of different ideas and can tinker with some of the conflicting theories and build upon the overlapping theories.  With this method, I have a steady stream of ideas coming from different places.  This allows me to synchronize and streamline all of the different theories and ideas I read about.
  3. Be an active, not a passive reader: Everyone is guilty of this at times.  You read a full book full of good ideas and then you put it down when you’re done and most of those ideas are lost after time goes by.  Your books should never look very good for very long.  Dog ear them, put sticky notes in them, take notes on a laptop and stash them away for another day.  Most people associate this kind of reading with academic texts.  I even do this with my novels.  If you’re reading something and you find it enjoyable or helpful, chances are that you will need it again at some point.  Make it easy on yourself and catch these things the first time around.
  4. Read something out of your comfort zone: I’ve read my fair share of self-improvement books, but lately my reading has been dominated by work-related stuff.  So I made a point this summer to pick up a self-improvement book, This is How, by Augusten Burroughs.  No, it didn’t give me much insight into what I was normally thinking about at the time.  That was exactly what I was going for.  How your brain functions is largely correlated with what you read.  At the time, I was burned out on politics and marketing.  So I threw my brain a curveball and went off course for a couple days.  I learned some good stuff and I felt refreshed when I came back to my other readings.  Something as simple as going out of your usual genre for a week can be enough to refresh your brain and get you focused again.

And there you have it.  A guide to unorthodox reading.  It won’t work for everyone, but it works for some of us.  I can confidently say that I won’t ever return to the one book at a time mindset.  This method puts about a million swirling ideas in my head at all times, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.


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One Comment
  1. Thanks guys! I’ll be checking out some of your blogs as well!

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