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Warren Buffett’s Best Kept Secret to Success: The Art of Reading, Remembering, and Retaining More Books

“I just sit in my office and read all day.”

This is how Warren Buffett, one of the most successful people in the business world, describes his day. Sitting. Reading.

He advises everyone to read more, and that’s certainly a goal we can all get behind. Our personal improvements at Buffer regularly come back to the books we read—how we aim to read more and make reading a habit. I imagine you’re in the same boat as well. Reading more is one of our most common ambitions.

So how do we do it? And what are we to do with all that information once we have it?

Reading more and remembering it all is a discussion with a lot of different layers and a lot of interesting possibilities. I’m happy to lay out a few possibilities here on how to read more and remember it all, and I’d love to hear your thoughts below.

But first, let’s set some baselines …

How fast do you read?

One of the obvious shortcuts to reading more is to read faster. That’s likely the first place a lot of us would look for a quick win in our reading routine.

So how fast do you read?

Staples (yes, the office supply chain) collected speed reading data as part of an advertising campaign for selling e-readers. The campaign also included a speed reading tool that is still available to try. Go ahead and take the test to see how fast you read.

(My score was 337 words per minute. Yours?)

The Staples speed reading test includes data on how other demographics stack up in words per minute. According to Staples, the average adult reads 300 words per minute.

  • Third-grade students = 150 words per minute
  • Eight grade students = 250
  • Average college student = 450
  • Average “high level exec” = 575
  • Average college professor = 675
  • Speed readers = 1,500
  • World speed reading champion = 4,700


Average Reading Speed

Is reading faster always the right solution to the goal of reading more? Not always. Comprehension still matters, and some reports say that speed reading or skimming leads to forgotten details and poor retention. Still, if you can bump up your words per minute marginally while still maintaining your reading comprehension, it can certainly pay dividends in your quest to read more.

There’s another way to look at the question of “reading more,” too.

How much do you read?

There’s reading fast, and then there’s reading lots. A combination of the two is going to be the best way to supercharge your reading routine, but each is valuable on its own. In fact, for many people, it’s not about the time trial of going beginning-to-end with a book or a story but rather more about the story itself. Speed reading doesn’t really help when you’re reading for pleasure.

In this sense, a desire to read more might simply mean having more time to read, and reading more content—books, magazines, articles, blog posts—in whole.

Let’s start off with a reading baseline. How many books do you read a year?

A 2012 study by the Pew Research Center found that adults read an average of 17 books each year.

The key word here is “average.” There are huge extremes at either end, both those who read way more than 17 books per year and those who read way less—like zero. The same Pew Research study found 19 percent of Americans don’t read any books. A Huffington Post/YouGov poll from 2013 showed that number might be even higher: 28 percent of Americans haven’t read a book in the past year.

Wanting to read more puts you in pretty elite company.

5 ways to read more books, blogs, and articles

1. Read for speed: Tim Ferriss’ guide to reading 300% faster

Tim Ferriss, author of the 4-Hour Workweek and a handful of other bestsellers, is one of the leading voices in lifehacks, experiments, and getting things done. So it’s no wonder that he has a speed-reading method to boost your reading speed threefold.

His plan contains two techniques:

  1. Using a pen as a tracker and pacer, like how some people move their finger back and forth across a line as they read
  2. Begin reading each new line at least three words in from the first word of the line and end at least three words in from the last word

The first technique, the tracker/pacer, is mostly a tool to use for mastering the second technique. Ferriss calls this second technique Perceptual Expansion. With practice, you train your peripheral vision to be more effective by picking up the words that you don’t track directly with your eye. According to Ferriss:

Untrained readers use up to ½ of their peripheral field on margins by moving from 1st word to last, spending 25-50% of their time “reading” margins with no content.

The below image from shows how this concept of perceptual expansion might look in terms of reading:

Perceptual Expansion

You’ll find similar ideas in a lot of speed reading tips and classes (some going so far as to suggest you read line by line in a snake fashion). Rapid eye movements called saccades occur constantly as we read and as our eyes jump from margins to words. Minimizing these is a key way to boost your reading times.

The takeaway here: If you can advance your peripheral vision, you may be able to read faster—maybe not 300 percent faster, but every little bit counts.

2. Try a brand new way of reading

Is there still room for innovation in reading? A couple of new reading tools say yes.

Spritz and Blinkist take unique approaches to helping you read more—one helps you read faster and the other helps you digest books quicker.

First, Spritz. As mentioned above in the speed reading section, there is a lot of wasted movement when reading side-to-side and top-to-bottom.

