Remember What You Read—Choose One Thing per Book

You read a book. You like it. You might even love it!

But a year from now, if someone asks you about it, all you can remember is: It was so good! Why? I can’t remember.

I know because this happens to me sometimes. And I don’t like it.

We Are What We Read

If I read something that is amazing—even life-changing—I don’t want to forget it. I don’t want to be a hearer and not a doer (James 1:23-24). I’d rather be the blessed person who does what she hears (James 1:25), incorporating the words into who I am.

We are somewhat influenced by everything we read. Just this weekend I was feeling icky the more I read in a novel I’d started on vacation. In a rare move, I decided to delete it off my Kindle unfinished, an act I should do more often when a book is boring, bad, or a total time-waster.

So if we want to be influenced in a good way from beneficial books we read, here’s something I just read in a book that I hope I WILL remember and do:



Choose the one thing you’ve read from this book that will make the most difference in your life and do it. No matter what. Then, naturally, you will start to incorporate others. And, with time, you’ll find that your life moves in a purposeful direction.

Because the moments add up to days, the days add up to years, and the years add up to your life. Making sure that your days and moments are guided by what you want to accomplish with your years means each moment will reflect the life you choose to live. So you’ll know you’re getting the right things done.

It all starts with your one thing.” 
Peter Bregman, 18 Minutes

What if we actually did this? Each time we read a book, take one thing—just one thing!—and apply it.

Take One Thing


  1. Look for one thing

Pray for open eyes. Ask God to keep you aware of his message through the author’s words (or perhaps in spite of them, whichever the case may be). Pay attention to words and thoughts that move you.

  1. Write down your one thing

As you read, highlight any important passages, take notes, turn down pages, flag with post-it notes—whatever it is you do. Then after you’re finished the book, take an extra five minutes and choose one thing that you want to take from the book. Create a word document on your computer of One Things or write them in a notebook.

  1. Do that one thing

Just do it. Try. Experiment. Fail. Succeed. Fail again. Try again.

  1. Review your list of one things

Every six months or so, pull out your list of book titles and one things. Pray through them for any action steps you’d like to take.

Watch for More

Of course not every book has the same value. But in most books we can find at least one valuable truth (or hopefully multiple truths), whether fiction or non-fiction. Some things may be small; some may be large.

  • Tim Hawkin’s Diary of a Jackwagon reminded me how good it feels to laugh out loud while reading a book and to do that more often.
  • The Happiness Effect steered me to keep my friends on Facebook, but to pay more attention when we’re face-to-face.
  • The Blessing of Humility from Jerry Bridges cautioned me (again) that I need to judge less and be humble more.

We see more when we look more.

And we’ll gain more from our reading when we intentionally seek to benefit from it. God is eager to enlighten us if we’ll invite and allow him to (2 Timothy 2:7).

The more often and more accurately we see God—through reading or any other avenue—the more we’ll love God. And the more we love God, the more we’ll love each other.

That’s what I want to remember—and do—because of reading.

* * *

What’s your ‘one thing’ from a favorite book? Please share in the comments.

50 thoughts on “Remember What You Read—Choose One Thing per Book

  1. Betsy de Cruz

    Lisa, this is SO good. I’m reading such a wonderful book now, The Circle Maker, by Mark Batterson, that it’s hard to narrow down to one thing, but I can see how important that is for life application. Mine is “Pray as though everything depends on God, work as though everything depends on you.”

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Love that one thing, Betsy. I haven’t read The Circle Maker but I did read Patterson’s “Draw the Circle: The 40 Day Prayer Challenge” based on the book, and I loved it. I used it for a Lent a few years ago and those 40 days of prayer were so beneficial. Thanks for sharing! I like being reminded of that.

  2. Mary Geisen

    Great advice! I read many times to escape especially fiction. I love how I am transported at the time of reading but then immediately forget the book as I move onto the next one. Taking time to implement one thing from each book or remember one thing will change how I approach my reading in a good way.

    I am currently reading “The Happiness Dare” by Jennifer Dukes Lee. Her book launches August 2 and is one that will stick with me. The big “aha” so far is learning my happiness style. This has opened my eyes to who I am but she also gives us red flags and sweet spots for each style to aide in understanding how we deal with other people.

