Jamie Lawrence

How I read books in 2020

This year I started reading books a little differently.

Firstly, let’s talk about fiction. It puts me to sleep, literally. Total snooze-fest, in the best possible way. I read a fiction book, usually sci-fi, every night on my Kindle and I manage 10-15mins before my brain abruptly shuts off. So abruptly that I sometimes don’t have time to place the kindle back on a surface and it just falls out of my hand. Oddly the backlit Kindle (on just 8-9 brightness) is much more effective at inducing sleep than a paper book and bedside lamp.

Anyway, I don’t make much progress through a book with such an powerful sleep-inducing effect but it’s perfect for shutting down my brain and that’s what matters at midnight.

A new system

Over the last while I’ve really wanted to read more non-fiction books, particularly around management and leadership. If I tried replacing my bedtime sci-fi, I’d take forever to read them and I’d have forgotten most of it. It also don’t find those books particularly engaging and the last thing I need as I try to sleep is to be thinking about work again.

I came upon another system involving audiobooks. I discovered that the Kindle book + the audio narration is often cheaper than the audiobook itself (or just the same price). It’s still pretty spendy (~€20/book) but I can justify it for business stuff. Why both? I can play the audiobook through the Kindle app and it will synchronise the written content with the current audio. So I can listen to the book on my walk—which means I don’t need to find “new” time for reading—and when I hear something interesting I can stop highlight that passage in the Kindle app. Or I can pick up reading on another device, at another time.

It’s really useful for clarifying details or re-reading a piece I’d heard. I find it’s often easy to tune out on an audiobook and re-reading sections of the ebook helps them stick in my brain a little better. Highlighting the interesting pieces also makes it easier to find the places in the book… though ebooks aren’t as good as paper book for skimming looking for the highlighter marks.

That’s where Readwise comes in: it synchronises with my Kindle account and imports the highlights from all my books. Each day it randomly selects a few highlights and then sends me an email with them. I am terrible for remembering the detailed contents and quotes from a book so this sort of timed repetition is really powerful. I often find a useful idea in a book that I’ve read—but completely forgotten about—resurfaces at a time when I need it.

I can also upload highlighted PDFs (I use PDF Expert on the iPad to markup documents) and send webpage clippings to Readwise. Or even turn highlights into flashcards.

So that’s it…

  • buy the kindle version with the audio narration
  • make use of times when you can listen but not read (walking, driving, exercising) to listen to the book.
  • highlight interesting parts in the ebook
  • sync the highlights to Readwise
  • get regular reminders of all the great ideas you’ve read but forgotten!

Photo by Perfecto Capucine on Unsplash