How to Remember What You Read

by Ron Potter

How much do you read?  I guess by most standards I read quite a bit.   I read almost everything on my Amazon Kindle.  Every year Amazon sends me statistics on how much I read in a particular year.  In my most prolific year, I read 50 books.  That’s an average of a book per week.  I guess I do indeed read quite a bit.

How do I remember

So how do I remember what I read?  I highlight what I read and then I write up my highlights.  I started that practice when I was reading hardcover books.  I would highlight with a yellow marker than when I was finished, I would go back through the book page by page and type all of my highlights into a Word document.  Very time-intensive.

I love the fact that Kindle keeps track of all my highlights and puts them in one location.  Now I go to that app once I’ve finished a book and simply copy all of my highlights into a Word document.  Very time-efficient.   However, because I don’t type my highlights, I find that I don’t remember as much as I used to remember when I was typing.

So when Shane Parrish of wrote an article about remembering what you read, I was very interested.

I believe Shane is one of the best bloggers in the business.  He reads an abundance of books.  He interviews people who are influential in may topics.  He has deep thoughts and has an interesting perspective on those thoughts.  He does not get caught up in the daily news or social media.  They are short team.  He is interested in the long term.

I cannot remember the books I have read

Shane starts his article with a wonderful quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson

“I cannot remember the books I have read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.” (Italics are mine)

If you are actively engaged in the books you read, they will make you.  It’s not what you read, it’s how you read.

Here are a few highlights from the points Shane makes in his blog.  I hope they change how you read.

  1. Quality matters more than quantity.  Reading a bad book doesn’t add much to your life or understanding.  I used to think that if I started a book, I should finish it.  Google says there are somewhere between 600,000 and a million books published per year in the US alone.  Believe me, they can’t all be good.
  2. Speedreading is bulls**t.  The only way to read faster is to read more.
  3. Book summary services miss the point.  Even as I’ve thought about providing me readers with more in-depth notes from the books I’ve read, I realize that the highlights are from my perspective.  So are the summary services but I believe they’re written from an even more elementary perspective.
  4. Don’t read stuff you find as boring and finishing a book is optional.  See note #1 above.

Filter your reading

This isn’t school as Shane says.  Focus on some combination of books that:

  • Stand the test of time
  • Pique you interest
  • Resonate with your current situation

Intelligent Skimming

I’m really bad at this aspect.  I just don’t seem to gain any knowledge or understanding by skimming the index or other lists of subject-matter.  I don’t see myself getting much better with this one.

Know your why

Shane encourages us to understand why are you reading this book?

  • Entertainment?
  • To understand something or someone you don’t know?
  • To get better at your job?
  • To improve your health?
  • To learn a skill?
  • To help build a business?

Any one of these reasons are valid.  In fact I’ve had the experience multiple times where I’ll read something that will help me get better at my job, only to see the same subject in an entertainment book, only to see an article in WSJ or Forbes or some other source.  But none of that happens if you don’t read.

Notes for remembering more

Shane finishes his blog with seven things that will help you remember what you read.

  • Take Notes
  • Stay Focused
  • Mark up the book
  • Build a vivid mental picture
  • Make mental links
  • Keep Mental Models in mind
  • Stop when bored

As I said at the start, I believe Share Parrish is one of the best bloggers in the business.  But there is one major piece of advice for remembering what you read.  That advice is to start reading!

If you feel like you need to improve your life or environment, start reading.

Read for your life!






John January 1, 2021 - 12:20 pm

I write down all useful ideas into a notebook.
Some mobile apps also help (OneNote, Evernote, Readult, etc).
The idea is to get back to them as often as you can, and rehearse.

Ron Potter January 18, 2021 - 11:26 am

John, great note and ideas. Thanks for sharing.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.