    Your idea here has opened my eyes to learning how reading can do so much more for us than transport us while engrossed in a book.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I’m glad to hear what you’re reading because I’m currently reading The Happiness Dare also! I’m really enjoying it so far. I’m just now getting to the part about the happiness styles so I don’t know what mine is yet. I’ll look forward to that aha moment coming soon. 🙂 Thanks, Mary!

  3. Laura

    What a great idea. I have been reading like crazy and admit that I often forget the details soon after finishing the book. But here are a few of mine:

    Redeeming Love taught me that God will never stop chasing after me, even if I wander.

    Strong and Brave taught me that as apparent I need to focus on teaching my kids basic character traits intentionally.

    Never Eat Alone taught me that the key to real success in any field is learning from and connecting with peers and mentors.

    Thanks for the idea! May I mention this blog in a blog of mine?

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I love those three points from your books, Laura. It makes me want to read them too. 🙂 Thanks for sharing! And yes, feel free to pass along wherever.

  4. Pam

    This is so true, Lisa! I am reading more books than ever since retirement. Some of them are read and passed on to someone or even our church lending library not because they aren’t good necessarily, but because they didn’t resonate deeply with me. Then there are those others that are highlighted, underlined, and may have a note or two in the margin. I sometimes wonder if the season or circumstances of my life have an impact on the difference. What I know for sure is that my life has been changed by what I read and every day I am being drawn to a new book. (Just purchased the latest by Eric Metaxas, If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty. Always love talking books with you, my friend!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      We definitely do love our books, yes? 🙂 I’m glad you’re such a reader too, Pam, and that you pass along those books. I held on to most of my books most of my life, but the past few years I’ve started letting more and more go too. It’s very freeing to know that we can take what we need and then pass them along to others to take what they need.

  5. Barbara H.

    Good advice! When I’ve read a book that really affects me, I tend to want to get as much down a bout it as possible, to try to help me remember. But it might be more effective to try to filter out that one main truth and actually out it into practice.

    Let’s see…to try to sum of the one main thing I took away from some recent books:

    A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman: sometimes if you open yourself up to being interested in and helping others, it blesses you in return.

    Eight Twenty Eight: When Love Didn’t Give Up by Ian and Larissa Murphy: ” [God] wasn’t asking me to keep giving and giving and choosing the uncomfortable life of vulnerability without prefacing it with grace.”

    They Almost Always Come Home by Cynthia Ruchti (currently reading): Don’t shut yourself off from other people: you need each other.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Those are three great truths, Barbara, and all so connected. I love when God sends repeat messages to us from different sources. I already have A Man Called Ove on my to-read list from seeing it on your blog, but maybe I need to move it up higher on my list… Thanks for sharing!

  6. Liz

    Great advice! I’ve actually recently rediscovered my voracious appetite for books and am gobbling up books left and right. But I do need a method to apply what I’m reading. Thanks for these great tips!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      You give me hope for my daughters, Liz: they both used to read all the time but have fallen off the wagon the past few years due to college and now working full time. But maybe one day they’ll return to their voracious appetite for books, too! 🙂 Thanks for sharing.

  7. Laura Thomas

    This is such a wonderful idea! It just so happens that I started a reading journal this week (inspired by Modern Mrs. Darcy who is the queen of books!) as I’m so bad at remembering what I have read and what I keep meaning to read. It’s a great way to keep track of quotes, reading lists, bookish thing, and now I am going to start a section for One Things to make each book memorable. Thanks Lisa 🙂 Happy reading!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Awesome idea, Laura! I’d love to see your reading journal. I’ve recently started following Modern Mrs. Darcy’s blog so I’ll have to do a search to learn more about that. Thanks!

      1. Laura Thomas

        I actually ordered one of her journals (because, well, why not?) and I’m using the bullet journal style she suggests. That way it’s easy to add special pages and ideas (like yours) as I go along. Her website has the details. She also has rather lovely printable pages if you choose to go the loose-leaf route. Here’s a link to a pic of my very own copy of the Modern Mrs. Darcy reading journal on my Instagram:
        Hope this helps 🙂

        1. LisaNotes Post author

          Yes, that does help. Thanks for sharing the pic, Laura! And I went to her website to see more. It looks like a cool journal to keep. I need to at least print off some of the pages she suggests and put in my loose-leaf notebook. Keep me posted on how it goes for you!

