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How can we learn from reading more efficiently?

Everyday I look at my bookshelf and see the 10+ books I have begun to read and am still immensely fascinated in. Within a month, I probably purchase 4-6 books on average. It's overwhelming! There is so much that I am interested in, that sometimes I can't help but feel defeated.

My question to the brilliant TED community is...

How can I read more efficiently?

This primarily involves getting through more books with higher levels of comprehension. How can I get through everything I want to read without completely neglecting the people in my life? The more I read, the more I want to read about. It's a vicious cycle.

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    Dec 13 2012: There is a classic work by Mortimer Adler, author of the syntopicon for Brittanica's Great Ideas series, called How to Read a Book. This work identfies strategies for approaching different categories of reading to get the most value from what you read.

    Based on your question, I think you may find that book of value.
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    Dec 16 2012: Trey, I am guilty of buying more books than I can read as well...I eventually read them...sometimes months after I have purchased them. My Kindle has solved the problem of running out of storage space.
    I read at least two books on different topics at a time. The book with higher level of comprehension in the morning and an easier read at night. When I alternate between books,my brain seems to assimilate information more efficiently.
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    Dec 13 2012: I would not worry too much about speed as much as comprehension after all if not comprehension then why read at all?

    The more you read the faster you will get at reading.

    I would also look at the works of this guy as reading comprehension has more affect on you than you realize and if anything is the single biggest barrier to education general semantics is it. And where ever human endeavor fails this can be found as the root cause.
  • Dec 16 2012: Hi Trey,

    I have finally found a kindred spirit! I am in the same boat. I cannot finish the books I have started before I have acquired more. I also struggle with comprehension and retention of what I have read. In my 50 years I have not yet found much of an answer to this unique problem that we share. Most folks laugh when I describe it, but it says to me that they really do not understand what it is like. Like you (and my father and my son) my interests are widespread, and new interests are added all the time: things to do and/or knowledge to gain. And, it is not an ego trip to be a know-it-all, but a pure interest in the vast experiences and knowledge available. I don't care if anyone knows that I may or may not know something.

    I have tried the standard speed reading. As an experiment, I would go back and re-read something the next day, and would discover I missed the majority of what I sped over. I just got my hands on Mortimer Adler's book (mentioned below), and will be working on that.

    Time management helps but is NOT our main problem, as I have been through several time management programs and techniques and was never able to fit everything in. I plan for family time, breaks, exercise, work, etc. Fitting things into a 24 hour period was impossible, so I experimented with several-day cycles and weekly cycles. This worked a bit better, and I felt more structured and satisfied. I need to improve it and fit it into my chaotic work cycles (I travel for work on very short notice. Short bursts of time at home between projects) (No, changing jobs is NOT an option: I have looked into it several times: skills, local pay scales, opportunities, etc)

    But, even with structure, comprehension and retention are still a problem for me. There just in not time for in-depth study of everything we want to learn.

    At my age, I think I have to start cutting things out which is not easy. There isn't time for everything. I have not helped you, but I share your pain.
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    Dec 16 2012: I'd urge you toward a different direction. The books that interest you, do you find that they cluster around certain subjects? For example, do you often find yourself reading books on ecology? I think instead of reading a great many books on ecology, I would try to talk more with the people in your life about ecology. Share with them why you're interested, and what ideas you have about it. Ask them if they're interested, and what ideas they have about it. If you begin to find people in your life who are also interested, perhaps you both could become involved in something related to ecology. You could volunteer to clean up a forest park, or go birdwatching together, or even just take a walk outside.
  • Dec 15 2012: Reading serves no purpose if you don't retain anything. Not only that I think it's a common thing for human beings to try to bite off more then they can chew.

    You're not god, don't try to be. I think talking to some good philosophy teachers about the limits of human understanding and the limits of human ability would do many over-achievers good.

    Even the most talented and genius human being feels unaccomplished, I believe it was Leonardo da-vinci who felt he had so much left undone.

