Reading well is a skill, one that most people have not developed.

Levels of reading:

Elementary reading. Often not attained even by college. Freshman students struggle with complex grammar, reading the wrong meaning into arguments etc. Originally published in 1940. Has this improved since? I don’t get the impression that most college students struggle with elementary reading.

Inspectional reading. Skimming/pre-reading. Main aim is to find out whether it’s worth reading the book in detail. Title page, preface, table of contents, index, blurb. Skim chapters that seem pivotal to the argument. Skim random pages of the book. Read the last few pages / conclusion / epilogue. Read entire book through quickly, without stopping to check references or to think carefully about arguments.

Hold these questions in mind:

Note-taking. Structural (outline), synoptical/conceptual (themes and ideas), dialectical (state of knowledge/debate in the subject overall).

Analytical reading.

Must be able to do the above before declaring agreement/disagreement/suspension of judgement. Disagreement could be because the author is uninformed, misinformed or illogical in some argument/evidence. Carefully distinguish between argument/evidence and personal opinion in your response.

Synoptical reading.

Be very careful to avoid mischaracterizing authors you disagree with.

Ironically, I ended up skimming much of this book. There’s a lot of filler.

Pretty much all of the advice I have seen before, much more concisely, in the context of reading math and cs papers (eg here). This book made me realize though that it’s strange that I don’t apply the same techniques to reading books. I’ve been in the habit of reading technical books like fiction novels.

That inspired me to skim every book that’s currently on my reading list, which lead to removing some of them from the list and moving others up. I’m also now making an effort to group related books together - skimming them all before reading any one of them. Hopefully this will counter the confirmation bias where any single book only focuses on the data that supports it’s own thesis.

I also started to find that many books only need skimming. A lot of pop-science books, especially, are 80% anecdote and only contain a few good ideas. For many of the books on my reading list, I could have just skimmed the excerpts on Google Books to find out they weren’t worth buying to read in full.