How To Read
“In my whole life, I have known no wise people who didn’t read all the time,” says Charlie Munger. “None. Zero.”
More people understand this concept than follow through on it. That’s mostly because of time constraints. But deep reading is hard even for those with free time. Reading is a skill most of us stop practicing around 4th grade. But what you read, where you read, how you read it, and how you take extract value from what you read is a serious skill that requires honing throughout your life.
I asked a few of my investing friends how they read.
Josh Brown, Reformed Broker:
I try to read as much as possible but these days, I’m down to maybe 10 books a year. I have two kids under 10 and I can’t lie down on a couch with a book knowing that they’re growing up so fast in the room next door. I’ve resolved to get over the fact that I have to read less books during these years, and I’ll pick it back up to where I was in my 20’s as soon as they’re sick of me. As far as material, I like anything historical - literature, biographies, novels. I stopped reading so many financial books because I feel like there isn’t that much more to be said about fear and greed that hasn’t already been written. I don’t do the note taking thing anymore, although I will highlight sections on my kindle. I never remember to go back to them. I’m just trying to enjoy what I read now, it’s okay if I don’t retain every detail. Not sure you’re meant to.
Ben Carlson, A Wealth of Common Sense:
My sources for finding reading material are usually referrals from friends, colleagues, bloggers, suggestions from my blog readers and Twitter. I have a ton of favorite authors I read consistently (mostly fiction), but I find my non-fiction book ideas tend to come from a wide range of sources. A lot of time they come from current books or articles I’m reading in the source material. I have trouble keeping my attention on a single book so I’m usually reading 4-5 books at a time. I find this helps me digest the ideas incrementally.
I read books at night because (a) I’m a night owl and (b) I have a child, so it’s easier for me to find time to read in the evening. It’s definitely part of my routine. My reading is now 90% or so on a Kindle Paperwhite because it’s so much easier to highlight passages and find all of my highlights in one place to review. Finally, I find the best way to figure out what I’ve learned from a book is to write something about it.
Brent Beshore, Adventur.es:
I get 95% of my reading materials through referrals and 5% through Twitter/Nuzzel discovery. I buy physical books and print out important papers, then take notes by hand. After completing the book, I type up the notes I want to keep into a document and file it away. I use those notes to review key concepts. As for the actual reading technique, it depends on the confidence I have in the recommendation. If it’s high-confidence, I’ll read more slowly, at least until I get bored. If I’m not getting much value from it, I’ll pick up the pace and go into skim-mode. I also start in skim-mode on low-confidence recommendations. If I find the material deeply impactful, I’ll usually re-read it again almost immediately.
Michael Batnick, Irrelevant Investor:
I didn’t get into reading until I was in my mid-twenties, which explains a lot of why I tend to overdo it- I’m catching up for lost time. Learning is like fuel for the brain and books are my oxygen mask.
I get ideas from book stores, Amazon, Twitter, Patrick’s book club, and from what I see people reading on the train.
90% of my reading is done on the subway and at home. I don’t write much in the margins (I underline), but I always read with a pen (I use it like a marker).
The first book of my adult years that showed me reading could be enjoyable was The Pelican Brief. I was in an airport on my way to Mexico and figured I would have a lot of down time (I loved it, not sure why it’s still the only Grisham book I’ve ever read.)
James Osborne, Bason Asset Management:
I consider myself very fortunate to be surrounded by heavy readers, both in my real life and as part of the online community. I have friends who read lots of fiction (mostly sci-fi), classical fiction, and non-fiction who I know I can rely on for a great recommendation. And then there are the voracious readers I’ve come to know online - you, Patrick O’Shaughnessy, Mike Batnick, Mike Dariano and so many others. Nearly every book one of these people recommends to me ends up on my to-read list, which grows much faster than my have-read list.
I read on my Kindle. It is convenient, comfortable, light, always nearby. The soft backlight provides a degree of marital happiness that shouldn’t be understated. I highlight on it regularly and return to those highlights, mostly to re-read a section that I enjoyed or found significant. I am quick to quit a book I’m not enjoying. I used to feel tremendous guilt about this, until I realized that great books were being written at a rate faster than I could consume them, and I have no time to waste on bad or uninteresting books. I’ve also learned not to judge a book by its subject matter. Two of the best books I’ve read in the last year have been about 1) trees and 2) a president who served for 6 months, and a good amount of that from his deathbed. I’m not a heavy note-taker, but sometimes ideas take hold and thoughts expound onto my blog. Most of the time, I’m just hoping that I can absorb new ideas and let them germinate with old ideas and slowly become a more informed, more thoughtful person, one story at a time.
