Want to get more from books? Stop reading them cover to cover. | Shane Parrish


I have so many friends who want to buy books
and want to learn. But the problem is, they buy a book. They start it. They get two or three chapters in, and then
they stop reading. And then they feel bad that they’ve stopped
reading. They don’t pick up another book because they
know they want to finish this book. We’ve been taught that once we start something
we have to finish it. And I think that so often we view books as
this linear thing. Whereas I think a different view of books
is, what information do I need out of this book right now? Is that an entertainment read? Do I need to read from start to finish? Is it a read where I’m comparing different
views on a similar problem? Especially across non-fiction, right? Am I comparing and contrasting two or three
different authors’ argumentation or authors’ views on a particular angle to a subject? In which case, I might not need to read the
whole book. I just need to read a chapter. But then I’ve gotten everything out of that
book. The books are there to serve you, right? You own the book. The book is your property. It’s your mental property. It’s your physical property. And you can do with it what you want. You don’t have to feel bad about putting down
a book. It’s the author’s job to pull you into the
book. It’s your job to extract what you need out
of the book. And I think that extracting what you need,
you can just read the table of contents, read the introduction, maybe read the conclusion,
and skim a little bit. And is this a book that I want to read in
its entirety? And most of the time, the answer is going
to be no. A lot of the books that are published today
could easily be 20 to 40 pages. You would get everything that you need out
of that book. So it’s a big waste of time to read it cover
to cover. But if you want to extract the general principles
from the book, or the sort of like argumentation that the author’s making, you don’t need to
read every little anecdote that’s put in there, or every story about Billy and Bob. You just need to know what is the framework
for this argumentation? Do I agree with it? Don’t I agree with it? Do I have to make a decision on whether I
agree with it or not? Does a different author have a contrasting
view that I want to learn about? Or is this something that I’m just reading
for general knowledge? I might not put into practice. Or if you think about skill development, right? Which is a common reason that most of us read. We’ll think of, I want to learn about leadership. And we’ll think of this very big, broad category
whereas it’s usually much more beneficial from a learning perspective to narrow down
the aspect of leadership. I want to talk about leading a small team
for the first time. I want to talk about team meetings. I want to talk about what are the– like,
break down what it means to be a leader, and then hone in on those particular categories. Pick up a whole bunch of leadership books. But then read just for those specific categories
across the books. If you’re reading for knowledge, that’s going
to give you a much better outcome than sort of picking up one of these books and reading
it cover to cover. Because it’s going to be hard to put into
practice. It’s going to be hard to compare different
contrasting views on the subject. It’s going to be hard to determine what works
for you. And, ultimately, that’s why you’re reading. You want to figure out what works for you. And that’s not always what somebody else says. A lot of what books cover is, here’s what
worked for me. And what worked for me in this particular
ecosystem, at this particular point in time, with this particular team. That may or may not work for you. Your job is to sort of understand to what
extent does that carry over to what I’m doing? And to what extent do I have to change that? And does it work for me? And if it doesn’t, how am I going to get the
feedback that I need so that I can learn from that and then adapt my process so that it
does work?

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