Spritz cuts all the movement out entirely.

Spritz shows one word of an article or book at a time inside a box. Each word is centered in the box according to the Optimal Recognition Point—Spritz’s term for the place in a word that the eye naturally seeks—and this center letter is colored red.

Spritz has yet to launch anything related to its technology, but there is a bookmarklet called OpenSpritz, created by, that lets you use the Spritz reading method on any text you find online.

Here is what OpenSpritz looks like at 600 words per minute:

OpenSpritz test

The Spritz website has a demo on the homepage that you can try for yourself and speed up or slow down the speeds as you need.

Along with Spritz is the new app Blinkist. Rather than a reimagining of the way we read, Blinkist is a reimagining of the way we consume books. Based on the belief that the wisdom of books should be more accessible to us all, Blinkist takes popular works of non-fiction and breaks the chapters down into bite-sized parts.

These so-called “blinks” contain key insights from the books, and they are meant to be read in two minutes or less. Yes, it’s a lot like Cliff Notes. Though the way the information is delivered—designed to look great and be eminently usable on mobile devices so you can learn wherever you are—makes it one-of-a-kind.

Here is an example of the Blinkist table of contents from Ben Horowitz’s The Hard Thing About Hard Things

The Hard Thing About Hard Things

I’m sure we can agree that it’s a lot easier to read more when a book is distlled into 10 chapters, two minutes each.

3. Read more by making the time

Shane Parrish of the Farnam Street blog read 14 books in March, and he tackles huge totals like this month-in and month-out. How does he do it?

He makes it a priority, and he cuts out time from other activities.

What gets in the way of reading?

I don’t spend a lot of time watching TV. (The lone exception to this is during football season where I watch one game a week.)

I watch very few movies.

I don’t spend a lot of time commuting.

I don’t spend a lot of time shopping.

If you look at it in terms of raw numbers, the average person watches 35 hours of TV each week, the average commute time is one hour per day round-trip, and you can spend at least another hour per week for grocery shopping.

All in all, that’s a total of 43 hours per week, and at least some of that could be spent reading books.

4. Buy an e-reader

In the same Pew research study that showed Americans’ reading habits, Pew also noted that the average reader of e-books reads 24 books in a year, compared to a person without an e-reader who reads an average of 15.

Could you really read nine more books a year just by purchasing an e-reader?

Certainly the technology is intended to be easy-to-use, portable, and convenient. Those factors alone could make it easier to spend more time reading when you have a spare minute. Those spare minutes might not add up to nine books a year, but it’ll still be time well spent.

5. Read more by not reading at all

This is quite counterintuitive advice, and it comes from a rather counterintuitive book.

How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read

How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read, written by University of Paris literature professor Pierre Bayard, suggests that we view the act of reading on a spectrum and that we consider more categories for books besides simply “have or haven’t read.” Specifically, Bayard suggests the following:

  • books we’ve read
  • books we’ve skimmed
  • books we’ve heard about
  • books we’ve forgotten
  • books we’ve never opened.


He even has his own classification system for keeping track of how he’s interacted with a book in the past.

UB book unknown to me

SB book I have skimmed

HB book I have heard about

FB book I have forgotten

++ extremely positive opinion

+ positive opinion

 negative opinion

 extremely negative opinion

Perhaps the key to reading more books is simply to look at the act of reading from a different perspective? In Bayard’s system, he essentially is counting books he’s skimmed, heard about, or forgotten as books that he’s read. How might these new definitions alter your reading total for the year?

3 ways to remember what you read

1. Train your brain with impression, association, and repetition

A great place to start with book retention is with understanding some key ways our brain stores information. Here are three specific elements to consider:

  1. Impression
  2. Association
  3. Repetition

Let’s say you read Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, one of our favorites here at Buffer. You loved the information and want to remember as much as possible. Here’s how:

Impression – Be impressed with the text. Stop and picture a scene in your mind, even adding elements like greatness, shock, or a cameo from yourself to make the impression stronger. If Dale Carnegie is explaining his distaste for criticism, picture yourself receiving the Nobel Prize for Peace and then spiking the Nobel Prize onto the dais.

(Another trick with impression is to read an important passage out loud. For some of us, our sensitivity to information can be greater with sounds rather than visuals.)

Association – Link the text to something you already know. This technique is used to great effect with memorization and the construction of memory palaces. In the case of Carnegie’s book, if there is a particular principle you wish to retain, think back to a time when you were part of a specific example involving the principle. Prior knowledge is a great way to build association.

