Year after year, I start a lot of books. Some are worth finishing. Others aren't. Regardless of whether I finish them or not, I highlight and take plenty of marginal notes as I read. I make plans to use the highlights and notes, but I often never get back around to it. This is especially true for my digital books. It's bittersweet that I love reading and learning because there's usually another book on my radar before I've even finished the one I'm reading now. I take in a lot of information, but it often seems like it's in one ear and out the other.
Sometimes I wonder if retaining books is worth my time and effort when there's so much to learn directly from God's Word. to be sure, I want to hide Scripture in my heart (Psalm 119:11). This is the most important book for me to remember, retain, and apply to my life. However, I also want to use the insights of godly men and women who have been impacted by God's Word in their lives. He has given them insights and experiences that have greatly benefited saints throughout history. I want to glean from them the best that I can.
Review What You Read
One of the best ways to do this is to review what I know. Recalling information makes it stick—especially when that recall is active. Think about it. When you were in high school or college, few of us could read something once, memorize it on the spot, and use it on a test or a paper. We at least had to memorize a study guide, meet at the library for a study session, or quiz ourselves over relevant topics in our class notes. In the busyness of life, this not always so easy, though. We have full time jobs, children, ministries, and real life!
Tim Challies, an avid reader, daily blogger, and pastor shared that he hires someone to enter his notes and highlights into a database for him. There are options for us, too. If you're diving deep into a good book right now, perhaps you could stop at the end of each chapter and type out all of your notes and highlights. Maybe you're the type who tries to read a book every month or two. If so, you could devote a week to typing out and updating your quotes and notes at the end of each new book. It would definitely take a lot of work, but if you're willing to take the time and effort to do this, the payoff would certainly be worthwhile.
If you read digital books, highlighting and note-taking are pretty simple, depending on your device. If you use a Kindle or Scribd, you can look up your notes and highlights for each book with relative ease and add them to your favorite note-taking app, Bible software, etc. There's still a time commitment required after you finish reading, but it's significantly less than looking back through a physical book and typing out everything.
3 Tools For Remembering Books
Books Summaries. Companies like Accelerate Books produce high-quality summaries of Christian books for leaders and readers pressed for time. While I love reading a book for myself, Accelerate Books has helped me review the key insights and quotes from a book while also providing application questions and short chapter summaries. Whether it's a book you want to read or a book you've already read, book summaries help you review books quickly. These summaries do a good job of distilling the book down for easy review.
Book Databases. My friends over at Homeschool Happens have created a book database development tool using Air Table and Google Forms. If you're reading more physical books, this database can be used on a smartphone in conjunction with an OCR app to quickly grab quotes and add them to your database. For digital readers, you can grab your highlights and notes to copy and paste into your database. This tool is not free, but it is very helpful for devoted readers who want a long-term solution.
Readwise. Tim Challies recently wrote about a new app that resurfaces quotes and notes from books that would have been otherwise long-forgotten. Readwise has proven to be a game-changer for me in this season of life. It links to Amazon (for Kindle highlights), Instapaper, Pocket, Goodreads, etc. to grab your highlights as well as popular highlights from books you've read but haven't highlighted. It features a daily list of quotes as well as an endless newsfeed of quotes from books you've read (repurposed scrolling, anyone?). You can also add your own quotes to their system. It's not free, but the convenience may be well worth the cost.
Regardless of the tools you use, reviewing what you've read is vital in the process of remembering what you read. Most books are worth reading once or twice. Few books are worth reading and rereading once every few years. If you're going to invest the amount of time it takes to read through a whole book, it's at least worth recalling what kept you reading.
What are some ways you review and remember the books you've read?