This story was originally published at https://algodaily.com, where I maintain a technical interview course and write think-pieces for ambitious developers.
Warning, this is a bit of a rant. There was a post this morning that was quite popular called How I Consume Books. In it, the author makes the point that he prefers audiobooks for fiction to "save time" and that to maximize his consumption of non-fiction, he takes notes and collects them in a bunch.
The author can read books however whatever he wants-- I have no qualms about people doing what they need to do for their goals. However, if we think one level higher to why we read (I'll explain in a second), his techniques seem to be missing the mark.
I'm arguing that articles like the one referenced are a sign of how we overoptimize, and that the marginal gains that are being sought out with these techniques aren't worth it.
Look, here's something almost everybody knows and nearly no internalizes because it's a strange realization: in terms of density of applicable knowledge on a page by page level, books are no longer the best medium.
Let's take non-fiction for example, which should have more "useful knowledge" than fiction books. Most people consuming non-fiction are reading either business books, memoirs, self help literature, or textbooks. Only the last one was designed to pack the knowledge in-- every paragraph should provide some information, whether theoretical or applicable.
The others in that list are usually filled with narratives and stories that meander around a certain point, ultimately revealed in the last paragraph of a chapter. The average 200-300 page non-fiction book of that nature will have one to three actionable ideas.
If people were really looking to apply advice from a non-fiction book, it's actually much more straightforward to google the notes, watch a youtube video, or listen to a talk from the author than to read the book.
The same goes for fiction. The idea that you read fiction to efficiently gain knowledge of a concept is ridiculous. Usually these ideas are a few societal observations that are reinforced in 300-500 pages of imaginary events. To go into Harry Potter looking for sage wisdom is a bit like joining a startup to get rich-- very small chance it'll happen in reality, and it's more about the ride and experience.
So why do people actually read? It's the stories-- humans are hardwired to love narratives that make sequential and logical sense. It's all about letting your mind relax, enjoying the events as they unfold, and letting the big ideas seep into your subconscious naturally. Someone did this, so this happened. This person approached something this way, and met this person, and this was the result. Our brains love this.
If you're collecting notes and bundling them to refer back to them, you're overoptimizing. These notes will probably never feel like re-reading a non-fiction book because you're necessarily missing out on the backgrounds and stories that were provided, and thus won't be satisfying the deep human craving that draws us to such works in the first place.
Similarly, if you're rushing through a piece of great literature or switching to a different medium entirely just to "get the knowledge", you're also trying too hard to maximize. If you wanted the raw techniques, advice, or wisdom, you can find them in an abundance of summaries, videos, or short articles.
Here's what I'm saying-- just read the book however you want, without worrying if you're "getting anything" out the experience.
Are you enjoying it? Then you are! And that's good enough.