Craig Shapiro, Collaborative Fund:
I choose my books either by Amazon recommendations or recommendations from friends.
I read on the subway or in the afternoons on the weekend if I’m lucky!! Also, I do audio version at night before bed.
I rarely take notes. When I do, I underline and write in the margins :)
Tadas Viskanta, Abnormal Returns:
The biggest problem I face is trying finding blocks of quiet, uninterrupted time to read books. Not only am I tempted by everything online but the world of streaming video provides a seemingly endless supply of quality content. One approach is to actually block out time on your schedule to read. This seems like a radical step, but like anything else we know we need to do, like work out, reading requires a firm commitment.
One tactic I find useful when reading is knowing that I am going to engage the author in a Q&A. These Q&A sessions serve as fodder for a blog post. Finding those 5 or 6 issues that you either want to hear more about, or need clarification on, is an effective way to prioritize your thinking about a book.
I strongly prefer reading a book in either hard or paperback. I find my comprehension and concentration is much better on paper. In an ideal world publishers would provide book buyers with a package: hardback, e-book and audiobook. The marginal cost of the e-book and audiobook is minimal and would make consumption significantly easier.
Also, don’t feel like you need to finish a book if you don’t like it or aren’t getting anything out of it. Life’s too short to feel guilty about putting a book aside.
Barry Ritholtz, The Big Picture:
Periodicals: I’ve been doing my morning reads for 2 decades. Early morning, I open 40 tabs and work thru them (30 are permanent, the rest “evolve”). Similar process in the afternoon. It only takes me a few sentences to tell if something is worth reading. Instapaper (app) is a big help, as is OneTab (Chrome Extension).
Books: Are a much bigger commitment so its somewhat trickier. I rely on people whose taste and judgment I trust. I added “What are your favorite books” as a standard question on the MIB podcast ~30 episodes ago; that generates some great book ideas. So too the reading ideas from financial leaders – CEOs, fund managers, economists, etc. It unearthed so many gems I made it an annual column.
I read at my desk from 4:30 to 7am and on the train each way to work; books mostly nights and weekends. Unless it’s a signed copy, Post It Notes and pencils mark up the books. ( ihave slowly been adjusting to using a Kindle for vacation travel).
For both book reading and media, it pays to curate viciously. There is too much wonderful writing being produced to bother with anything less than great.
Mike Dariano, The Waiter’s Pad:
Suggestions for books go into my Goodreads account. From there I choose anything that sounds interesting at that moment. I also note in the books I read (with a [B] symbol) a book I may want to come back to. I also order anything from Amazon that’s less than $5. That got a little out of control last year.
If I own the book,I’ll make my own index in the back and take lots of margin notes. If it’s a library book I’ll put it in myField Notes notebook. These notes will include big ideas I’ve defined like “be there” or “framing” and then an example from the book. These get transferred to Evernote.
Not quite like Tversky and Munger — who read anywhere they damn well please, I get up early to get reading and work done. I’ll also take a book with me places — like Stephen King. Even 5 minutes before school lets out is valuable. Ditto for before bed, while pasta cooks, during the kid’s gymnastics class.
Rereading sections and entire books is something I’m trying to do more of this year.
Cullen Roche, Pragmatic Capitalism:
I realized a few years ago that I am prone to being most productive in very short stints. I call this intermittent productivity. I can’t remain focused and highly productive on any single thing for long periods of time. Reading is no different for me. I probably read the equivalent of a book every day, but I do it in 100 small segments over the course of an entire day. I think a lot of people try to do too much for too long and they burn out. But by being very focused and productive over small periods of time I get a lot more done in the aggregate because it’s easier to digest big projects in small chunks over a long time period. Plus I never burn out so I am more likely to get through everything I want to.
Of course, knowing what to read is a whole different matter. I prefer to read the things that least agree with me. I know what I don’t know which is basically most things. So I try to focus on reading that which will reduce the potential for confirmation bias. Yes, we all have our favorite authors, journalists and sources, but we enjoy them largely because they make us feel good about what we already know. I suggest getting out of your comfort zone and reading that which really challenges you to reconsider all the things you think you know. When you’ve accumulated a reading list that irritates you, challenges you and excites you, you know you’ve got a well rounded set of sources.