Repetition – The more you repeat, the more you remember. This can occur by literally re-reading a certain passage or in highlighting it or writing it down then returning to it again later.

Practicing these three elements of remembering will help you get better and better. The more you work at it, the more you’ll remember.

2. Focus on the four levels of reading

Mortimer Adler’s book, How to Read a Book, identifies four levels of reading:

  1. Elementary
  2. Inspectional
  3. Analytical
  4. Syntopical

Each step builds upon the previous step. Elementary reading is what you are taught in school. Inspectional reading can take two forms: 1) a quick, leisurely read or 2) skimming the book’s preface, table of contents, index, and inside jacket.

Where the real work (and the real retention begins) is with analytical reading and syntopical reading.

With analytical reading, you read a book thoroughly. More so than that even, you read a book according to four rules, which should help you with the context and understanding of the book.

  1. Classify the book according to subject matter.
  2. State what the whole book is about. Be as brief as possible.
  3. List the major parts in order and relation. Outline these parts as you have outlined the whole.
  4. Define the problem or problems the author is trying to solve.

The final level of reading is syntopical, which requires that you read books on the same subject and challenge yourself to compare and contrast as you go.

As you advance through these levels, you will find yourself incorporating the brain techniques of impression, association, and repetition along the way. Getting into detail with a book (as in the analytical and syntopical level) will help cement impressions of the book in your mind, develop associations to other books you’ve read and ideas you’ve learned, and enforce repetition in the thoughtful, studied nature of the different reading levels.

3. Keep the book close (or at least your notes on the book)

One of the most common threads in my research into remembering more of the books you read is this: Take good notes. 


Scribble in the margins as you go.

Bookmark your favorite passages.

Write a review when you’ve finished.

Use your Kindle Highlights extensively.

And when you’ve done these things, return to your notes periodically to review and refresh.

Shane Parrish of Farnam Street is a serial note taker, and he finds himself constantly returning to the books he reads.

After I finish a book, I let it age for a week or two and then pick it up again. I look at my notes and the sections I’ve marked as important. I write them down. Or let it age for another week or two.

Even Professor Pierre Bayard, the author of How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read, identifies the importance of note-taking and review:

Once forgetfulness has set in, he can use these notes to rediscover his opinion of the author and his work at the time of his original reading. We can assume that another function of the notes is to assure him that he has indeed read the works in which they were inscribed, like blazes on a trail that are intended to show the way during future periods of amnesia.

I’ve tried this method for myself, and it has completely changed the way I perceive the books I read. I look at books as investments in a future of learning rather than a fleeting moment of insight, soon to be forgotten. I store all the reviews and notes from my books on my personal blog so I can search through them when I need to remember something I’ve read.

(Kindle has a rather helpful feature online, too, where it shows you a daily, random highlight from your archive of highlights. It’s a great way to relive what you’ve read in the past.)

Kindle highlights

It’s not important which method you have for note-taking and review so long as you have one. Let it be as simple as possible to complete so that you can make sure you follow through.

Over to you

How many books do you read each year? What will be your goal for this year? What’s your best tip for reading more and remembering more? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

P.S. If you liked this post, you might also like The Two Brain Systems that Control Our Attention: The Science of Gaining Focus and 5 Unconventional Ways to Become a Better Writer (Hint: It’s About Being a Better Reader).

Image credits:  Patrick Gage via Compfight,, OpenSpritz,

  • That was a pretty cool test! I read 332wpm. Lately I’ve been pretty terrible about reading and when I do read, I don’t seem to finish the book. To get back into reading, I’ve actually included a reading goal in my New Year’s Resolutions. It is only 5 books because I am a new mom so I didn’t want to put a huge number I wouldn’t hit. Better go pick up a book today…

    • Thanks for sharing this, Laura! RE: not finishing books, I’ve actually found that this is a good thing for me! If there’s a book I’m struggling to get through, I tend to let it bog down my reading – kind of like a logjam. So I simply remove the log (the book). Not sure if that’s your experience at all or not, just thought I’d share. :)

  • Wow! That open spritz things looks like it could be a game changer.

    • It’s quite a neat idea! Have you tried it for yourself? A few of us here at Buffer use it to read articles. I’m still trying to get the hang of it. :)

      • I bookmarked the little javascript thing. I tried it yesterday some and I certainly read fast. Still getting used to it. If I’m not quite paying attention I have ZERO comprehension using the thing.

        • Esther Mozo

          Maybe you’re learning subliminally.

  • scubasewj

    How about audiobooks? I listen to audiobooks during my commute to and from work and take notes on Evernote on my’s not quite the same as reading a book but I find myself retain more knowledge when I’m doing repetitive(washing dishes, laundry, etc) or brainless (driving) tasks.

