The Brutal Truth About Reading: If You Don’t Take Notes Right, You’ll Forget Nearly Everything

Tara H

Hatched by Tara H

Sep 07, 2023

4 min read


The Brutal Truth About Reading: If You Don’t Take Notes Right, You’ll Forget Nearly Everything

Reading has always been a cherished pastime for me. I would lose myself in the pages of a gripping novel or delve deep into the realms of knowledge with non-fiction books. However, as I grew older, I often realized that I had forgotten almost everything I had read. The brutal reality hit me hard - I had wasted thousands of hours.

But is it really a waste if you enjoyed the act of reading? Especially when it comes to fiction, or something you were reading for a very specific purpose that has now ended. This thought kept lingering in my mind, questioning the value of retaining information from every book I read. However, as I delved deeper into the subject, I discovered that there is indeed immense value in retaining the knowledge we gain from reading.

One concept that particularly struck me was Chesterton's Fence. Chesterton's Fence is a lesson in second-order thinking, which goes beyond the immediate consequences of our actions and considers the consequences of those consequences. The idea is simple yet profound - do not remove a fence until you know why it was put up in the first place.

Chesterton argued that fences are not built haphazardly; they are erected by individuals who carefully planned them out and had a reason to believe that the fence would be beneficial. Until we establish that reason, we have no business taking an ax to it. This principle can be applied to various aspects of life, including reading.

When we read a book, we often come across ideas or concepts that seem pointless or irrelevant. We may be tempted to skip over these sections or dismiss them as unimportant. However, Chesterton's Fence reminds us to exercise caution in discarding information without fully understanding its purpose. Just because something doesn't make immediate sense to us doesn't mean it lacks value.

Incorporating this idea into our reading habits, we should approach every book with an open mind and a willingness to delve into topics that may seem initially uninteresting. By doing so, we give ourselves the opportunity to uncover hidden gems of knowledge and expand our understanding of the world.

But how can we ensure that we retain the information we gather from our reading? Taking notes is a tried and tested method, but it's crucial to take notes effectively. Simply jotting down random thoughts or copying entire paragraphs may not be the most efficient way to retain information. Instead, we should focus on capturing the essence of what we read.

One effective technique is to summarize each chapter or section in our own words. By expressing the main ideas in our own language, we not only reinforce our understanding but also make the information more relatable to us. Additionally, highlighting key points and jotting down relevant examples or personal insights can further enhance our note-taking process.

Now, armed with these insights, how can we apply them to our reading habits to ensure we remember what we read? Here are three actionable pieces of advice:

  • 1. Cultivate an active reading mindset: Approach every book with the intention of actively engaging with the material. Instead of passively flipping through the pages, take the time to reflect on the ideas presented and ask yourself questions. This active mindset will not only make the reading experience more fulfilling but also enhance your ability to retain information.
  • 2. Embrace the power of note-taking: As mentioned earlier, effective note-taking is crucial for retaining information. Experiment with different techniques and find one that works best for you. Whether it's summarizing chapters, highlighting key points, or creating mind maps, find a method that helps you capture the essence of what you read.
  • 3. Review and revisit your notes: Taking notes is only the first step; regular review and revision are equally important. Set aside some time each week to go through your notes and reinforce your understanding of the material. This practice will not only solidify your knowledge but also make it easier to recall when needed.

In conclusion, reading is a valuable pursuit that can enrich our lives in countless ways. However, if we don't take notes effectively, we risk forgetting nearly everything we read. By embracing Chesterton's Fence and approaching each book with an open mind, we can uncover hidden gems of knowledge. Taking notes strategically and reviewing them regularly will ensure that we retain the information and make it a part of our intellectual arsenal. So, let's embark on our reading journeys with a renewed commitment to capturing knowledge and embracing the transformative power of books.

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