Michael Kitces, Nerd’s Eye View:
Because of my busy days and week, I tend to ‘batch’ my reading together. Which means I’m always scanning for potential articles to read (primarily from Twitter and RSS feeds), but if I see something I save it to read for later. Then every Friday, I spend a few focused hours knocking through my accumulated articles. I do some intermittent article reading throughout the week, but Fridays are my weekly anchor point.
Books I read exclusively on Kindle now. I use Kindle specifically so that I can use the note-taking and highlight functions on Kindle, and so that when I load up the book on any OTHER Kindle in the future (or the Kindle app on my desktop), I’ve got the notes handy. Very useful for when I want to go back and write about a book I read. I typically do my book-reading in the evenings (half an hour before bed as a wind-down), and when exercising on an elliptical machine.
Dan Egan, Betterment:
Articles: - I use twitter, academic journal notifications, conferences and list-serves/working paper notifications to feed me material. Also, I use talks/lectures as a catalyst to update my research/slides on a topic. - If it’s a serious article, I don’t read it on a website. I use the Evernote web-clipper “simplified article” to get just the main text. - I then sit down and read through the articles in quiet time. - I really like this technique. It’s a catharsis at the point-in-time of wanting to read something, but let’s me prioritize my reading list later/with more focus, and with annotations.
Books: - I do most reading at night, before bed, and on vacation. Sometimes on the subway. - I’m always reading 2+ books. Minimum one fiction, one non-fiction. I pick up whichever I’m in the mood for. I also like this because I try to find cross-insights. - Fiction/leisure books are always on Kindle. - Serious books I sometimes get in physical form. The heft/physicality makes me me thoughtful when reading (weight as a proxy for importance, similar study on savings). That said, I’m considering trying to transfer to Kindle because of the take-note/export-to-evernote capability Patrick OShag talks about.
Caveat Lector: I don’t think I read optimally. I don’t quit books early enough, as I’ve had too many end up being good when I stuck with them.
Kanyi Maqubela, Collaborative Fund:
I read non-fiction books, and almost never finish them in my first reading. I haven’t finished most of the books I’ve read. I like to come back to books, perusing different sections over the years as I learn more about the world. I read blog posts in batch, so I can get into a rhythm and consider them more deeply. I read longer essays on the weekends in the morning. I write notes to myself in my phone’s Notes app, and sometimes I”ll send an email to myself – or even draft a tweet – when I’m particularly compelled by a concept.
Carl Richards, Behavior Gap:
I have a crazy thought for you. There is a time to stop reading. I feel like I am entering one of those seasons. It is a season for creation. I *think *reading all the time might be a bit over rated. We all run around singing it’s praises, because Warren , and Bill, and Barack do it…We make lists, we compete on how many books we read (I read 52 a year…oh I read 52 a week). I know this sounds CRAZY, but all this reading can dampen the ability to listen to deeper wisdom that comes from being quiet and not consuming anything.
Reading might be like lifting heavy weights in the gym. The lifting doesn’t make you stronger. The lifting actually tears the muscles apart. It is the rest and recovery AFTER the lifting that makes you stronger. So lift. But then stop and recover.
Phil Huber, Huber Financial Advisors:
I would describe my reading as slowly at first, and then all at once. I was never much of a reader in high school or college outside of “assigned” work. There were certainly books I enjoyed but it wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I developed a passion for reading.
I know it’s not the most environmentally friendly method, but for articles and papers I like to print them out. Some I’ll read on the spot, while others go in the “later” pile. The later pile usually gets cranked through on weekend mornings or on flights. Flights are the best for that. I highlight like crazy when reading things I’ve printed out, not so much to go back to but it just helps me move along quicker. Whatever works I guess! My wife makes fun of me for it but both my work briefcase and my travel backpack never have less than ten highlighters in them.
For books, the vast majority of what I read tends to be non-fiction. I’m not a diligent note taker while I read, but I do occasionally take pictures of important quotes or passages on my phone and retrieve them later. It’s hard enough to find time to read as it is, for me personally taking a lot of notes would limit how much I can get through.
I have a feeling someday soon I’ll bite the bullet and get a Kindle, but I’ve always been a physical book guy. I think I’m starting to appreciate some of the benefits that might come with that change. All the books I read either come from searching around on Amazon, recommendations of social media connections, or via some of my “trusted filters” such as Abnormal Returns or Patrick O’Shaughnessy’s awesome book club. And speaking of Patrick, while I don’t have an explicit target of number of books to read each year, if I can get through 10% of what he does I’ll feel pretty good about myself!