    • Audiobooks is a great suggestion! I’m thinking these could be really helpful for someone more inclined to audio learning vs. visual learning, too. So neat how you incorporate the audiobooks with note taking.

      • Phil ’88

        Great idea! Check out the Library of Classics at

      • Plus, it’s possible to listen to audio books at a faster speeds (e.g. 2x).

      • bbrown

        I use my ipod for books, sermons, lectures, etc. It’s great for when I’m working in my shop (I’m a furniture maker) and even outside doing brainless work. I can easily enough connect it to speakers and I also use it in my car.

      • There are apps that work with your local library that allow you to borrow audiobooks for no charge. Even though it’s free, there is still a good collection for you to chose from.

    • Agnes Dadura

      ah, I must say I am not able to focus on audiobooks (and I have tried, as years ago I only had audio version of new Harry Potter book, and it was this or waiting few weeks for the actual book). If I have text in front of me and listen simultaneously, then yes, but can’t do audio only :/

    • Absolutely – listening to audio books on my commute has restored my previous voracious reading habits which had got squeezed out by being just too busy.

      The tricky thing I find is to select books that don’t require full concentration all the time, so that I don’t miss a key piece of information because I’ve stopped to concentrate on a train destination indicator board for a few seconds.

    • Rayfil Wong

      I love audio books since it allows me to imagine the scene as a steady pace. It is much like rendering scenes very quickly.

  • Great tips/questions Kevan!

    I hate to admit that I’ve had a habit of buying a lot of books and starting them – but I don’t always finish them, especially when I get excited and try to read too many books at once. I set a simpler goal this year (something more achievable!) to just be CONSISTENT by reading ONE book per month and not distracting myself with multiple books at a time.

    However, my 30th birthday was in January and my goal was to complete the entire Bible (from Genesis – Revelations) before I officially became over-the-hill. Thanks to audio Bible apps I FINALLY did – but the bulk was done over 2-3 months. After that I completed Mark Ecko’s “Unlabel” and then I slacked off for 2 months. (My bad!)

    This month – I started reading (as well as listening to the audiobook) Dale Carnegie’s “HTWFAIP” and I’m about 2/3rds through. It’s taking me twice the amount of time because I’ve been following his directions by reading each chapter at LEAST twice before moving to the next one. For this type of book, it’s not a race to the finish; I’m REALLY working hard on a daily basis to LISTEN to his advice and apply his exercises in real life. I really want to become a better listener, friend, client, business person, employee, etc… So, I’ve been taking my time.

    Otherwise, I’d love to try some of these exercises with the next book I start. I did take the Staples test (it was cool – thanks for the suggestion!) and got I think 312 or something (BOO!) – so I could clearly use some work.

    As usual, thanks Kevan for the great tips! :)

    • I love hearing about your experience here, Thea! Thanks so much for taking the time to share. Will love to hear what you end up reading next. :)

      • Sorry for the essay. I often ramble after midnight. O___O My bad…

  • I do something similar what Blinklist does:

    1. read books in Kindle app or iBooks

    2. highlight important or interesting parts

    3. copy highlighted parts to Evernote

    4. Now, I have a great summary of the important thoughts. I can get back to Evernote anytime to refresh my memory or share with my co-founder, so he doesn’t have to read all hundreds of pages but my summary.

    • Fantastic idea, Ferenc! I imagine your co-founder is super grateful for this! Have you found an easy way to get Kindle highlights to Evernote? Is it copy/paste?

      • Yes, he likes this idea. The notebook is shared between us, so both of us get the updates on any books read.

        As far as I know, there is no easy way to extract Kindle highlights. What I do is:
        1. go to amazon’s kindle website
        2. list my synced highlights
        3. copy to Evernote
        4. clean up html formatting :)

        • Awesome! That’s how my highlights process works, too. I used to type all my notes in manually from Post-It note bookmarks inside my texts. Copy/paste is a much easier way to go. :)

          • One thing I could not crack yet is how to do this for real books. Maybe a text recognizer mobile app would be useful. I could photo the page I want to copy, the app would recognize the text then copy to Evernote.

          • bbrown

            I don’t mean to sound like the Luddite curmudgeon here, but I find it so essential to have a pencil in hand when I read – I can read literally 3x faster. I make copious notes, which reinforces everything. I tend to retain almost everything I read thereby, even in the heaver cosmology and philosophy books. I have tried electronic readers and I can do that (and will continue to), but so much of the joy of reading is lost for me without a real physical book and pen in hand.

