Making the Most of Your Reading
I’ve written previously about how we here at the broom factory encourage our fellow craftsmen, and indeed everyone we know, to make reading good books a priority, and I shared a link to an excellent list of 100 books essential to every man’s endeavors to better his mind and heart. Upon reflection I feel I was remiss in not also sharing the ways I have learned to get the most out of the books I read.
I’ve discussed over at my personal blog how and why I didn’t develop a good system for analyzing and digesting books, outside of talking about them with friends and family, until college, but I wanted to lay out the steps I use to mark up a book here as I feel they will be particularly useful to other skippers, especially any of our readers who opted for going into the trades or other business rather than pursuing an academic course of education and thus may not have had good instruction on how to do really dig into a book and create a conversation between the author and yourself. Obviously you can and should develop a system that feels natural to you, but I’ll lay out how I do things give you a good jumping off point, and you can mix things up from there—skippers are good at that, that’s why your skippers right?
As a last comment I’ll say that this skill can be particularly beneficially to skippers because, if you and your wife read a book simultaneously, or immediately after the other is done with it, this process can allow you and your wife to learn together and will spark many good conversations between you. My wife and I do this with books on a variety of topics and it’s been great for our marriage to keep mentally engaged with each other; it reminds me why I fell in love with the fascinating and vivacious person that she is.
So here are my suggestions for starting off: Keep at least one pen and one highlighter of distinct colors handy when reading.
Use the highlighter to mark sentences which you find insightful or informative, which resonate with you because they sum up a feeling or experiential truth in an eloquent or even poetic manner, or sentences which bring new revelations to you, which change your perspective on a subject or which make new mental connections for you between ideas, facets of daily life, or historical figures. Make notes beside the sentences explaining why you find these particular words meaningful, helpful, or even life changing.
For sentences with which you disagree, or do not know if you agree, use the pen to circle or underline (or both) the phrases or assertions which require more thought. End the underlining line with an arrow that points to a note in which you argue with the author, negating their claims, providing a balancing perspective, or in which you ask yourself questions about how and why you think differently than the author, and jot down ideas for further research on the topic so that you can reach a conclusion on the issues raised by the author. (I prefer to use pen for this because if you use pencil the notes can become so smudged as to be unintelligible, and that’s not helpful to anybody.)
Lastly if you’re doing a tandem reading with another person then simply use a marker and pen of a different color than the other reader, and in addition to making observations of your own ask for the thought of the other person on points on which you would like to hear their critical analysis or where you think they would have particularly salient points to contribute because of their unique life experiences. As I said above this can be a great way for you skippers to promote communication and intimacy with your wife, but also with a trusted friend or business partner: all men, and especially skippers, need other men in their life with whom they can develop intimate relationships on which they can depend for help and encouragement, and sharing a book this way would be a big step towards creating that kind of relationship.
So skippers grab a book, dig in, and make the life of your mind, and your marriage, that much more vibrant!