I remember I loved that book. I remember thinking it held such valuable information. I remember thinking I’d recommend it to others.
This can easily happen with nonfiction books we read. We see the words on the page and are moved by their meaning. We hope the author’s message can transform our lives as much as it did theirs.
But then we forget about it.
Through my years of reading, though, I’ve found some tricks that help me remember more from the books I read.
If you’d like to get more out of your nonfiction books, too, below are five suggestions that work for me. Maybe they will work for you, too.
Also included are five of my favorite nonfiction books this year (so far).
You can also participate in the daily photo challenge on Instagram with Jaymi @theocbookgirl.
5 Ways to Get More From Nonfiction Books
1. IDENTIFY YOUR WHY
Typically nonfiction books call to us for a reason, not just because the cover is beautiful or the title is amusing (although that happens too).
If you identify WHY you want to read a book, you’re more likely to remember WHAT it tells you.
- Are you reading to to be entertained?
Read for a pleasant distraction. Maybe skimming is fine; you’ll remember the book made you laugh and recall it with joy. That’s enough.
- Are you reading to learn a new skill?
Bring focused attention when you read. Maybe read a chapter, practice a chapter, all the way through the book. Read the book; do the book.
- Are you reading to strengthen relationships or grow spiritually?
Be ready to ponder and pray as read along. Pause frequently to let the words sink into your soul, not just your eyes.
Book Suggestion #1
A prominent theme in my nonfiction books this year has been how to deal with emotions after a substantial loss. This book normalizes all the emotions that grief brings with it. Both practical and personal, Megan Devine made me feel seen in my losses. Whether you’re the one grieving or the one helping someone through grief, this book is a valuable resource for all.
2. TAKE NOTES
If a book contains information you want to retain, engage with it beyond just seeing the words.
- Write your own thoughts in the margins.
- Copy memorable quotes.
- Highlight important paragraphs.
Choose any method that works for you, i.e., the method you will actually do.
For me, I put sticky flags on sentences that stand out. When I finish the book, I go back to type those sentences in a word document.
Book Suggestion #2
From the very beginning of the book, Dr. Brackett’s goals matched mine:
“My message for everyone is the same: that if we can learn to identify, express, and harness our feelings, even the most challenging ones, we can use those emotions to help us create positive, satisfying lives.”
This book shows the importance of being emotionally skilled. It uses a simple system called RULER that anyone can learn and apply in their daily life. Important information.
3. REREAD YOUR NOTES
Even if you never read them again, simply writing notes from a book makes you more likely to remember what you’ve read. But if you really want to retain the knowledge, make a habit of rereading your notes at least once before you store them away.
This year I’ve taken it even a step further. For the best of the best books I’ve read, I write down two or three actionable items on a “To Do from Notes” document. These are highlights of the highlights.
Even though it’s only a few things from a whole book, those two or three small things can make a huge difference because I’m more likely to put them into action.
Don’t lose what you’re learning.
Book Suggestion #3
I know; the title sounds a little too “self-help”. But the contents are meaty. Russ Harris teaches Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in an easy-to-understand way. I’ve been using tidbits from it for months now, and it’s helped me worry less, sleep more soundly, and make better decisions.
4. READ WITH A GROUP
Was that really in the book? How did I miss that? That’s what I ask myself at most every book club meeting. Different things stand out to different people. So if you want to get more from your books, read them with more people.
If you don’t have an in-person group available, find an online book club that swaps ideas about the books you like to read. You might be amazed to discover more from a book with a group than from a solo reading.
Book Suggestion #4
This fabulous book by Brené Brown takes you through 87 emotions that we all experience. Recognizing and labeling our feelings is a great first step in knowing how to handle them.
“The entire premise of this book is that language has the power to define our experiences, and there’s no better example of this than anxiety and excitement. Anxiety and excitement feel the same, but how we interpret and label them can determine how we experience them.”
This book is next on my local book club’s list. By reading this with my gang, I know I’ll learn more about my own human experiences as I hear more about theirs.
5. TELL SOMEONE ELSE
They say if you really want to learn something, teach it. It’s true. You don’t have to formally teach a book to benefit from it, but even casually sharing the good stuff from a book with somebody else will help you retain it longer.
The books I remember the most are usually the ones I talk about on long car rides with my husband Jeff. The ones I write reviews about. The ones I mention to my friends.
Book Suggestion #5
Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life
by Marshall B. Rosenberg, PhD
This book identifies healthy ways to use your words. Rosenberg recommends these four components to enrich your relationships and your life: observe what is happening, state how you feel about it, connect your need to that emotion, and articulate any requests you have about it.
This past spring I worked with a coach to help me navigate some rough waters. She relied heavily on nonviolent communication both in how she spoke to me and in what she taught me. It was very helpful. So I looked up this book, and found immediate benefits in its principles. It’s a brilliant approach for showing love to others and to yourself.
But Even When You Forget…
But even with our best efforts, we will still forget things we read. That’s okay. That’s normal.
And actually it’s probably good. If we remembered everything, we’d live on overload (and likely be obnoxious company to everyone around us).
So whether we remember everything or nothing from our books, we’re still changed by what we read, even if slightly. Those small nudges eventually add up.
And every little change matters.
As Mortimer J. Adler says,
“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.”
Extra 5 star recommendations from my books this year:
- Plays Well with Others
The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Relationships Is (Mostly) Wrong
by Eric Barker
- The Dance of Connection
How to Talk to Someone When You’re Mad, Hurt, Scared, Frustrated, Insulted, Betrayed, or Desperate
by Harriet Lerner, Ph.D.
- Constructive Wallowing
How to Beat Bad Feelings by Letting Yourself Have Them
by Tina Gilbertson
- The Grieving Brain
The Surprising Science of How We Learn from Love and Loss
by Mary-Frances O’Connor
How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole
by Susan Cain
What would you add to this list of how to get more from your books? Share in the comments.
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