5 Ways to Get More From Reading Nonfiction Books
+ My 5 Favorite Books (So Far) of 2022

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).

This is Week 1 of Nonfiction November. Learn how you can join in. Or just follow along to get great nonfiction recommendations all month. This week we’re meeting with Katie at Doing Dewey.

You can also participate in the daily photo challenge on Instagram with Jaymi @theocbookgirl.

Nonfiction November Week 1

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

It’s OK That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand
by Megan Devine

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

Permission to Feel: Unlocking the Power of Emotions to Help Our Kids, Ourselves, and Our Society Thrive
by Marc Brackett, PhD

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

The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living (Second Edition)
by Russ Harris

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

Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience
by Brené Brown

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
  • Bittersweet
    How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole
    by Susan Cain

5 Ways to Get More From Reading Nonfiction Books


What would you add to this list of how to get more from your books? Share in the comments.

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36 thoughts on “5 Ways to Get More From Reading Nonfiction Books
+ My 5 Favorite Books (So Far) of 2022

  1. David

    I definitely do and benefit from all of these. Trying to tell someone else what a book is about & why you like it is surprisingly challenging. Reading with someone you value is good for teaching humility and openness.

    Two others I would add:

    – link what you’re reading to other things you’ve read and to other parts of your life;
    – Use it: any ideas you like, start trying them out straight away — don’t wait until you finish the book.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      It is challenging to try to explain a book, I agree. It’s easiest just to say, “I really liked it” but that’s not very helpful to the next person. 🙂 I love the additional two ideas you added, David! Tying together the common threads between the books we read and all areas of our lives is the aim. And putting them into practice as efficiently as possible is a high-priority goal.

  2. Martha J Orlando

    I’m not a big non-fiction fan, Lisa, but your suggestions about how we can more deeply connect with the information we wish to retain from that book makes me want to delve more deeply into the land of NF. Thanks for all these wonderful tips!
    Blessings!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thanks, Martha. Although my true love is nonfiction, my first love was fiction, so I still have a soft spot for novels too. They teach me a whole lot as well. I try to keep a fiction book going at all times (but just one at a time!). 🙂

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      My sister is the best at taking notes as she reads; I love borrowing books from her because I get to read all the notes she writes in the margins. 🙂 I mainly underline and copy passages into my own documents.

  3. Lesley

    These are great suggestions! I definitely find that making notes helps and I also tend to remember more when I have written a review or shared about the book with others.

  4. Barbara Harper

    Trying to maintain what I read is a struggle for me, too. Besides reviewing books on my blog and marking quotes I want to remember, I’ve been jotting down key points from each chapter in a notebook. It would be good to take that an extra step and type them up afterward while the book is still fresh in my mind. I really like the idea of making note of one or two actionable items, things I want to do or change after reading the book.

    Another thing I do with some nonfiction is to slow it down. With some I can read several chapters in a row. But with others, especially if they are complex or full of a lot of info., I try not to read more than a chapter at a time so it can settle in my mind before adding more.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Great advice to slow down on the complex books. Some books require intricate attention. It’s hard for me to stop when a book is really good, but I do benefit more when I give it time to sink in before moving on to the next chapter (or even the next book).

      I admire your practice of jotting down key points from each chapter in a notebook. For awhile I tried keeping a journal with one line from each book I read, but I didn’t maintain the practice. It’s one of those things I wish I’d kept up, but I give myself grace for letting it go. 🙂

  5. Liz Dexter

    I stick postit notes in or highlight places I want to remember and then write a more detailed review than I used to. However it’s also fine to skim and not look up absolutely everyone if a book is crammed with different figures.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, your last point definitely needs to be made, Liz. Not every book is worth our meticulous attention. One of the beauties of nonfiction books to me is that they’re easier to skim if you’re only looking for certain information. With a novel, you’d miss out on the plot if you only skimmed, but with nonfiction, you can sometimes still get the gist of the book with a quick scan of it.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thanks, Shelley. It’s fun to both give and receive recommendations. My tbr list is already growing again from Nonfiction November recommendations I’ve read so far.

  6. Katie @ Doing Dewey

    These are such good suggestions! I take notes so that I can write reviews and I find that makes a big difference to how much I remember. I’ve yet to read anything by Brene Brown, but my sister has been recommending her books for ages, so I’d really like to pick up her latest.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Oh, yes, do pick up Brene Brown! Any of her books. 🙂 She’s such a relatable person yet also backs up her words with research. I find her writing to be both informative and entertaining.

  7. Jean Wise

    Love all the suggestions. I keep a reading journal – well most of the time and I know it really helps me to summarize the book in my own words and gather a few things/tips I want to remember, The problem is I rarely remember!LOL

  8. Tammy L Kennington

    These are great tips, Lisa. I’m a write-in-the-margin and highlight kind of gal. If there is a word I don’t recognize, I look it up, define it at the top of the page, and then use it throughout the week.

    I always appreciate your book suggestions!

  9. Lory @ Entering the Enchanted Castle

    Excellent ideas. For me, taking notes and writing in the books is key. It’s why I don’t like reading nonfiction ebooks so much. And while I NEVER write in fiction books, I feel completely justified in doing it to my nonfiction ones. It does help me remember and also find things when I want to go back to them.

    Writing reviews also helps. I’m glad I’ve started writing at least short notes on Goodreads this year for every book. There’s always something I especially want to keep in mind.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I never write in fiction books either. 🙂 I love your approach to leave short notes on Goodreads. Maybe that’s something I could do?… Thanks for sharing your ideas, Lory!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Making It Stick is one of my all-time favorite books for how useful it has been in my life! I’ve loved every book that the Heath brothers have published. They have such a way of making an idea clear and practical.

  10. Richella J Parham

    Lisa, these tips are so helpful. For many books, the most helpful thing I do is to re-read! And if I know that I’m going to need to refer to a work in the future, I’ll add a tiny post-it flag to the page. I have to tell you–as the author of a non-fiction book, I’m so grateful for people like you who really work to gather meaning from books.

    Thanks so much for joining the Grace at Home party at Imparting Grace. I’m featuring you this week!

  11. Donna B Reidland

    Your second method is my way. I take notes, highlight things, and make comments in the margins. My husband and I sometimes take the same classes at church or conferences but I always want to have my own book so I can do my thing. 🙂

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