How to Read Books in a More Efficient and Effective Way: Get a Kindle

“In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.”

―Mortimer J. Adler

“In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn’t read all the time — none, zero. You’d be amazed at how much Warren reads–and at how much I read. My children laugh at me. They think I’m a book with a couple of legs sticking out.” 

—Charlie Munger

The Knowledge Project: Interview With Professor Sanjay Bakshi

In the third episode of the Knowledge, Shane Parrish talks to Professor Sanjay Bakshi on reading, mental models, worldly wisdom, checklists and investing. The interview starts with a conversation about Professor Bakshi’s reading habits, and how the way he reads has changed, from reading physical books to now reading most books on his Kindle device.

To listen to the interview, click here. To read the transcript, click on the image below or here. Transcripts are provided for all podcast interviews, and available via signing up for a membership over at Farnam Street. This particular transcript was made available to Professor Bakhi’s readers for free to download via his blog Fundoo Professor.

Takeaways: Reading on a Kindle

Here are a few takeaways from the discussion (excerpt below from transcript):

  • Start reading books on a Kindle and reduce your physical library and free up space
  • Reduce paper waste
  • New possibilities with the Kindle, for example search for the books you’ve read and the underlinings made in an easy way
  • Underline stuff and write your own notes, and they get synced to the cloud, and once they’re in the cloud you can copy and paste
  • Kindle doesn’t have any eye-strain
  • Some books not available electronically, so will still have to read them physically

A Discussion About Reading Habits

Sanjay_Bakshi_FSI appreciate that. I definitely have— my bookshelves are starting to overflow, so it’s getting to be a bit of a problem.

How can I persuade you to get into Kindle then? [laughs]

Actually let’s talk about the Kindle vs the physical book. What do you prefer and why? And how do you use that?

Well, I used to prefer the original one, of course, because you can underline; you love the smell of the paper; and you have nostalgic associations with the physical book, which looks like you have read it, which you lose when you do it on a Kindle. But over time, I realised that these are prejudices that should be let go of, because there are other things that are possible with the Kindle, which are not possible with the physical book. And for me, as a professor, it really helps me to be able to know that I’ve read this somewhere. The kind of associations that occur in memory as you experience something – you know that you have read about this particular aspect in some book, but you don’t know which one. And if this was all with physical books, you would go crazy looking for that book. But if you just do a search for a term across all your books in your Kindle library, it comes up in a flash.

And the interesting thing is that you sometimes discover things that you didn’t know existed – the serendipitous discovery of wonderful words of wisdom about a certain topic in your Kindle library is amazing, and when that happens, I have my eureka moments. And the other reason I love Kindle is that you can underline stuff and write your own notes, and they get synced to the cloud, and once they’re in the cloud you can copy and paste, and use them for your lectures. It’s very helpful, so I’m very grateful to Amazon. And of course it’s environmentally friendly: you don’t have to waste paper.

Do you read exclusively on the Kindle now?

Yes, I like to but only for books. Of course there are annual reports, and there is a lot of wisdom in annual reports of businesses that I like to study, and those you don’t get on Kindle. I don’t like reading on computer monitors – it’s very strenuous to the eye. Kindle, therefore, is much better because it doesn’t have any eye-strain. Then, of course, there are letters written by investors that are not usually available on Kindle. So I read on Kindle any book that it is available on Kindle. Some books are not – then you have to buy the physical ones.

You’re a prolific reader, so do you—

About 5% of what you are!

[laughs] Do you notice a difference in what you retain when you’re reading on the Kindle, or your takeaways from the book, in terms of how your brain is storing or organising? There have been a lot of studies that say that reading on a screen and reading a physical book impacts your memory in different ways and how you make connections and associations.

Sure, that’s true. But I think there’s a trade off here: you might retain more when you read a physical book, and a bit less on the Kindle, but that’s offset by the fact that you are creating a document in the cloud which contains the best things you have read in a book, the ones which influenced you the most; because you have underlined them, and sometimes the underlined portions of a book span many pages. And all of that gets synced to the cloud, and when you work on that particular passage again in the context of something that you’re trying to evaluate, then all of that comes back. So in a sense I think there is a trade off here: while reading in a physical book you get to underline physically, and you may have a moment of reflection and write things on the side, you can do that on a Kindle as well. So net-net, I don’t feel the loss of memory, compared to using a physical book.

So what’s your process for reading? You purchase a Kindle book, you get it to your Kindle… take me through how you read, in terms of are you reading one book at a time; are you reading multiple; do you put it aside at the end and then go back to it; or do you immediately take your notes out?

Well, I don’t like to read one book— maybe I will read 3 or 4 books at any given point of time, and when I finish them I’ll pick up another 2 or 3 books to read. One reason is you get kind of bored reading the same thing, the same subject. And based on what Charlie [Munger] says, you should have a multidisciplinary mind-set. So it’s good to have different books from different disciplines and read them. And then one of the amazing things that I discovered is that you then associate one thought with another one. And that really is helpful to me. So far as note-taking is concerned: I underline stuff on the fly, as I read it. And once the book is over, I go back on the cloud and take out what I had underlined in that particular book, whatever notes I had, whatever annotations are there. I put them in a different document, and then I let that be.

Because I have already studied the underlined text a second time, in a sense, I have done a second reading of the things that I like the most in that particular book. And then I let that be, to reside in my memory for some time. And then when I experience the world out there and there is a moment when I remember that there is something that relates to something that I read somewhere, then I can always go back to the document and be able to pull out whatever is useful.

So you have a different document for each book?

Not always. But I have a master document because once you have it in the cloud, you can always copy and paste any annotations, any underlined text for that particular book, in a different document. I do that for some books, though not all of them.

That’s a really good way to do it. Do you use Evernote or anything?

I do, I use Evernote; that’s been helpful to me. I use other tools like The Brain, which is a wonderful piece of software available.

What is that?

It kind of replicates what a human brain does. It helps you create thoughts, and it helps you connect different kinds of thoughts. And you can put your emails in it, and you can put your sound files in it, any kind of document in it, and then you can look at any particular topic from the perspective of a thought. So you have all these thoughts which are connected – and this is exactly how the human brain works. New associations are created. So when you’re looking at The Brain screen, and your actual brain is thinking about those associations, new associations get created. So in that sense, it’s an external brain that is working for you, and the size of which keeps on growing – it’s virtually infinite; you can keep on adding stuff to it.

I have been thinking about getting a Kindle for a while now, and also received some great feedback via Twitter on the subject. So, yesterday I ordered my first Kindle, and I hope to get it by next week so I can start trying out whether reading on a Kindle is of any value .

Feel free to share your own experience from reading on a Kindle versus reading physical books, note-taking etc in the comment section below.

Additional Reading

Disclosure: I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it. I have no business relationship with any company or individual mentioned in this article. I have no positions in any stocks mentioned.