Books Reports

Learning by Adam on 2007-09-14 09:25

I hated doing book reports in elementry school. Actually, it’s not the actual doing I minded: I enjoyed reading, and summarizing what I had read was not hard. But it bugged the hell out of me that they seemed so pointless. The author already wrote the book; why should I do it again, in condensed form?

Of course the whole point was to make me (the student) organize the key points from the work in my own head. I guess I’ve come full circle: now, whenever I finish a book, I write a few paragraphs about it in my library. Yep, it’s a book report.

As a result of this, I think I get a lot more lasting value out of the nonfiction books I read. If the book is any good, I may write several pages. If the book was mediocre, the whole thing may boil down to just a one or two mild insights, easily summarized in a few sentences.

It also serves as an interesting metric as to whether I should finish a book which I’m only partly enjoying. Usually around a third or so into the book I’ll find that I either “get” what it’s about, and am excited about reading the rest; or, I’ll find myself wondering if it’s worth bothering. An easy way to decide, I’ve found, is to stop and think: will I want to write up a paragraph or two for my library database when I’m done reading? If it doesn’t seem worth the bother to spend five minutes writing a summary - that is, I can’t think of enough worthwhile material that I’ve read so far worth covering - then it’s hardly worth the bother of another 3, 5, 10, or more hours of my life to finish reading it. Timothy Ferriss calls this “the art of nonfinishing.” Just because you started something doesn’t obligate you to finish it. Only finish it if it’s worthwhile to do so.)

Even if you don’t have a library, like me, I recommend trying this as you get close to end of books you’re reading. It could be written or it could just be in your head. If you had thirty seconds to tell someone the most interesting parts of the book, what would you say?

One comment per 'Books Reports'

  1. bryan says:

    i do something similar, basically flagging important passages with those little post-it flags. then when i finish the book i copy them down into one of those blank black sketchbooks you get at the art store.

    this sort of thing drastically improves retention for me. i can’t tell you how much more i get from my reading. and referring back to the ‘quotebook’ periodically is a favorite pastime.

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