  8. Kristina

    I never thought of reading a book this way before. it is kinda cool. It makes you intentional on learning something and taking the book seriously. I guess I never thought of it like that. Oh yeah also thanks for stopping by my post. hope you are having a good week

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thanks, Kristina. Being intentional about whatever we do makes a difference, yes? Like your great list of verses. Mindfulness is a powerful tool. Hope you have a great week too!

  9. floyd

    This is excellent advice. To summarize a lesson into one sentence is powerful… not so different than pitching something you’ve written.

    The problem for you, of course, is that you read more books like you breathe! It’s hard to remember every one!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, it’s like the practice of giving an elevator pitch. It reminds me of an English professor I had in college who preached over and over about our writing to condense, condense, condense. One of my most memorable classes. (I’ve tried to forget calculus, biology, etc. ha)

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thanks, Betty. I just finished I Am Malala last night so I tried to practice what I preached and wrote down one sentence about it on my list: “Fight for education.”

  10. Kathy

    I just love this Lisa! I’m a major reader, so your words add some sugar coating to my reading adventures! I will do this for sure! Off the top of my head, Katherine Boo’s Beyond the Beautiful Forevers reminds me to be grateful for all I have each day when I complain, and to always remember those families in Mumbai living in garbage dumps and their dreams and hearts. I pray that I can help one of them to have a better life.

  11. June

    Great tips, as always, Lisa! When I was reading 4-6 books/week I used to keep a book list of what I’d read and what I wanted to read, etc. It’s been years since I’ve been able to read that voraciously. I recently downloaded the Modern Mrs. Darcy’s {free} Reading Journal and it has a place for notes, ratings, and even noting who you might recommend the book to in the future, etc. It’s a pretty neat journal. Although I won’t use everything in it, I do want to start keeping track of what I’ve read again, and the journal would be a great place to begin incorporating the tips you’ve shared in this post! Have a blessed week!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I appreciate you sharing about that reading journal. It sounds like a lovely idea. I’ve only heard about it twice now, but both times were within the past few days. I’ll definitely need to look more into it. I tend to spread out my book lists and reading notes here and there, so it’d be nice to keep them all in one place. Thanks, June!

  12. David

    Dear Lisa

    Completely agree. It’s a way of loving God maybe, to look for God in literature.

    For me, the most relevant “one thing” was probably when I read Spinoza’s Ethics. I’d had the book for years half thinking “the time would come” when I would read it. For various reasons the time came in early 2008. Reading Spinoza, and loving his message, somehow to gave me permission to come and read the Gospels, and not to worry about whether I “believe in God”. So I read the Gospels that summer, and again in the autumn, writing too. Well, of course it was a slippery slope, …


    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, looking for God in our books—or anywhere else in life—is a way we show love for him. Love hearing your story with Spinoza. It was indeed a slippery slope. 🙂 I’m glad.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I do similar things, Sarah. When we go on vacation, I’ll take a backlog of Time magazines, and I’ll tear out pages of articles I want to do something with later. And pile them somewhere when I get home. A year later (or however long it takes me to clean out my junk piles!), I’ll run across them again. 🙂

  13. Lori Schumaker

    This is brilliant! I am super guilty of this! Sometimes I feel like I have no memory whatsoever! Thank you so much for all you bring to bless others through your blog and thank you for being such an inspiration at #MomentsofHope!
    Blessings and smiles,

  14. Michele Morin

    This is such good advice. I’m reading Makoto Fujimura’s Silence and Beauty and feeling a bit overwhelmed by it, so your advice is timely. I’m going to start looking for one thing as a take away.
    Thank You!

  15. Jean Wise

    Just one thing? lol. This is good advice though as I take a ton of notes when I read and yet rarely reread or follow up any of them. Seek the one nugget of truth that I need right now. will try that. Thanks Lisa!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I take lots of notes, too. It takes the pressure off of thinking I *have* to re-read, although typically the more notes I take, the more likely I am to read it again. Go figure. 🙂

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