          • I read ebooks in 95% time, but I get your point. I really like physical books, but I don’t have too many. Ebooks are easier to store, search and I get them immediately when I shop.

            Pen and pencil for physical books is a good idea! However, I prefer Evernote in this case too: after reading a chapter, I take notes or write a quick summary.
            I can’t write fast, so this is a better solution for me.

  • Alissa Lauer Johnson

    This is a fantastic post! Reading books all day – sounds like my dream job! :) There are some great suggestions here for reading more, and I plan to take advantage of many of them. I typically have 3 or 4 partially-read books lying around, and often feel like I need to read them thoroughly cover to cover. But the ideas for impression, association and repetition; the 4 levels of reading; and “not” reading make it easier to give myself permission to pick and choose the books I want to delve more deeply into vs. those I might want to skim or inspect. I also do audiobooks. With a 30+minute commute each way, I can get a ton of books “read” each year. Love it!

    • So awesome to hear this, Alissa! Which books are you into now? I’ve got a couple going – each from different genres – and it’s super helpful for me to know that skimming is an okay thing to do. :)

      • Alissa Lauer Johnson

        Right now – “The Monuments Men” (had to learn more after seeing the movie); I’m re-reading “Purple Cow” by Seth Godin (that repetition thing!); just finished “Happy Hour is 9 to 5” by Alexander Kjerulf; & just starting “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit o Less” by Greg McKeown.

  • Antonio Pastor Serrano

    Pienso, qué leer un libro, es momento de reflexión y tranquilidad mental, no de efectuar una carrera para saber quién lée más o menos rápido.
    De todas maneras este post es muy instructivo y puede servir para conocer detalles curiosos sobre las posibilidades que cada uno podémos tener.

  • Ian Reutelhuber

    Great post. I am curious if you and your team members have encounter any problems retaining information when using Spritz? It would seem tough to remember the details of what you read, especially when applying the elements of impression, association and repetition. Thanks for sharing!

  • Esther Mozo

    Aside from my Kindle, I have a Scrbd subscription that allows me to read ALL the books I want for less than the cost of a book per month. The first time I got it, I just went crazy downloading the books I wanted to read later. After a while, I realized the books would always be there for me, so I stopped hoarding them (haha). Now reading a lot. Yay!

    • bbrown

      I just finished my first Kindle book. I fought the concept for a long time. but found it to be user friendly overall.
      I mostly buy books on Amazon now and then resell them immediately. Total cost of book is just the cost of shipping. Amazon has done wonders for readers I think. Even the most obscure stuff can be found; and for me, there’s nothing like holding a real book. I just can’t mark them up like I used to do if I want to resell them now :)

      • Esther Mozo

        Yes, nothing quite like the feel and smell of a real book!

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  • Vincent GAULT

    I recommend the Spreed extension for Google Chrome as well : really efficient !

    • Excited to try this one, Vincent! Thanks!

  • Agnes Dadura

    That reminds me I always wanted to start the ultimate list of books I’ve read. Start and continue it, as I did start a few in the past. I do not plan on training myself in reading faster, I’m actually trying to slow myself down and enjoy the process more. Also, syncing between Kindle devices (phone, laptop, kindle itself) is pretty awesome. Thanks for the post.

    • Would love to hear what’s on your ultimate list, Agnes! (Might need to make one of those for myself, too!)

      • Agnes Dadura

        It’s ever changing. For now I want to finish The Cuckoo’s Calling by J.K. Rowling (but she wrote it under other name). Also want to retry Lord Jim (I hated it when I had to read it in high school…). Also Trainspotting and Fight Club, and continue the Dark Tower series by Stephen King. Now when I think about it, not many “business” books, though I promised myself I will read at least business related book this year (blogs don’t count). How about you Kevan? Any suggestions?

        • bbrown

          There was a great essay on ‘Lord Jim’ over on the ‘Imaginative Conservative’ blog site, a few months ago. I really understood the the book so much better after I read that. It’s very dark; typical Conrad, but there’s some real human insight in this book, as well.

          • Agnes Dadura

            I had a few lectures about Lord Jim in my literature class in high school, but I don’t know…. my dislike to this book was kind of at “the first sight”, or should I say first few pages… I just couldn’t go through them. I want to check out if my feeling will change with all the maturity I’ve gained over 10 years :) I might consider doing some pre-reading first! thanks for the suggestion!

  • I use my mouse as a tracker on the screen and highlight text to keep my place when I scroll. Its worked well for me, but newer sites are starting to throw up interactions on those events – very frustraiting.

