Metacognitive Reading


Thomas Oppong's essay "How to Use Metacognition Skills to Remember 90% of What You Read" (subtitled "Reading is not a race – make time to learn, recall and think") offers a range of good suggestions for awareness and improvement of one's reading. He quotes:

  • [Faster reading] "... will not allow the book to burrow down into our memory and become part of ourselves, the accumulation of knowledge and wisdom and vicarious experience which helps to form us as complete human beings ..." (Susan Hill, author of Howards End is on the Landing: A Year of Reading from Home)
  • "The smarter you get, the slower you read." (Naval Ravikant)
  • "... We can learn to pay attention, concentrate, devote ourselves to authors. We can slow down so we can hear the voice of texts, feel the movement of sentences, experience the pleasure of words – and own passages that speak to us." (Thomas Newkirk, The Art of Slow Reading: Six Time-Honored Practices for Engagement)
  • "Readers must run their own feedback loops. 'Did I understand that? Should I re-read it? Consult another text?' Readers must understand their own cognition. 'What does it feel like to understand something? Where are my blind spots?'" (Andy Matuschak)
  • "Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few are to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention." (Francis Bacon)

Oppong observes that deep readers often:

  • Take personal notes whilst they are reading
  • Highlight the best ideas, especially those that make them think differently
  • Underline important ideas they can refer to in the future
  • Summarise every chapter they complete
  • Discuss the topic with others to learn more about what they missed
  • Teach the new ideas by writing about them

His concluding recommendations: "Slow down. Think about the ideas. Be analytical. And remember to summarise in your own words. Start every book with a goal. Some books are not meant to be read faster. Choose your reading style wisely."

(and contrariwise, as Owen Webster said in his wonderfully metacognitive 1965 book Read Well and Remember, sometimes it's best to consciously speed up, then reread – or as Boswell described Samuel Johnson as doing, scan and skim without guilt! – cf. Read Well and Remember (2002-07-31), Read Through (2003-02-16), Ralph Waldo Emerson (2003-08-05), ...) - ^z - 2021-10-21