Which reading style is better? Reading a large number of books or implementing the few you read?
Meet Melanie and Fred who both savor personal development books. But, each of them has an entirely different reading style.
- Melanie(M for many) devours over 50 books a year, amasses diverse knowledge, and implements some of it.
- Fred(F for few) reads 6-10 books a year and makes an effort to incorporate all the advice he encounters
If you were to ask Melanie and Fred, you’d end up confused. Both would state reasons to defend their approach and you’d wonder what’s the better option among the two.
In this article, we’ll go through the aspects of both these styles along with their pros and cons. A spoiler alert: Neither of the styles is better than the other. You’ll have to decide what suits you best and this article will help you do that.
Disclaimer: The article only takes into account personal development and self-help books. The same pointers do not apply to other genres such as fiction, novels, history, art, etc.
- Comparison between the two different reading styles
- The voracious reader:
- The implementational reader:
- What style should you pick?
- If you choose voracious reading:
- If you choose implementational reading:
Comparison between the two different reading styles
The voracious reader:
People like Melanie finish books like a teen downs tequila shots on his 21st birthday. They always have a book with them and their reading pace makes jaws drop.
Voracious readers average around the benchmark of a book a week which totals to 52 a year.
Another disclaimer: I belong to this category, but I will try my best to avoid any biased opinion.
Advantages of reading a large number of books:
1. Exposure to perspectives:
Every author has a unique style, thought process, and worldly view. And, the more books you read, the more perspectives you’ll expose yourself to. You’ll come across different stories and experiences from other people’s life which you’d never have the opportunity to encounter in your lifetime.
Amassing such knowledge helps you equip yourself. When you encounter a situation that you’ve read in a book, chances are you’ll make a better decision or avoid a mistake. For example, if you’ve read books on entrepreneurship, you’ll avoid some of the blatant errors when you start your business. Books alone won’t pave the path for your success, but they’ll open your mind to useful insights.
2. Diverse knowledge:
Anyone who reads close to 50 books a year explores beyond his/her favorite genre. That’s because, at that pace, you’ll run out of things to read and you’ll need a constant flow of books to keep up. As a result, for a voracious reader, a variety in reading occurs automatically.
When you read books from different categories and topics, your overall knowledge will expand.
3. Faster reading pace:
A voracious reader reads faster than the average Joe. Some practice speed reading techniques while others get better with time. The faster reading skills help not only in reading books but also in other real-life scenarios such as scanning emails or going through documents.
Disadvantages of reading a large number of books:
1. Content evaporates from memory
Your mind cannot hold on to everything you read, especially when you’re cramming new content every day. I read 50 books every year and if you ask me a specific question from one of those books, I won’t have a clear answer. I would recall bits and parts of the message.
But, for a voracious reader, the content wouldn’t have evaporated altogether. The core takeaways remain with you for a long time while the rest sinks into your unconscious mind. When a related situation arises, you might just recall what you read in a book, but not in 100% of the cases.
2. Reading turns into a target
In one of the previous years, I had set a goal of reading 60 books. When November arrived and I wasn’t on track to finish my target, I picked up smaller books of 100 pages without giving any thought. I was hell-bent on meeting the goal.
Many of these books offered little value and some were poorly written. The time spent on those books only went wasted. I’d have been better off reading fewer books that’d be useful to me.
For many voracious readers, reading turns into a goal of finishing a specific number of books instead of a good habit of gaining knowledge.
3. Reading becomes a chore
Reading a large number of books requires a commitment of daily or weekly time. Rarely does anyone finish 50 books a year without setting aside time to read every day.
While that is a good habit, on a few days, reading becomes daunting and at times downright annoying. You’ll find yourself flipping through pages without absorbing any of the material you’re reading.
The implementational reader:
People like Fred read books slowly, one page at a time. Some even pause every now and then to digest the material read and to connect it with real life.
The implementational reader is more focused on putting the knowledge gained into practice.
Advantages of reading fewer books and implementing them:
1. Longer retention:
Putting the information you consume into practice is one of the best ways of retaining it for the long term. Since you read fewer books, implementation becomes the focus.
When you make multiple attempts, fail at a few, and succeed at a few, the information gets etched into your memory and becomes a part of life. You’ll have no trouble explaining any concept mentioned in the book even years after reading it.
2. Specific books chosen:
Since you only read a handful of books, you’re choosy about the ones you pick. You’ll go through reviews and check how relevant the book is to your circumstances and personality. Therefore, the books you read help you build on your strengths and overcome weaknesses.
3. Lesser time spent:
Reading fewer books requires lesser time. Therefore, you won’t need to spend hours devouring books irrespective of your reading speed.
Disadvantages of the implementational reading approach:
1. Siloed perspective:
Every author writes content based on his/her perspective. Some of the books are well researched, while some are not. Extensive research isn’t a criterion for a good book, but many books are written from the author’s point of view alone. The persuasive words can sway you into the same belief without understanding the other side of the story.
