How to Synthesize Books

I saw this comment on an Ask HN question and it made me recall a fun challenge I used to do.

When reading, I look for 2 or 3 key "aha moments" that stick with me. For Thinking Fast it was "two ways of thinking", "loss aversion". For Thinking in Systems it's "stocks + outflows + inflow", and "all systems reach an equilibrium

Most Sundays after church, my family and I would go to Publika, a Shopping Gallery nearby for lunch.

And while my mom explores the vendors stalls that sell trinkets, clothes, and food, I would be camping at the non-fiction bookshelves at bookstore with one goal.

The objective was to fill my brain with as much new information as possible before my mom was done with shopping.

I would pick a book that piqued my interest, start flipping through the pages and speedread, until something quoteworthy catches my attention. Then, I tweet it for future me to read.

I liked that challenge because it allowed me to read books without the pressure of finishing it cover-to-cover. And to just cling on to a few ideas, and try to apply them to my life.

I remember after finishing the last page of 12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson, I felt proud of myself. But a friend asked me what that book was about, I couldn't give an answer, or any answer as a matter of fact.

Either that book was impossible to summarize in a sentence, or I was optimizing the wrong reward function.

From now on, I will follow the strategy below for synthesizing books and turning them into mental models, instead of passively consuming them.

  1. Highlight key ideas
  2. Talk/Write about it
  3. Apply it
  4. Review it