    I’ve been using openSpritz – I like it better than the official one… it handles commas, periods, and paragraphs better. My main complaint about both of them is that it doesn’t make enough emphasis (pause) on headings – so its hard to tell what is part of the content, and what is a description or heading. I have similar issues when it comes to dialog or quotes.

    • That’s some terrific feedback, Nicholas! I hadn’t even thought what the experience with headings and sections must be like when you’re spritzing.

      I, too, tend to highlight sections when I’m reading big blocks of screen text! It helps me track a lot better. Great tip!

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  • demianfarnworth

    Great post Kevan. I try to read about 50 books a year. With kids, the wife, and life, the closest I’ve ever gotten was 46 books. I’m not counting the Bible which I read at least once a year (devotionally).

    Like Shane this is all I do. By the way, two other things about read:

    Abandoning a book:

    And absorbing it into your blood stream:

    That last one is a Adler inspired post. :) Take care.

    • These look like really neat posts, Demian! Thanks for sharing them. They’re in my Pocket now. :)

      Awesome to hear about a 50/year goal. How’s it coming? What are you reading currently?

      • demianfarnworth

        Reality in Advertising by Rosser Reeves
        Chess: a history of a game by Eales
        Spiritual Depression by Lloyd-Jones

        • Great list! That one by Lloyd-Jones sounds fascinating.

  • pivotservices

    Fantastic post Kevin, full marks. Am staggered that the average in the US is 17 books/year. Seems impressively high…Would love to see comparative figures for other countries..

    • Great point! I’d be interested to see the comparative figures, too. I’ll be sure to pass them along if I happen across them.

      (For what it’s worth, I think the US figure might be skewed by folks who read way more than 17 per year, especially considering how many read zero books/yr.) :)

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  • bbrown

    “…..Still, if you can bump up your words per minute marginally while still
    maintaining your reading comprehension, it can certainly pay dividends
    in your quest to read more.”

    I think the premise is a bit off in this blog. The vital time is the the time invested in knowing what to read, quality vs. quantity. Reading inferior books is a massive waste of time. I read a book a week on average, but I am very, very careful to always be honing in on what’s really important and worthwhile. The most profound books and authors will keep resurfacing in footnotes, references, etc.

    Anyay, interesting blog. The “OpenSpritz” seems designed to cause seizures. It defies the way the human brain works. Certain words need a little bit more dwell time than others. No one reads the way this device flashes words at you.

    • Thanks for your perspective on this! That’s such a great point about aiming for quality versus quantity. You mentioned footnotes, references, etc. Are there other sources where you discover your quality reads?

      • bbrown

        Well, obviously that depends on your interests. I go for the so-called ‘First Things’ and I read (cover-to-cover) the magazine by that name, which I love. It’s a continual honing process, whereby I prioritize and shift my list when something becomes “more important”. I utilize the Amazon wish list a lot, and have thousands of books in my ever growing and changing books. I list them by priority and by topic: theology, philosophy, history (broken into categories), Bible, culture, apologetics, woodworking, music, etc. I also have a master list ordered by priority.
        With time, a corpus emerges of the same authors and writers, who one can now trust to always produce profound writing. I then pretty much will read everything I can get my hands on by these authors. There are probably about 150-200 authors in that category: Jacques Ellul, Neil Postman, George Wiegel, RR Reno, Christopher Dawson, CS Lewis, GKC, etc. These folks will always make you think, stretch your mind, bring you closer to God, and make you a better person.
        Other key periodicals for me include “Touchstone” and a number of Christian philosophy journals. I do the same for blogs, podcasts, and YouTube: continually adding and deleting/ honing by priority. All very compulsive, I know :)
        But, life is short and so full of really big questions; I hate to waste time on trivial stuff. All that said, I do like to kick back with my pipe and a glass of wine with Wodehouse, Chesterton, Dickens, etc.

  • One other tip I’d add – I started writing book reviews for Amazon for most of the books I read, as it’s a great way to capture my thoughts on the book and the most useful points whilst they are fresh in my mind.

    Writing them down helps crystalise my thoughts and put them more firmly in my memory (a bit like writing notes in a training session) – plus it means I have the notes readily available for future reference.

    • Really great suggestion, Mark! I would have never thought of reviews, but this makes complete sense on how it must reinforce your takeaways from a book. Might have to give this one a try. :)

    • Good one Mark. It’s exactly the same reason I started the Key Takeaways blog.

  • mgelgota

    To echo a few others, I’m a huge booster of audio content. I set a goal of reading two books per week this year and audio has made achieving that painless so far.

