Bill Gates reads 50 nonfiction books every year. That’s a book a week! Radio host Dave Ramsey also reads at least one book a week. Ajit Singh, partner at the venture capital firm Artiman Ventures and consulting professor in the School of Medicine at Stanford, reads 50 to 60 books a year. In 2015, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg set a goal to read one book every two weeks, and by December he had read 23 books.
I’ve always loved books, but until I discovered the secret, whenever I heard things like this, I couldn’t help wondering how??? Unless one is jobless, one can’t possibly finish a nonfiction book in one week or even in two weeks, can they?
It turns out they can! I only recently discovered the mistake I’ve been making.
If you’re like me, when you hear that someone reads 50 books in a year, you assume that they read every line of every page, right? They don’t; life is too short for that. The thing to bear in mind is that you don’t read nonfiction that way. The goal is not so much reading the book as understanding it. These people know that fiction and nonfiction are read differently, and that’s why they’re consistently able to reach their reading goals.
So, how do you read nonfiction?
- Read up on the author: From the little bio on the back cover of the book, to whatever you can find via Google, quickly reading up on the author will help you get where they’re coming from, so you can grasp the concept of the book better. Remember, the goal is to understand the book.
- Read the table of contents, introduction, and conclusion: What you want to get is the big picture. By now you should be able to explain the idea the book presents to someone who hasn’t read it.
- Skim each chapter paragraph by paragraph: Armed with the table of contents, you know where the book is going. Now, how does each chapter fit into this? You can skim by reading the first and last lines of each paragraph. This usually would help you understand the entire paragraph; if you understand it, move on to the next but if you don’t, then read the whole paragraph.
- Revisit the table of contents: Now that you have skimmed the entire book, examine the table of contents again. Do you understand the message of the book now? Great!
It’s obvious why fiction cannot be read like this. For me, biographies and autobiographies cannot be read like this either. Then there are authors who write so deliciously that you can’t help reading every delightful line (hello Malcolm Gladwell, I adore you) so you want to read those like fiction too.
Of course after finishing a book in this way, you can come back to actually read it (or mark pages you want to read properly later as you skim), but this is basically how busy, successful people “read” 50 books in a year.
It takes a little getting used to; I can tell you from experience that the temptation to read every line is great. Once you master it, you’ll be sailing through books and becoming wiser with each carefully selected one. Do let me know how it goes, if you try it.