Reading with Purpose: A Plan for 2024
Last year I read more books than I've ever read in a single year, and there were few flops in the bunch. It was a good reading year. Yet, I am changing what I read, how I select books, how I take them in, and how I go about capturing the important parts. The goal here is not to read more, in fact, I expect to read fewer books but in a more intentional manner.
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For the first time ever, I have plan for the year's reading, at least a notional one. Instead of my normal practice of selecting topics and books on the fly, one might say by the seat of my pants, I am pursuing a course of study and engagement. I've settled on a set of genres with focus areas in each. Basically, this is a framework of intention and discipline. Here is a snapshot of the plan's structure and a sampling of planned reads.
My thought is to be more intentional in how I read as well, actually reading, highlighting, and noting selected books, which will mean listening less. As reading and noting takes longer, I expect the annual book count to come down. That's okay. Recreational reading (I will always be a fan of entertaining fiction and 20th century history) and even most nonfiction are likely to be my listening fare. Selected books will be read the old-fashioned way, complete with highlights and margin notes. So, generally speaking, I expect less quantity and greater depth from my reading this year. That said, the list of books I've developed is sure to take more than one or even two years to get through. It's a process, as they say.
I have not routinely taken notes on books in a long, long time, but decided to give Ryan Holiday's notetaking system a try and find I like it, a lot. It takes time and adds effort, but the payoff in understanding and retention is worth it. I gave it a try on three books, two by N.T. Wright (Paul: A Biography and Into the Heart of Romans) and one (Meditations) by Marcus Aurelius. Here is the process, including my modification of the last step.
Highlight and make and margin notes as you read. Holiday calls this having a discussion with yourself and I find that a good way to think of it.
After reading each chapter, use blank pages at the front of the book to enter the key points in your own words, keyed to your highlights and notes by page number.
When finished with the book, set it aside for 2-3 weeks to allow your mind to turn things over a few times, a form of meditating on what has captured your interest. I found this part of the process to be valuable, gaining several insights along the way.
This is where I differ from Holiday. In his system, the reader has three handwritten interactions with the material: 1) highlighting and margin notes, 2) in-book notes in your own words, and finally, 3) transcribing your notes onto note cards. For the third step, I substitute transcribing my in-book notes into Obsidian. I do this for two reasons: the time savings and the advantages of digital search.
There you have it, my reading plan for the year. It is ambitious but I'm going to give it a go. Look for updates along the way, and a year from now we will see what progress I've made.
Paul: A Biography by N.T. Wright
Into the Heart of Romans by N.T. Wright