    Speed Reading
    I once took a speed reading class during which we would read whole books in 30 minutes and complete a 20 minute reading comprehension quiz. While the books were short, “Of Mice and Men” and “The Old Man and the Sea,” come to mind, I was astonished to find that I (along with most of the class) could read 100-150 pages at around 800wpm after a few weeks of practice with 85-90% comprehension in such a short amount of time. The key for me was first to stop vocalizing words mentally and then to “chunk” information by reading more and more words in a single glance. Unfortunately, concentrating with that level of intensity forced me to miss out on the important mental doodling that takes place while reading at a more comfortable pace.

    While speed reading is helpful for getting to a critical piece of information in a text to answer a specific question or complete a technical process, I find that applying the ideas I’m reading about in thought experiments as I go is what leads to real insight when the question is less clearly defined. In other words, comprehension shouldn’t be the only measure of reading speed. More often what we’re after is inspiration for original thought and synthesis. For this reason I believe that speed reading is a useful tool in certain instances but often leaves one hollow.

    To make it more concrete, when reading a biography of Steve Jobs, it’s not the specific dates or even the details of the situations that he encountered and overcame that hold lessons for me as a reader (and would be tested on a comprehension quiz). The value comes from playing with the challenges he faced and mapping them to my own life and circumstances, from deciding where I can borrow from the great man and when I should avoid his model. There is no room for synthesis or modeling to take place when speed reading and comprehension can be a misleading metric of the value of reading speed.

    I’d be interested to hear what experience others have had with this.

    • I like “mental doodling.” Great phrase!

      In some books, I find myself gaining the insight/thought/synthesis early on while I’m slowly absorbing the book, and as I get closer to the end and rush to the finish, I rarely find as much value there. I think you’re 100% right with this perspective. Thanks for sharing it!

  • Graham W

    I’m a Blinkist subscriber. I’d say its a good way to help decide if you want to read a book, but its a poor substitute for reading the book. The quality is variable, and I’ve found with some books the summaries totally miss the contribution being made by the author (e.g. Jeff Hawkins’ book – the Blinkist summary is just general stuff about neural networks and I learnt nothing new from it, but reading reviews of the book on Amazon its clear there is more to it than that).

    A similar product to Blinkist that has been around for much longer is getAbstract. These are 5 page summaries and I think the quality is higher.

    • Wow, thanks so much for sharing your experience here, Graham! Really good to know a first-person account of how Blinkist works. Great tip on getAbstract, too. :)

      • Graham W

        Probably worth mentioning too that getAbstract is mostly aimed at business books (but they have a huge library). It’s not cheap either ($300/yr), but some companies have corporate subscriptions through which you can get access as an employee. Another possibility – although I haven’t tried this – I believe that with Amazon Kindle you can see highlights and comments that others have made and shared publicly, and that may be a good way to get an accelerated overview of a book.

  • fastow2012

    The best way to read more and faster is to read the Bible…it’s made up of 66 books…at the end of the year you’d have read 66 books instead of the conventional 24…beside you’d do wonder to your spirit…
    I’m not saying that’s all you have to read but if you add it to everything you are already doing or about to start doing, you’d give your learning a great boost

  • lisi

    This post made me feel guiltier than ever about the fact that I don’t read enough books :(! But in a constructive, helpful way, really. I think that I often overlook the necessity to read books because I’m reading ALL. DAY. LONG. for work, but your post reminded me that different types of reading serve different purposes, and I’d probably really benefit from picking up a few more books :) Thanks for the insight!

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  • These are good tips. See my speed reading program at Our class gets you reading and remembering thousands of words per minute.

  • bhola prasad

    i read too much, way too much. but i am not satisfied with reading faster method. i only read when i am motivated to read, not because i want to finish the book quickly. that’s a bad habit. if you can’t concentrate on the reading then it’s wastage of time. i often take little breaks during reading , not because i am tired. i do that when i get to a point where i think that i need more effort, more concentration or something more interesting topic i am going to read, then i take a break, try to remember , what i read and try to do very different work other than reading. you may think that , its a distraction but it’s not. our mind still working on the problem while we are doing some other stuff and at that moment , our mind try to connect all the dots between different information stored in our brain and it can also happen that those ideas are totally different, totally unrelated but fits together very well. a new idea emerge out of small things . that’s why all the great ideas comes when we are not particularly try to solve that problem, but doing something very different task like eating, bathing or anything else.

  • srhas

    You had me at Spritz – incredible!!

