Zettelkasten Forum

Reading Rhythm

I was certain I'd posted here before, but I had to make an account, so I guess I've only been a lurker. That makes me new here. Hi!

In any event, I'm wondering how you maintain "rhythm" or momentum while reading "as if writing is all that matters". I find that, as soon as I started reading with the intention of creating notes, my reading pace comes to a screeching halt, and I never finish anything I start. Alternatively, I read and only mark interesting ideas, but then I find the process of turning them all into notes overwhelming and I never do that. I suspect I'm trying to take too many notes, but maybe there's some better process I could use. Help?

What's your system?


  • Hi @AlexaKM, welcome. You've asked an important question.

    If you don't mind me asking, what is your area of study? What books do you find it hard to "maintain "rhythm" or momentum while reading?"

    I'm going to tell you about a couple of examples and then give some "advice."

    It's a spectrum. A book like Longitude by Dava Sobel, a book about the development in 1700 of the sea-worthy chronograph that revolutionized ocean exploration. I read in a couple of sittings and just highlighted the interesting passages in the first round. Because it was an ebook, I explored the highlights and made notes. The note for the whole book was a surprising 260 words, and after reviewing it for a few days, I didn't see a need for refactoring it. Even with so few notes, I found this book engaging and can recommend it wholeheartedly. Issac Newton plays a fascinating pivotal role as a quasi-venture capitalist in this story.

    There Are Places in the World Where Rules Are Less Important than Kindness: And Other Thoughts on Physics, Philosophy, and the World by Carlo Rovelli is his newest book, and I anticipated it would be as great as his other books. I was enthralled at first, then at about page 50, I got bogged down, and his writing lost my attention. I quit at page 73. This might be considered a book where I couldn't maintain my momentum, but I've come to learn that to abandon a book that stumbles in keeping your attention is far better than abandoning the whole project of reading.

    Textbooks and assigned reading-
    My strategy varies. If the syllabus ties textbook chapters to class sessions, I read only the required chapters at the required time. Unfortunately, some of my literary criticism courses will have 20 books assigned, one for each week, in which case I'll do my best, but it can be hard.

    I'm currently reading Four Thousand Weeks By Oliver Burkeman. It has a lot in it about reading rhythm. I wholeheartedly recommend it. I am reading it in physical form. I have checked it out of the library, so I can't mark it up. What I do is I have a bookmark with 25 post-it flags and I'll read the book until I've used all the flags then, I'll roughly process those 25 ideas into a book note which I'll refine after the book is finished. The note is currently 1600 words. As soon as all the post-it flags are back on the bookmark, I continue reading. Once the book is done, I spend time over a week or so refactoring the large book note into a book structure note with somewhat atomized linked notes.

    I used a similar strategy when I read Fiona McPherson's Effective Notetaking. Only in this case, the book as an ebook and read a few chapters then downloaded the notes and highlights, doing a rough refactoring before continuing.

    Free unsolicited advice from a person who also struggles to "maintain "rhythm" or momentum while reading."

    1. Don't be so hard on yourself. There are lots of writers in every field, and finding those that resonate can take time. Ask around for recommendations for people you trust.
    2. Reading for a set amount of time is helpful. Having a hard stopping time means sometimes stopping in the middle of an exciting part of the book but what that does is creates excitement and "momentum" to return to it.
    3. Taking breaks when reading books that overflow with ideas helps is a small way to solidify the ideas. This is where the back and forth between reading and note-taking come in.
    4. Audition the books you want to read to see if they are "up to snuff." This is an idea that comes from Fiona McPherson's Effective Notetaking.
    5. If an author's writing isn't captivating, don't blame yourself, blame the author. Schopenhauer, in On Reading and Books, has a different view. He feels the reading is the reader's responsibility. I'm still considering how these two conflicting ideas can be held at the same time.

    Here I've gone on and on. I've not meant to say anything. If I was more skilled, this would not have dribbled on for as long as it has.

    Let me know if I'm off base or have muddied things a bit.

    Will Simpson
    The quality of our thinking is directly proportional to the quality of our reading. To think better, we must read better. - Rohan

  • edited June 2022


    Relative to the topic at hand. Below is an idea captured today during the second round of the match between Four Thousand Weeks and me.

    Post edited by Will on

    Will Simpson
    The quality of our thinking is directly proportional to the quality of our reading. To think better, we must read better. - Rohan

  • Thank you for the thoughtful reply, @Will . I research learning and child development in cross-cultural contexts, though for very practical reasons (I'm a teacher). I can get bogged down in anything, even fascinating "light" reading, if I'm trying to take notes, though obviously technical papers are tougher. I love your idea of reading for a set period of time. I'm going to try that!

  • I stole the idea of incremental reading. Here it surfaces as the second of Burkeman's Three Principles of Patience from Four Thousand Weeks. Unfortunately, this is one of the few cases where Burkeman doesn't reference where he got this notion from.

    He references Jennifer Roberts's work teaching students the value of deceleration and immersive attention in the classroom. Which I find fascinating as it applies to attention training.

    I find pedagogy is a super fascinating and relevant topic.
    I love reading about adult learning and cognitive development, "though for very practical reasons" (I'm an adult).

    Will Simpson
    The quality of our thinking is directly proportional to the quality of our reading. To think better, we must read better. - Rohan

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