Recursive reading — an experiment

Flynn Buckingham
Jul 29, 2018 · 3 min read

I remember back in high school, there were times I’d just open a Wikipedia page and see all of the things that it would link back to. Either it be the first link of the article, or just some random link that stood out the most, more often than not: I’d end up at a more broad topic.

Amidst my own thinking, I realized a way I could apply that phenomenon to the way I do my own personal and professional researching.

What the heck is recursive reading?

In a typical reading flow, it’s common for someone to pick a few books that are related to a specific subject. And then once those are books are done, to move on to a new topic entirely, or add another broadly related piece of material into the mix.

This is completely normal and works for most people. And while I’m technically a part of “most people”, I usually benefit more from reading more specialized material than from material that tries to shotgun through various topics at once.

Regardless, the idea behind this recursive reading strategy is that while reading a piece of non-fiction: the next book to be read immediately after would be related to a topic within the book that strikes the most curiosity, or the most confusion.

An example of this would be if reading a book about networking, if the term nmap gets brought up enough to intrigue the reader, then the next topic along that reading branch should be about nmap, as well as any other subjects that spark that reader’s interest.

The recursive aspect to this is that when reading the next selected material that it will again branch off depending on specific things that stood out to me.

I’m sure there are better terms to describe this, like branch reading or subjective reading, but I prefer the term recursive anyways.

So in essence, in a way it’s almost a reading hack (albeit a potentially obvious one). I could be totally alone when it comes to this, but when I finish reading a handful of books related to a general topic, I often don’t know where else to look to refine my understanding of what I already read.

This counters the above issue, by making me dive into a more broad (yet paradoxically more specific) area regarding something I wasn’t sure on, or feel a desire to learn more about.

I’m going to try this for an entire month, and if I feel like it’s more effective than simply reading random books then I’ll write another article about my findings.

Flynn Buckingham

Written by

JavaScript Developer, writer and skilled insomniac. Open Software enthusiast.

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