Learning to learn: the heart of reading

I was always a bookworm. In fifth grade, I was one of the only students in my class to finish every last book on the Battle of the Books competition list.

Fast forward a few years and here I am: one of those people who can’t stand the thought of reading on an electronic device simply because of the pure joy that comes from opening up a new book and turning each page as more new information is absorbed.

A few weeks ago, I walked into Books, Inc., a local bookstore in the San Francisco Marina. In my pocket was a list of names that I’d been taking down during conversations with different people, and in my brain was that familiar feeling of excitement and wonder that comes from buying new books. In the past, this feeling has usually led to me buying more books than I can manage to read. This time, though, I had a strategy.

I had:

  • Chosen five authors who I knew were experts on what I wanted to learn.

  • Spoken in detail with a few close friends and colleagues about the best book they’ve read on a certain topic. If someone else learned something from it, chances are I would too.

  • Signed up with GoodReads, read reviews, and saved the rest of the books I wanted to check out for next time.

Before making the final decision on the books I was going to pick up, I had also set specific goals for myself. What was I trying to accomplish? Typically, skipping this step is one of the biggest mistakes in the learning process. There is so much information out there, and if you don’t focus your efforts in phases, it will be difficult to move forward.

What would your five goals be? Here are mine:

  • Begin to think more strategically

  • Adapt an an entrepreneurial outlook

  • Help people and brands stand out in the crowd

  • Learn tactical skills involved in starting a business

  • Study the impact of business scalability on competition

With these goals in mind, I headed to the business section and found the five books I’m currently working on delving into:

  • Whatcha gonna do with that duck?, Seth Godin
  • Competitive Strategy, Michael Porter
  • Onward, Howard Schultz
  • How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie
  • Blue Ocean Strategy, W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne

So I’ve got some great books, but what’s the point?

After cringing just a little as I checked out, I reassured myself that this was going to be worth it thanks to one of the more interesting tidbits I’ve come across: Maryanne Wolf, the John DiBiaggio Professor in the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Development at Tufts, and the author of “Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain,” explained how the brain takes in information in a New York times blog a few years ago.

Essentially, our brains process visual, semantic, and phonological cues within 300 milliseconds, which is what allows us to read and comprehend words. Even more interestingly, though, the brain spends another 100 to 200 milliseconds processing on a higher level that links the simple comprehension of words to inference, reasoning, analysis, and creating our own thoughts based upon what we’re reading. Wolf refers to Proust and what he called the heart of reading, which is “when we go beyond the author’s wisdom and enter the beginning of our own.

Translated, this means that reading words on a page helps us create our own sophisticated thoughts based upon what we’ve understood from the author (read: an intelligent human with expertise to share).

Now, as I turn the pages of Howard Scultz’s wisdom-filled Onward, I find myself making marks, folding corners down, and being inspired to think differently and work harder. In a short period of time, I’ve already changed the way I think and find myself yearning to talk about what I’m reading with anyone who will listen.

I’m happy to be experiencing Proust’s heart of reading. What widsom has come from yours?

About Ally Greer

Ally heads up community management, social media, and customer support at Scoop.it. She loves to geek out over anything social, Internet, or tech related. When she isn't working, you'll probably find her running the streets of San Francisco. Follow Ally on Twitter @allygreer.
  • Chasvoiceedu

    It seems a commentary on culture that reading to learn should be a revolutionary idea. Do we live in an Information Age of the Unifotmed?

    • http://www.thereadingtub.com Terry Doherty

      I think it may be the over-informed. It is so *hard* to cut through the noise that people just let it take over rather than step away.

      • mrwhitmore

        Very true. Don’t forget the growth of video is also part to blame.

        It does worry me though. For example someone might search how to take an engine apart in a video and follow it step by step but will they realise why they are doing it and what forces can have an impact on the well-being of that engine? This is where books give a more in-depth explanation and I always believe in reading several sources – something that academic study teaches.

  • Peter Fruhmann

    I completely follow the author’s experience, that’s the way I read books as well (with annotations of my thoughts and placing bookmarks physically / with my pen). It still beats placing bookmarks and making annotations in e-readers (which I find more time-consuming). And @chasvoiceedu:disqus, I experience daily that people do not (want to) read and/or are not able anymore to read a text that’s longer than a half A4. In The Netherlands people ask me to write blogs of that length on ‘professional’ blog sites. I mean, how much information – let alone knowledge – can one convey on complex issues that way? Storytelling can help (and so do metaphors), but even that falls short. I certainly think we live in an Age of the (consciously) Uninformed when people are happy with information tidbits and the first ten Google hits as the ‘truth’… You would need some knowledge and distinguishing skills (from reading (either books or e-books) to value what’s valuable in the information.

  • Tiffany Crosby

    I love reading and routinely have a waiting list of books to read on particular topics. I just can’t fathom getting all my information from tidbits. I too struggle with the thought of a 200 – 300 word blog as being all that people can absorb. It barely scratches the surface. We are definitely, intentionally, creating a generation of uninformed. You only need to look back at history to see what happens next.

    • mrwhitmore

      I share this opinion on a generation of uninformed. Only the other week I read about mid-90s born kids growing up and Googling how to boil an egg – shouldn’t they know this? What happened to parents passing on golden life skills?

  • http://www.thereadingtub.com Terry Doherty

    Thank you for sharing … reading “off screen” is when I find myself lost in other worlds and freeing my mind. There is something extra special (at least to me) about folding the corners or writing a margin note. I am far more likely to seek those out than a highlighted passage from a screen read. Adding this to my G+ page!

  • Dave Rothacker

    Some reading ideas…

    Regarding the art of preparing to purchase books: http://amzn.com/8862933193 After physically browsing books in B&N, I buy them at Amazon. I buy a large percentage of my books new, but a book like Dale Carnegie’s, I’d buy used.

    I keep shoe boxes filled with the rolls toilet paper come on organizing pens, pencils, hi-lighters and sticky notes on my desk and next to my reading chair.

    Check out Love is the Killer App by Tim Sanders http://amzn.com/B000Q9F140 This is a must read for those who love books!

  • agustinus boenaryo

    act nooow … scoop .it and the staffs …, thank you … dm … 05:07:44 am … 06th of june

  • sergeitoom

    Hi, Ally. Step by step. Learning , Understaning , Creation new Knowledge.

  • Laurence

    mmmmm it’s not really about learning to learn,Ok………………what it’s really about is “Learning how to THINK?………..understanding the relationship between C thought and SuperC thought . . . .what do you THINK?