How to read a book at higher order reading skill level

Reading books and insightful essays is my favorite pastime.

I read on my phone, swipe through pages on my iPad. And read physical books in the morning just before deep work and in the evening before bed.

I also read whenever I get the chance in the day. Over 90 percent of the apps on my phone are for reading.

Seneca, a Roman Stoic philosopher, once said, “You must linger among a limited number of master-thinkers, and digest their works if you would derive ideas which shall win firm hold in your mind.”

Reading is a skill, and people read at different skill levels.

A great book is a work of art — learning to read analytically means making time for a masterpiece and reading with purpose.

When you find a great book, read at a higher-order skill level — it’s the only way to digest and extract the best ideas from a book.

I’m still learning how to read valuable books — one of the best lessons I’ve learned so far is to read great books slowly no matter the pressures of modern life. Don’t rush the process. It pays to go deeper — digest slowly.

True understanding requires active reading

“In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you,” says Mortimer Adler, the author of How to Read a Book.

When a reader can retrieve almost all the hidden thought-provoking ideas from a book, comprehend the insightful information, determine the importance of every chapter and apply the relevant knowledge to their life, they are reading at a higher-order skill level. There are a lot of tiny details in the high-level reading process.

A great book can change your life, make you wiser and improve your self-knowledge. It can also open opportunities you didn’t know existed and help produce the results you expect in life.

But you can’t achieve that level of comprehension if you aim to read as many books as possible in a single year. Reading is not a numbers game.
It’s your responsibility to apply the best reading skill to find the reality of life you are looking for.

The art of reading involves intellectual curiosity — it requires commitment and keenness to find relevant knowledge

“Wonder is the beginning of wisdom in learning from books as well as from nature,” says Mortimer J. Adler.

When you read at a higher-order skill level, think of yourself as a scientist looking for evidence to improve, upgrade or change your assumptions about the topic.

When you are done reading, think for yourself. Be analytical and alert for anything you can use to become a better human. Look out for knowledge you can save for later use.

Here’s Francis Bacon advice to the reader: “Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider. Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested…”

How you read and what you read determines your level of knowledge. To find and understand timeless truths of human life, choose your books wisely.

A simple high-level reading method you can adopt

  • High-level reading takes a lot of mental energy and focus. You can only achieve it if you read at the right time — preferability in the morning when you are most alert. You could digest a page deeply every morning.
  • For every nonfiction book, you choose to read, start with intention — what you want to get out of it. Your aim will determine what you look for.
  • Pre-read (skim) to inspect the chapters. It helps you discover the book’s structure, how the author presents ideas and the best approach for your deep reading.
  • Make the reading process a conversation with a great mind — ask questions, circle ideas that need validation and make conclusions.
  • Read with a writer’s mindset — take notes religiously. It’s the best way to dig deeper and remember what you read.
  • Taking notes or summarising ideas is not an option, it’s a necessity. Be mindful of lessons you can apply in your life — short sentences, quotes and great paragraphs.
  • Build a note-taking system to write down principles, routines, lessons, and habits that stand out for you. Create short summaries you can repeatedly use without revisiting the book.
  • Make re-reading your favorite books a habit — it can help you find ideas you may have missed the first time you read them.

Extracting relevant knowledge from a book is a skill you must master if you’ve made reading a lifelong habit.

You can’t have a great life without wisdom. And the experience and thought-provoking ideas from great minds can enrich your life. Make time to study from great authors. Your best life depends on it.

This article originally appeared in Medium.