System For Reading - Not Finishing Books

After years of being a finisher, I had this insight that maybe books are not meant for finishing. The idea of not finishing a book is associated with some level of guilt and anxiety for most people. There are times when we don't finish a book because we get distracted and forget to follow through. But barring those, most of the time there is a really good reason to not finish a book. Just because we explore a book by reading some pages, it doesn't mean that reading all of it is the best use of our time (at a given point in our life).

I like to record all of the books that I've consumed in some way and I needed a way to record unfinished books. This is what I came up with about a year ago and it has worked well:

Now I have 5 modes of reading:

  1. Parse - go through the table of contents + index and only read what's interesting or relevant to me at this point. Many programming books fall into this category. Although I did read Javascript: The Definitive Guide cover to cover 8 years ago. And No, I do not think that was a good use of my time. Recent example: I Will Teach You to be Rich most things in here I knew already so parsed for new information only.
  2. Skim and Skip - read beginning/end of each chapter OR read 20% of the book from the start to give it a fair chance. If I'm not convinced that it's worth my time after that then move on. Example: Principles by Ray Dalio. The tone and context surrounding the author didn't resonate.
  3. Read - read cover to cover and sometimes take notes. Most books fall into this category. Recent example: The Art of Possibility.
  4. Reread - read old notes, reread, take new notes. soak it all in. On Writing and On Writing Well. I want to read similar books back to back and cross reference common points to internalize truths and gain wisdom.
  5. To Be Continued - these are books that are either so long or so dense that I intend to finish them at some point but haven't yet. Thinking Fast and Slow and Long Walk to Freedom are an example of this. Both I couldn't finish because they expired after renewing from the library 2 or 3 times.

I may not have an easy answer to the question "So how many books do you read per year?" But this allows me to record all of the books I've encountered along with a date for my own reference. With this system I feel at ease with consuming more books in any of the category, extracting what I like, and cross referencing many points of view on a topic.

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