- Make time dedicated to reading. While the typical advice is to read any chance you
get, it doesn't suit more serious reading; reading aimed at maximum comprehension and
retention of difficult ideas. It is a far better
approach for both comprehension and retention to dedicate even half an hour daily to
reading where you read with full concentration, than it is to read for more time spread
out across the day.
- Read slowly. Slower than what you consider slow. When starting a book, it might seem
like you'll take forever to finish just one book at the rate you're going. However,
reading speed is never constant across a book. As you read, you'll
get used to the author's writing style and terminology and pick up speed. It's far
worse to try and power through a difficult book and hit a "comprehension wall" that forces
you to go back and understand the previous material again. It's demotivating and a
sure-fire way to kill the enjoyment.
- Read while sitting upright. For serious books, I've found that sitting upright in a comfy
chair with the book on a table (like you would in a library) has a huge effect on
comprehension and retention. Lying down on a couch or reading in bed, especially before
bedtime, just doesn't work as well.
- Read with a pencil in your hand. Don't be afraid to get your books messy with scribbles
and notes. In fact, it is for this reason that the editions recommended on this page are
relatively cheap and widely-available versions, rather than expensive decorative
leather-bound ones. If you feel clueless about what to scribble, just read with a pencil
in your hand.
- Do a three pass method, for non-fiction books: (i) read the table of contents till you
get and idea of the structure of the book; (ii) read the first few paragraphs of each
major section of the book to get a feel for the language and content; (iii)
read through the book as slowly as possible, aiming for maximum comprehension;
you will speed up automatically as you proceed.
For most classic works, if an edition exists from Hackett, Oxford University Press,
or Cambridge University Press, they're a reliable buy; the translations easy to follow.
Penguin also does a great job with the translation of older works.