Take for example, the book Secret by Rhonda Bryne. The staunch believers of the law of attraction mention that the book changed their lives. But, the same book has a horde of haters who call it unproven hogwash.
When you read about a topic from one person’s perspective, you will miss the other angles and fall into the trap of one-dimensional thinking. You believe the one-sided story without knowing the counter-arguments.
2. Lack of exposure
Knowledge is vast and ever-growing. The lesser your read, the lesser your exposure, and therefore the lesser your knowledge. Nothing against the reading style. It is simple math.
3. Implementing irrelevant tips:
No matter how good the book or how many copies it has sold worldwide, every single suggestion won’t apply to your life. After all, you’re unique and you have your personality, style, and circumstances.
If you try to live by one book, you might go too far to implement every last tip mentioned which creates more damage than good.
What style should you pick?
So after listing all the pros and cons, we’re back to where we started – “Which style among the two is better?”
Unfortunately, I have no good answer for you because each has its advantages and disadvantages. Now that you know them, you can decide for yourself which style will yield better results for you.
Here are a few pointers that will help you avoid some of the reading mistakes for both these reading styles:
If you choose voracious reading:
1. You cannot retain everything
When you read in large volumes, you’ll never manage to retain everything in memory unless you’re Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory. The Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve explains how the information you read evaporates with time.
One of the ways to counter this is by taking notes. Writing the important takeaways of the book help you retain them longer, but only to an extent. If you want to remember a book forever, you’ll have to glance through your notes every 2 weeks or practice what you’ve read. Neither of those is practically feasible when you’re consuming massive amounts of content every day.
So, accept the fact that when you’re a voracious reader, you’ll forget more than half of what you read. But, you’ll compensate for that loss by consuming more content from other books, albeit in a different context.
2. Use one main takeaway from one book
This is my approach to reading a lot of books. At first, I felt uncomfortable knowing that I was forgetting most of what I read. But over time, I made peace with it. Now, I no longer expect to remember every tip from every book because I know I can’t.
Instead, I look for one or two major insights from one book. After I finish reading a book, I ask myself, “What are the most important lessons I learned from the book?” I keep it to one or two for most books, but for the rare book that mesmerizes me, I go up to three at most. I note those lessons down and go through the entire list from all my books every 2 weeks. Since my list is small, I have no trouble refreshing my memory.
The rest of the reading is fed into your unconscious mind anyway. When the right trigger arrives, you may or may not recall what you’ve read.
3. Read to gain value, not to meet a target
Keeping a goal to encourage yourself to read more books works like a charm. Most voracious readers sign up for the Good Reads Challenge and set a goal for the number of books to read in a year. If you set an optimistic goal, you might find yourself aiming to reach that number by hook or by crook.
You read to gain knowledge or enjoy the experience. Flipping through pages to finish a specific count of books serves neither of the purposes.
If you choose implementational reading:
1. Choose according to your strengths and weaknesses
Because you read fewer books, make every single one count. Don’t walk into a library and pick the book with the shiniest cover. Take your time to do the research.
Ask yourself these questions before buying a book:
- Does the book help me improve one of my weaknesses?
- Does the book help me solidify one of my strengths?
- Does the book help me learn something new?
If you answer yes to any one of these questions, you’re picking the right book.
2. Don’t worry about every advice from the book
Though you like implementing the advice from the books you read, don’t take it too far. Use your own analysis. It is acceptable to disagree with some of the points the author makes.
Take into account your circumstances, personality, and style. Implement what is relevant to you and drop the rest.
Any author, even the best, will have a perspective from a single pair of eyes. Once you read a powerful book from an author, you might feel like buying all his/her other books. But, rarely do authors manage to pull off multiple best sellers. So, if you read different books from the same author, you’ll encounter a one-dimensional thought process.
Given that you have fewer books to read, you must aim to read the opinions of a diverse set of authors. Try to find the best book on a given topic, instead of sticking to the one author you stumble upon.
Don’t sweat about finding out the best style of reading. Both have their pros and cons. Neither will you go wrong with either of the styles nor will you hit perfection. The bottom line is that the habit of reading itself is more important than the style you choose. The confusion over the best style should not turn into a reason to avoid reading altogether.
So, stop thinking too much. Pick a book and start reading. If you don’t like your current style, you always have the option to switch to the other.
Maxim Dsouza has spent over a decade experimenting and finding various time management techniques to improve his productivity. He strongly understands the fact that time is a limited commodity and tries to make every second count. He has extensive experience in leadership in startups, small businesses, and large corporations.
He has helped people of different professions and age groups gain clarity on their goals, improve focus, revise their time management skills and develop an awareness of their psychological cognitive biases.