How well do you read?

More specifically, how well do you retain what you read.

I’ve been through a number of books recently:

Lies and the lying liars…"
The Lies of George W. Bush
Big Lies

Now I am about to embark on “Fortunate Son.” This is a somewhat densely packed book about W.

What I am disturbed about is how little I retain. So, I’m wondering how many of you are in the same boat and if you’re not what tricks (other than highlighting) do you use to etch the new information in your brain

Way back before computers, one of my college profs would condense his reading to notes on 3x5 cards. He (it seems) would read with a stack of cards close by, and write on them as he read along. When he was through, he’d stack them in order, rubber band them and, I suppose, file them.

Then, when he was going to discuss a book (or two or three) in class, he’d bring the cards in, unband them and off we went.

He was very, very smart in his own offhand way, so it wasn’t as if he read the cards verbatim, all the time. On the contrary, discussions were lively, stimulating and we all loved 'em.

Anyway, that was his trick. I can’t do it. I’d never get through a book at all.

What tricks (or whatever you want to call them) do you use?

Well, if you’re reading those books, you should end up remembering most of the stuff just through repetition.

According to two of my professors most people only remember 10% of what they read. If thats thr truth then I don’t know why the keep yelling at my classes for not remember everything. They told us we wouldn’t! They said that if you have something specific you are reading for or if you try to do some kind of activity about what you are reading you will remember a lot more. If you don’t mind writing in your books you could underline or mark some stuff somehow. I know many people don’t like to write in their books though. Sometimes I read what I need to and then skim it later and that seems to help me remember.

How to read a book:

Reading comprehension has always been one of my strengths. The advice rowrrbazzle has linked to seems to be pretty on target. I think the point about not highlighting too much is excellent. Have you ever seen those used textbooks that seemed like they were owned by someone who believed “If I just run a highlighter over everything, I’ll certainly remember it for the test”? That is a sign of someone who doesn’t “get it” with respect to reading comprehension.

For comprehension, I think note-taking is light-years better than highlighting. Anything that involves more of your senses than just looking at the page. This could be reading out loud, discussing the topic with someone, arguing aloud with the author as you read, or writing summary notecards like the prof you originally mentioned. If you’re getting bored, do something different like write a chapter summary in crayon or on the blackboard, from the perspective of a cartoon character. Turning from passive to active has always been the key for me when I want maximum retention, even on really dry or difficult material.

Good luck, it sounds like you’ll have a pretty good understanding of the mess our country is in by the time you’re done. :slight_smile:

Wonderful ideas from rowrr and Harriet. Thank you both!

I’m fine with fiction, drama, and poetry, and to a lesser extent literary criticism about texts I have read, but I have a really hard time retaining material from nonfiction books unless I’m exceptionally interested in the subject matter. Scholarly books about history are the worst; unfortunately, my current dissertation topic is going to involve reading a lot of social history unless things change radically. I second the recommendation of taking notes as you go; also, you might try discussing your reading with other people, either in real life or here on the SDMB. Anything interactive is usually a good thing.

When reading something difficult, I often pretend I’m teaching it to somebody else. I get up and lecture, ask myself questions, etc.

I got the idea from the old adage that you don’t really understand something until you try to teach it. It seems to work, and it certainly eases the boredom of reading uninteresting material.

Me too. In fact, it’s my only academic strength. All of the neurons apparently settled on the verbal side of my brain, leaving the math sections sparsely popluated.

It’s just something peculiar about my mind, I suppose, but I remember practically everything I read. I may not be able to quote it word-for-word, but I can give you a good synopsis.

What I might suggest to you,Antiochus, is to read a short section of the book, and then mull it over for a while in your head. Treat it as you would a post on the SDMB, disecting each section, and weighing the arguments therin, then move on to the next after you’re sure you’ve absorbed it.

I don’t do any of the note-taking or highlighting business. If I don’t remember something, it is because I did not find it important when I read it. This is as it should be. Also, sometimes, there can be details in a book which slightly alter one’s perception of the subject, make one more familiar and comfortable with it, even though the detail is later forgotten.

As to boring and uninteresting books, I don’t know what to say. If a book doesn’t interest me, I don’t read it.

Almost photographic memory here. Seriously, I read stuff and, if I like it, it stays with me (that’s the “almost” part - I don’t have mechanical recall of just anything I look at - books I don’t like disappear from the landscape quickly).

I guess I do a couple of things that I am aware of that help me to retain content:

  1. I allow my mind to make correlations while I am reading - by that I mean that when I am reading, if a sentence makes me think of, oh, a TV commercial, or a specific actor who could embody the character or an event that happened to me or whatever, I let my mind run with it. The more correlations I am able to make with a book, its plot, characters, etc., then the less I truly need to remember about the book - I can just access the major aspects of the book by recalling those correlations. After I realized I did this, I heard about that basketball player who has since gotten into a shtick about building a Super Memory - Jerry Lucas? - who when he memorizes the names of the members of the audience, he uses unique visual correlations - so if someone’s last name is, oh, “Cooper”, he thinks of a pigeon coop with their face. So he doesn’t have to remember the name of the person, per se, just the visual he conjured up to lock in their name. I guess my correlations have a similar effect.

  2. I allow myself to have a simple dialogue with the book - by that I mean, if I am reading and come across a plot point that causes me to ask a question, I go ahead and ask the question. “Boy, that seems like a foreshadowing point - what is coming up?” “Okay, that was obscure - why? Is it hiding something in an appropriately literate way, or is it just bad writing?” (you can guess which answer bears out the most, unfortunately). Coupled with this, I tend to summarize chapters in my head - “okay, so this happened and this happened - next?”. Very utilitarian and strips the book of nuance, but either there is something worth summarizing or there isn’t, right?

Hope this helps.