    That's a natural feeling to have as a human being.
  • Dec 15 2012: Re-learn how to read.
    There are several techniques available, but basically, it revolves around not sounding our each word and then listening to yourself read silently in your head. That is the slowest way to communicate.
    Studies have shown that when your speed increases, so does your comprehension. I didn't believe this but in my own case I found it was true.
    I like to read when on vacation (camping) and I budget for 3 books a day. I finally stopped packing a suitcase full of books and now try to take them on my kindle where possible.
    • Dec 15 2012: I am interested by your claim that when reading speed increases, comprehension increases. Can you tell me how that cause-and-effect works? Right now, I am struggling to increase my reading efficiency simply because I often spend a significant amount of time mulling on the contents of a specific section of a book. As a consequence, the book can only be finished after weeks. (The book is pretty content-intensive) As such, I would like my logic gaps to be clarified, that is, how reading fast affect comprehension. Or if you can link me any of the studies you read, I would be grateful too.
      • Dec 15 2012: Well most speed-reading techniques require you to visualize the text into images (rather than sounds).
        The argument for better recollection of this is simply that in general the visual power of our brain exceeds that of our audio memory.
        I'm not quite sure about the comprehension though...
      • Dec 16 2012: Richard is correct, most speed reading techniques shift the reading function from audio to visual and your visual memory is more pesistent. Perhaps I used the work comprehension incorrectly, I meant that your memory of what you read is more complete. When using standard audio memory, your ability to remember facts of a story might be 40%, when shifted to visual, your memory might be 90%. You just remember more of what your read and you remember it longer.
        When you are reading content heavy material you have to slow down an amount based on the ability of the author to frame the concepts in a understandable way.
        Some authors can make language sing and other cough. There;s just no way around that.
        Speed reading works best on descriptive text. At my absolute fastest (which I don't maintain now) I could read about 5000 wpm, but that was on some of Mitchner's works.
        A paper by Albert Einstein runs somewhat slower than that ;)
        You can find lots of info on this through standard Google references
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    Dec 14 2012: My reading queue is also hopelessly long, and I have some advice on how to optimize your reading:

    Focus on one book at a time. Books on everything else you find interesting will still be there once you make it through your current reading material. If you come across a secondary topic in the book you're reading that you feel is requisite for understanding/enjoying the book, try to use Wikipedia or other reference material to supplement your knowledge instead of buying another book on the secondary topic.

    Carry your reading material with you if you anticipate reading opportunities (or even if you don't). I sometimes keep the book I am reading in my handbag when I go out (in case delays in my schedule yield opportunities to read). I also make time to read before bed each night. I find that I retain the material better when I read before bed, particularly if I am lucky enough to have a good night's rest.

    Since you cited neglecting the people in your life as a possible concern, you might consider joining or forming a book club with your friends and family. This will effectively combine your love of reading with social gatherings and hopefully lead to some lively discussions based on whatever topics you found fascinating enough to purchase books on. Having to articulate your thoughts or teach topics to a group might help solidify your own understanding of them and lead to an increased capacity to comprehend and retain information while you read.

    I hope this helps!
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    Dec 14 2012: I think the solution to your problem is time management.
    Manage your time effectively in order to do the work effectively by dividing time into slots for each and every work.
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    Dec 14 2012: Search comprehension strategies on the web and take your pick of the one that works for you. For the problem of getting through more books. Different things work for different people. You mention the people in you life as a factor so I suggest that if you have kids ... they have homework ... set aside a family "quiet time" for readin, writin, and rithmitic ... when you demonstrate the love of learning and reading it will rub off.

    Trey, I have found that we all have time to do the tings we want to do ... most of us are just poor time managers. I record the shows I want from the TV because if I turn it on and wait for the show I want I have wasted a few hours. Watch only what you select and record. I use the mornings for chores. Afternoons for family activities. (weekends) We can shop at anytime on any day. Use a family community calendar so that all games, plays, husband and wife dates, meetings, etc ... are logged and scheduled ..(this prevents conflicts).

    In short if you organize and communicate there is always time left over for good time managers ... and for you Trey that means more reading and with what you learn from comprehension strategies problems are solved.

    Good luck. Bob.
  • Dec 14 2012: how can we learn from reading more efficiently? it sounds wrong to me the way you put the question.
    anyway, i think you are trying to get the technique to read and grab as much as possible and as quickly as possible. i have seen it somewhere where they say you should expand your vision scope and move your eyes faster when reading a sentence. its sort of like pretending like reading normally but faster, and make your pupils move to cover more area. there were a few reasons stated for this. one being, by not moving your pupils more, your eyes tend to tire quickly. and although going from left to right then down and then left to right again fast makes you comprehend less, this is where your brain practices come in. you will unconsciously try to process the many many words that you see and making a meaning out of it. it will improve with time.
  • Dec 13 2012: Reading is an amazing hobby!! Don't ever let anyone tell you it's not...I wish i could develop the habit.. but i'm doing pathetically bad at it...My suggestion to you would be...Try giving half an hour twice a week to people/Love ones and continue reading!!