The Way You Read Books Says A Lot About Your Intelligence, Here’s Why

Michael Simmons
Jun 20, 2018 · 13 min read
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This is why the smartest people in the world own tons of books they don’t read.

If you love to read as much as I do, walking into a bookstore as an adult feels exactly like walking into a candy store as a kid.

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Source: http://bit.ly/2JRrqbk

“Even if you do not have the time to read them all, overstuffing your bookshelf or e-reader is good for you.” Jessica Stillman

As I will explain in this article, for people who actually put in the time to read and learn how to learn, unread books strewn across the house might actually be a sign of intelligence rather than the lack of it.

“I maybe start half the books I get, and I probably finish a third of the books I start. And that works out to finishing 1–2 books per week.” — Patrick Collison

What’s going on here?

Smart reading hack 1: View books as an experiment

My friend Emerson Spartz, a successful serial entrepreneur and investor who has read thousands of books, makes a compelling case that buying a book is an experiment. On the cost side, you’ll need to spend about $15 and some time. But on the upside, a book can change your life. That’s a pretty good bet!

Smart reading hack 2: Do Fractal Reading

We’ve reached an inflection point as a knowledge society. The metadata that books generate (i.e., author interviews, author presentations, book summaries, reviews, quotes, first and last chapters, etc.) is often just as valuable as the book itself.

  • It’s multimedia. You can access this information as text, audio, and video, which makes it easier to incorporate into your lifestyle (e.g., your daily commute or chores).
  • It has a high signal-to-noise ratio. The shortened formats cut out the fluff and get right to the big ideas.
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  • Listen to an author interview (podcast, Google). Interviews are engaging, and the interviewer does the work for you, asking the author the most pertinent and compelling questions they’ve gleaned from reading the book.
  • Watch an author presentation (TED, Google, or university talk). When an author is forced to whittle down a 200-page book into a 20-minute talk, they share their biggest idea and best story.
  • Read the most helpful 1-star, 2-star, 3-star, 4-star, and 5-star reviews (Amazon). Amazon helps us all quickly sort the most well thought-out reviews from readers who loved the book down to those who hated it.
  • Read the first and last chapters of the book. The first and last chapters of a book often contain the most valuable content in it (this obviously doesn’t work if you’re hoping to get lost in a novel). In addition, the first and last paragraphs of each chapter contain the big ideas of each chapter. With Google Books, ebook free samples, and Amazon’s Look Inside feature, it’s often possible to get the first and last chapter of a book for free.

Smart reading hack 3: View your unread books as a reminder of how little you know

Intellectual humility isn’t valuable just because it’s a virtue. It’s valuable because it gives us a more realistic conception of ourselves and our place in the world, which helps us conduct our lives more effectively and harmoniously. For example, humility helps us make better decisions and inspires us to learn more.

  1. Humanity’s Current Knowledge
  2. All Potential Knowledge
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Personal library of Jay Walker, founder of Priceline.com
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Thomas Edison’s Library
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Personal library of Bill Gates

Smart reading hack 4: Abandon good books for great books.

On a great podcast episode of the Knowledge Project, Patrick Collison, the self-made billionaire founder of Stripe, makes the following case:

Smart reading hack 5: Use books to create space in your mind for great ideas to collide

We know that targeted advertisements are effective. They affect us both consciously and unconsciously. Similarly, books placed strategically in our environment do the same.

Smart reading hack 6: Read books like magazines

Reading a book like a magazine is a powerful metaphor. When we pick up a magazine, we don’t feel guilty if we don’t read every page or if we just do a 5-minute reading spurt. Instead, we often skim to find the most interesting and relevant articles and then go deep and slow on those. This approach is powerful on a few levels:

  • It helps us slow down so we get the most from what we do go deep on.
  • It makes reading easier to do, which means we are more likely to actually be consistent.

Ultimately, it’s not about how many books you finish.

Just by walking into their homes it is difficult to tell the difference between a book hoarder and smart reader. Each house would be strewn with books. But under this surface similarity, there are three qualities that separate the two.

  • Smart readers learn how to learn. In other words, they maximize the value they get from the time they put into reading. I created a free email course to help you learn mental models, one of the keys to learning faster and better. Inside, you’ll learn the models that self-made billionaire entrepreneurs and investors use to make business and investing decisions — tools you can apply immediately to your life and business. You’ll also learn how to naturally use these models in your everyday life.
  • Smart readers take action until they get the result they’re looking for. The value of theoretical knowledge comes from its application.

Accelerated Intelligence

For people who want to find time to learn, learn better…

Michael Simmons

Written by

I teach people to learn HOW to learn / Serial entrepreneur / Bestselling author / Contributor: Time, Fortune, and Harvard Business Review

Accelerated Intelligence

For people who want to find time to learn, learn better, and use their knowledge to boost their income.

Michael Simmons

Written by

I teach people to learn HOW to learn / Serial entrepreneur / Bestselling author / Contributor: Time, Fortune, and Harvard Business Review

Accelerated Intelligence

For people who want to find time to learn, learn better, and use their knowledge to boost their income.

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