    Wonderful article, thank you

  • Daniel Parker

    In 2011, I purposely tracked the number of books I read using the book list that linkedin used to have (the idiots). I read 78 books that year so I try to keep that as the benchmark. I rarely buy brand new books. I have a stack of my own, I buy used, and I go to the library about once a week. If I read something about someone enjoying a book, I’ll either jot it down in my notebook for later or immediately go to the public library website and put a hold on it. i’ll also check the new additions to the library online and instantly put a hold on the ones that look interesting. that helps me keep up with new stuff. I keep a few notes from each book I’ve read. I’ve taken speed reading classes but found I just don’t retain as much if i don’t find my own comfortable level of reading. I usually read at night with a headlamp, but i almost always carry a book with me (i think the author Stephen King, a prolific reader, mentions this in his tips for writers). This was another great buffer article and excellent reminders on one of the keys to success. we have a world of education around us and yet usually dither away our time. Grab a good book!

    • Hi Daniel! What awesome advice! I’ve learned to love my local library’s “holds” system. It’s an amazing tool!

      • Daniel Parker

        Yep, great public service. Thanks for the reply.

  • I loved this! Thanks @kevanlee:disqus. I would add that the Read to Lead Podcast, and others like it, is a great way to consume more books in less time or, at the very least, to know what books are worth your time.

    Jeff Brown | Creator & Host

  • Pete Evans

    Kevan, great post I wonder can you help me with a problem that has come with age. I love novels and used to consume them ferociously however now I struggle with the amount of characters in novels ie when they first appeared who they are in relation to others and what they’re doing in the story it takes me forever flicking back through novels kindle xray and shelfari are great ideas but not all books have xray. Any tips to keep up with who is who and doing what it’s really ruining my reading pleasure. I try to stick to novels or even plays with very few characters

  • I read about an hour a night. Some things stick, and some things don’t. My biggest war is with comprehension and then application. What good is reading the worlds supply of books if you don’t understand and apply any of it.

  • I started reading after too many years of not. As a mom I just wasn’t making that time a priority. I now set aside little bits of time in my day and time before going to bed. My goal this year is to read at least two books a month or 25 books. I’m a little behind but I know I’ll make it. =)

  • I love reading more than I love most things. Over the past year and a half, I was working full-time, working on my master’s, volunteering about 8/10 hours per week, etc., etc. With all of those items taking up the absolute majority of my time, I found that reading (for “fun”) was at the bottom of my list.

    However, I remembered that reading is one of the activities I love the most! I simply had to make time for it. So, I created a list of the 12 books I wanted to read in 2015, identified a goal for myself, and bought the books so that I already had them on the bookshelf. It helped!


  • Yossi Litt

    A very demanding r article for someone who hardly reads only stuff on the Web and averages 142 words per min
    But the article is w well set a lot of good technique ideas explanations
    Hope I will slowly read more read faster do some homework n and remember to build m am opinion

  • Awesome! I’ve recently started to read more books and had set my goal to read at least 12 books this year (although after reading this article and finding out that the average is 17 books, I think I’ll aim for that at least haha).

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  • Luca Ben

    This is a great article. The only piece of advice I can’t take is to read books on Kindle. The idea of having a book that I can only read on a proprietary device that doesn’t allow me to copy and paste and might one day not work at all, just prevents me from doing that. I am surprised people do buy ebooks from amazon. Also the lack of updates really bugs me. This article illustrates my point more in detail:

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  • Iris Intsume

    I’ve read 33 book so far this year ^^
    Yeah, I read well too much…

  • Tom Browne

    I have been reading constantly since graduating college , I feel like it takes me forever to read a book. I have read 7 habits, naked statistics, and the personal MBA.. It takes me a week each (unemployed). I took that test and only got 237 words/ minute, less than the average american. Seems like I never have read fast.. ever and I doubt NOT looking at words and using (peripherals) will do anything for comprehension, lol that is absurd. Its like saying I can run 4 laps and get a mile of exercise or i can run across the field to the other side of the lap and only do half laps and still get a miles worth of work lol…

  • Tom Browne

    I also believe the 17 books a year is complete hogwash lol, Look at my generation aged 18-35….they spend there time on social media, watching tv shows with no value , reality tv, or absorbing in “Music festivals” and the typical bar scene etc. You have to be kidding to think that any one under the age of 40 reads even 2 books a year. Come on now… its like saying 88% of americans workout 1 hour a day.. oh yeah? then why is everyone fat and lazy ? lol same can be said for books… if people are so humble to read so much? they’d be hell of a lot smarter and less close minded…Unless they’re reading fiction books that bring no value to the table.

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