Reading 100 books a year is a waste of time if your aim is retention

I love reading — there’s so much to learn from the wisest and smartest people in human history.

Reading upgrades my mental models and informs my ideas as a writer. ― Stephen King once said, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

Reading is one of the best ways to learn what others have already figured out. “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one,” says George R.R. Martin

I am currently reading dozens of books at the same time — but I am not aiming to read over 100 books by the end of the year.

That goal doesn’t appeal to me anymore — I am more interested in absorbing knowledge, wisdom and lessons on a deeper level.

Comprehension and knowledge application is more important to me now than ever before. Without understanding and the ability to remember what I read, reading will be a waste of my time.

So I’m focusing on getting the most out of the books I’m reading right now. If that takes me longer to read each of the books I’ve picked, that’s okay.

In 2019, I read more than 50 books. It felt like a good achievement.

The bad news is, I can scarcely recall the most useful lessons and wisdom from each of the books I read.

I paid unnecessary attention to the number of books I wanted to read instead of focusing on the value I’m getting from the books.

I don’t want to passively consume information to crush a goal — I want to remember a lot of what I read.

If that means reading a small handful of books than speed-read my way through hundreds, I will consider that a better achievement.

Making reading a habit can take time — aiming to absorb a lot of wisdom from all the books you read is even more difficult, but it pays a lifetime if you get the reading strategy right.

If you are interested in boosting your career, earning more money, accumulating wisdom, or improving your life skill, developing a reading habit is a crucial task. You will learn so much from others.

Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett’s business partner and a billionaire himself, once noted: “In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn’t read all the time — none. Zero. You’d be amazed at how much Warren reads — and how much I read. My children laugh at me. They think I’m a book with a couple of legs sticking out.”

Reading a trade-off — you are trading time for knowledge and wisdom. Not every book is worth your precious time.

What’s the point if you can’t apply what you read or recall any of the lessons you learned when you need it.

If you aim to read 100 books a year, the important question you should be asking yourself is: If I speed-read and hit my goal, can I still recall and apply greater percentage what I’m reading in the future?

What’s my point?

There’s nothing wrong with “100 books a year goal”.

My point is, if you crush your goal but can scarcely recall the basic and useful ideas from each book, you’ve wasted your precious and limited time.

By all means, find time to read — it’s important that you do, but don’t equate the number of books you read with success.

You may achieve your goal but you probably won’t come out as a better person if you focused on numbers instead of absorbing the wisdom of the books.

“Read to understand, read to connect, and read to imagine. Books really are magical, and I do wish more of us would spend time with them. But let’s not pretend that treating them as a ticket to success will make you successful,” writes Zat Rana.

Reading for wisdom is an important skill to master

“If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.”― Oscar Wilde

Reading a book should be an experience that provides you with joy and value, not something to labour through.

Knowing how to read for useful wisdom is a valuable advantage.

Most people use passive/speed reading to crush their goals. It’s the default mode for reading hundreds of books a year.

Passive reading won’t help you to gain the deep knowledge you can apply later in life. Comprehension drops significantly when you speed-read.

If your goal is to skim a book, speed-reading helps — if the goal is to understand on a much deeper level, slow down and engage with your books.

Active reading on the other hand happens through engagement, repetition, making notes and revisiting the most useful booksIt’s how you transfer new knowledge from your working memory to your long-term understanding.

When you slow-read, you are training yourself to notice what is most relevant and valuable.

To comprehend and remember more, make personal notes you can revisit. For digital readers, highlight or copy paragraphs that stand out for you. You could also take a picture of a specific page and store it in a note-taking app. When you finish the book, make a summary of your favourite ideas.

Choose your books carefully. Some books can be read just once, providing instant gratification, others can be read multiples times to absorb valuable lessons and wisdom.

“A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading,” says William Styron.

Don’t read a book just because it’s a best-seller if it has no meaning to you. If you’re struggling with a book you don’t like, stop reading it.

“I don’t actually read a lot of books. I pick up a lot of books and only get through a few, which form the foundation of my knowledge,” Naval once said.

Reading widely is something many successful people have in common. But it’s not about how much they read. It’s about how they read.

Reading because you want to, not because you feel you should.

“Elon Musk and co., attribute their success to reading because they read purposely, and apply that learning in the wider context of their careers.

They didn’t plough through huge volumes of material as a box to be ticked,” argues Aytekin Tank, founder of Jot Form.

Read thoughtfully — that how you gain lasting knowledge you can apply in the future. Read, learn, and make progress, but don’t forget there’s a lot to learn from every book you choose if you slow down to absorb the lessons and wisdom on a much deeper level.

This article first appeared on Medium.