A book with notes

How to Read a Book Well

I’ve read hundreds of books in my life, but the first one I read well was Mastery by Robert Greene. I started it like any other book, eager to learn something new. But after the first few pages, I felt guilty for being casual with the material. It was full of knowledge and I wasn’t doing anything productive with it. Every turn of the page was like saying “goodbye” to a great idea.

That’s when I developed my notating system, a color-coded way of highlighting a book to dissect its contents. Normally, I would have finished that book in a few days, but I spent several months studying it. I knew that if I simply “read” the thing and put it back on the shelf, I’d be doing myself a disservice.

“To read well – that is, to read true books in a true spirit – is a noble exercise, and one that will task the reader more than any exercise which the customs of the day esteem. It requires a training such as the athletes underwent, the steady intention almost of the whole life to this object. Books must be read as deliberately and reservedly as they were written” (Thoreau 90).

To write a book is hard work. It takes planning, years of dedication, editing, and then more editing. If Thoreau was correct, and I believe he was, then to read a book well requires the same level of commitment as to write one well. When you find a book worth learning from, sign up for the long haul with it. Get your markers out, make time in your schedule, and determine to make a study of the thing. Never simply “read” a great book.

Until tomorrow, read slowly – take notes – apply the ideas.



Works Cited

Thoreau, Henry David. Walden and Civil Disobedience. Vintage Books, 2014.

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