Veit's Blog

Reading — The First Month


I was an avid reader all through my childhood and adolescence, but I didn't really manage to carry that trait on to my studies. Since then my reading has slowed down. I only read maybe a dozen books last year, which is a huge drop. I still read a lot of papers, but I get distracted quickly and forget a lot of what I read–which is a classical programmer problem from what I've gathered. On a whim I decided to change that, to at least write down my thoughts on the things I read, just a paragraph or two. So I started a public reading list, because the keen eye of the public—which is not so keen in the case of this particular repository—motivates me.

I happened to start writing at the beginning of 2017—though it was not a new years resolution by any means—, which means that now would be an appropriate time to recapitulate. I've read exactly 15 papers, totalling 212 pages of PDF. There is often one page of title and abstract and/or one or two pages of references, but they are also in much smaller print than your run-of-the-mill book, so here I'll give myself the benefit of the doubt. I didn't read something every day—although that was my initial, albeit utopic plan—, but let's assume that I did for a moment. The month of January has thirty-one days, which means I've read an abominably low 6.84 pages a day. That's disappointing. How about we count only work days? My calendar tells me I've worked 22 days in January, making my page count rise to around 9.64 pages per day. Much better. Still not where I would like it to be, but I also read a lot of news, editorials, and think-pieces, just to stay up to date, so I think it's actually a quite forgiving number.

My first conclusion of this little evaluation is thus that I will from now on aim to read around 10 pages per day. If I read one of the books on the list, I will adjust that number, and weight the pages at 0.3, because books a) are filled with much more fluff because they can afford to take their time, b) have fewer words per page, and c) often target a less forgiving reader when it comes to poor writing. I postulate that number for no particular reason, in fact I think most numbers less than one could be argued for, depending on how impactful one sees the aforementioned arguments to ones reading speed.

I think in general my reading has improved quantitatively.

There is another part of this experiment that needs inspection, though. How does it affect my reading on a qualitative scale? Do I retain more or less information? I don't think I can make any long time prognostics yet, but it is prudent to say that the overall quality of my reading has improved. I don't think I actually retain that much more in active memory, but skimming through my notes I can clearly get a good picture of what I thought when reading the paper and the conclusions I drew from it—your mileage may vary, especially because the notes don't always try to provide great or objective insight into my thoughts, but rather sketches for myself to reconstruct what I thought. I can thus conclude that my reading quality has improved, because this is not a scientific paper and I am allowed to not provide actual numbers to prove my grandiose claims.

Anyway, I can only suggest you start a similar project if you have any of the problems I have with reading, especially if it concerns scientific papers. I am opposed to planners and trackers—I can't even imagine the Pomodoro Technique et al. working for me—, so something as basic as writing down my thoughts provides exactly the balance of regimen and freedom that I need. Again, your mileage may vary, but I also suggest that, no matter what technique you do end up using, you evaluate it after a given period of time to avoid wasting too much time on a system that doesn't actually do anything for you. Bureaucracy for the sake of bureaucracy should be reserved for big systems.

I don't know whether I'm going to make this evaluation a recurring topic in my blog. I feel like I should continue measuring the efficiency of my method and report back only if any new trends emerge or my feeling towards the system changes, so it might be possible that you hear more of it in the future. Stay tuned, but not too tuned.