I love reading. When I was a kid I read mostly fiction, in particular Fantasy and Sci-Fi. Now I read almost no fiction at all compared to how much non fiction I read. Over the last few years I have noticed a trend ie

I spend as much time choosing a book as I do reading it!

I think like a lot of things in life “You Only Get Out What You Put In” or (YOGOWYPI). I prefer my own version, its shorter and has a certain ring to it “Shit in Shit Out!” (SISO) or if you want to make it sound more exotic (SHISHO).

There is a part of me that wants to read more and faster (with comprehension). In fact I went so far as to buy a book by Tony Buzan on speed reading and this turned out to be a disaster. I keep trying to convince myself that its quality that matters not quantity and that reading one book a month is more than enough if it’s a classic in the field. The feeling still doesn’t go away though, I still want to read faster.

Another thing I tell myself is that I need to be reading in a certain direction and I am not talking about left to right top to bottom I mean that I should at least try to have some theme or direction to what I’m reading. For instance: don’t read esoteric collections of books just because they’re classics. I recently read some Greek classics and when I came back to reading mathematics etc it took me a while to shift back into that mode. A part of me wants to believe that its counter productive to read with no direction and another part of me believes that the constant gear changing keeps me on my toes. The esoteric reading method I’m currently employing is driving my sensible side to distraction, for instance over the last month I have been reading  books on:

Probability Theory
Functional Programming
Stock Market

I am not saying I have finished any of these books yet but I have been reading them and this leads me to another problem. Reading non-fiction is easy but finishing a non-fiction book is very hard depending on your definition of finishing. A loose definition for reading a fictional book is that you have read and understood the plot and read at least 95% of all the content. I would say that with non-fiction if you applied a similar definition ie “read and understood 95% of the material in the book” then I think I’m failing miserably.

For instance, I’ve read Fred Brooks, The Mythical Man Month, cover to cover (twice) and I think I grasped a lot of it but I do not believe I’ve grasped  anywhere near 95% of whats in that book. The same goes for “The Intelligent Investor”, “Peopleware”, “Free To Choose”, “Daily Drucker” and the list goes on.

The other startling thing I’ve learned is that rereading a book does not necesarily mean I get a lot more out of it. Unless I’ve had a chance to study my environment for some time after I’ve read a book I don’t think it has fully sunk in. So rereading does not really benefit me that much unless I’ve had time to digest the first pass. I’m sure there’s some scientific reason for why this is. When I reread a book a year or two later I see things differently etc so can get more out of the book.

Using what I know about my reading habits it didn’t take long to decide what to do. From the following thoughts:

Assume I get 20% from a non-fictional text on each pass.

Each pass of a book cannot be within a year of the other. (I must have had time to study my environment ).

I have a limited amount of time on this earth.

It was easy for me to see that the most important rule I could possibly follow is “Shit In Shit Out!” (SISO).

In conclusion the only firm rule I have and have been able to follow to date is (SISO). I’m not saying I no longer read trash but I’m conscious of it when I’m reading it. Armed with this rule even if a small percentage of what I read sticks then I’ll be OK. I’ve been applying this rule for almost eight years now and I think it’s working. I don’t believe I will ever be a really fast reader and I do not beleive I will ever grasp 95% of any non simplistic non-fictional text in a first pass but I believe that if I apply SISO throughout my reading career I will achieve a lot. My search for other ways to improve how much I can get out of my reading goes on!