How to Get More From the Books You Read

Quantity is great, but comprehension is better.


Ian McDermod

3 years ago | 6 min read

Many writers and productivity gurus preach methods of how you can increase the number of books you read. These tips help establish a routine reading habit, but they don’t guarantee you’ll get anything from your reading.

I’m an avid reader like you, but I don’t strain myself to complete a certain number of books by the end of the month. I prefer to take my time to enjoy the books, gaining new knowledge, and finding purpose in my reading time. After all, reading a bunch of books is hardly productive if it doesn’t mean anything for you.

Shifting your mindset so that you focus more on comprehension rather than quantity dramatically affects how much you get out of and enjoy reading.

In turn, you may find that when you enjoy the books you read, you can read more than ever before. Here are some methods that I’ve used to get more from the books I read.

Read a variety of topics that interest you.

Humans are so intricate as they are fascinated by so many things. You likely have a subject or discipline you work in that is of great interest to you. Your an expert in that subject, and perhaps already read lots of books about that topic.

However, I’ve found that humans naturally have many different interests that expand across a variety of domains. The term for this is Renaissance man/woman.

Originating from Italian polymath Leonardo Da Vinci, a Renaissance man or woman, is someone who has skills and interests in many subjects. Da Vinci himself was considered a great painter, scientist, and inventor, among many other prestigious titles.

For myself, I’ve professionally worked in outdoor education and naturalist interpretation and consider that my domain, but I also enjoy reading many books outside of nature and the environment.

I also find great pleasure in reading books on productivity, personal finance, and sociology. These are just some of the topics that interest me outside of my domain of expertise.

Think of any topic that interests you. There is much to learn and get from both fiction and non-fiction books. If you haven’t already, branch out to topics, you don’t know much about, and reading will instantly become more fulfilling and less mundane.

Supplement your reading with external resources.

Do you remember those literature classes in high school that forced you to read books that, as a teenager, you were very much less inclined to read? Many students searched for the easy way out, and rather than reading the assigned book, we conveniently found an online study guide such as SparkNotes to tell us the critical info to glean from the various chapters.

While nowadays, I choose to read my books rather than skimming the notes, I’ve found resources such as SparkNotes to be a great asset in understanding what you are reading. For example, I recently undertook reading James Joyce’s Ulysses.

While it was an exciting novel, it was difficult to understand more than a handful of times. I used both Wikipedia summaries and SparkNotes after my reading to better understand what was going on and pointing out essential elements of symbolism I failed to pick up on.

This extra study time greatly enhanced the experience of reading a book that by itself would have been difficult for me to gain much from on the initial reading.

All of this also goes for any non-fiction books or topics you read about as well. For example, if you read the book Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman, your reading would also benefit from the book’s website through the University of Pennslyvania, which features questionnaires, initiatives, and plenty of other external resources.

Researching outside of the book you read is a great way to retain the information and make the reading experience more rewarding. As long as it is a topic or story you are invested in, it will only benefit your reading.

Reread the same book.

One of the reasons we should be buying books is so that we can read and reference them again. I purposefully have a large bookshelf of books I enjoy. If it has been a few years since I last read a book, I’ll pick it up and reread it. I gain just as much from reading a book a second time than I do the first.

Reading a book multiple times even has benefits for our mental health. This idea comes from researchers out of American University.

“By doing it again, people get more out of it… Even though people are already familiar with the stories or the places, re-consuming brings new or renewed appreciation of both the object of consumption and their self.”

You may feel an obligation to read new material versus something you already read, but don’t let this urge get the best of you. If there is a book you do enjoy, you’ll get something from repeated reads.

Highlight, mark, and takes notes.

Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash
Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash

Underlining, highlighting, and taking notes may sound like something you might do in school, but if there is something of interest, then there is nothing stopping you from saving those crucial points that a book makes.

When you highlight, circle, or take notes in the margins, you can more easily recall certain information from the book later on. This is especially crucial if you need to remember an idea or point from a book later on, but you don’t have the time to reread a whole chapter.

I’ve found note-taking vital to my comprehension on topics, but make sure not to overdo it. It’s easy to fall into the trap of highlighting, underlining, and marking too much to the point where your notes being to lose meaning. See the article below from GoodNotes on pitfalls to avoid while using a highlighter for note-taking.

Get a library card.

This is an easy one. If you live anywhere in the United States, chances are there is a local library near you. In the digital age, libraries are often quickly forgotten, but they are incredible FREE resources available to anybody paying taxes.

I use my local library to check out books that I otherwise wouldn’t usually buy. After all, reading a lot of books would be expensive if you purchased them all online, either in print or ebook.

Using the library is also a great way to get books on topics you may not be familiar with but are interested in learning more about. Once you’ve read a few books on a specific idea, you can then start buying more books on the subject if it is of interest.

The limitation of the library is that not every book is going to be available to you. However, going to the library only costs you your time, and has many great resources available for you in addition to books.

These are just some ways that you can get more from the books you read. With all this, it’s important to remember your own why and what for reading. Why is that you are reading in the first place, and what do you hope to gain?

Reading a large quantity of books is great, but there is so much more to reading then just numbers. Understanding and comprehending our reading is more important and impactful to life.

It’s not just a matter of reading as many words as you can, but instead what that reading is doing for you. If you find that reading is a bore and are you’re not getting much from it, now more than ever is a perfect time to rethink and adopt new reading habits.


Created by

Ian McDermod







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