There’s only a couple books that I’ve read more than once. Most of all because I consider myself a rather slow reader. I’ve got too many unread books on my bookshelf to “waste” more time reading something again. The Amazon wishlist keeps expanding, and one book references multiple others. At the same time I know I’m unlikely to digest everything in one read anyway, especially from non-fiction books.
Be it fiction or non, a second or third reading will probably be valuable. Having an understanding of the whole first, helps with understanding the minute details on the second read.
Raising the time between subsequent reads ensures the reader will have changed themself. They are likely to have new experiences to compare the information to, and perhaps even experiences affected by the first read-through. The surrounding world is presumably different too.
retention (of non-fiction)
In addition to re-reading text, I’ve also noticed it’s best to have some kind of context or a real-life subject that is related to the read information. When I can consider the read knowledge in relation to something else, I feel I can focus on it more efficiently. Having a proper context allows for a direct utilisation of the information, instead of some kind of theoretical pondering.
I’ve practiced to read faster. I’ve got mixed feelings about how effective it can be in relation to memory and understanding, but I’ve noticed I need to focus a lot when trying to read as fast as possible. This focus will actually lessen the possibility for my mind to wander.
Slower reading has it’s merits too. Naturally, it provides a possibility to think more about the presented information and perhaps make wider connections to other areas. This is where the mind can wander to some more pressing issues or personal worries. I suppose the point is to have mental focus and to avoid hurry.
I don’t generally read to memorise things, even though some memorable things tend to stick better than others. I might not be able to piece together a sensible review of a book I read a year ago. But I take comfort in the fact that parts of what I’ve read and thought out, change the way I think and behave. It might be difficult to later piece together where exactly these influences have originated from, thus meriting the second read.
Having bookshelf of unfinished or completely unread books is OK. It’s both a repository and a display of potential knowledge, and a reminder of what you do not know.
I’ve noticed myself falling for the sunk cost effect with finishing a book, especially if I’ve paid for it. I know it’s foolish to finish a lousy or a personally useless book, as if I would get a refund on my already spent time and money. Often still, the prospect of learning something useful in the latter parts of a book keeps me plowing through it, way past the point I’ve actually lost interest.
So instead of compulsively picking up the next unread or the current unfinished book, maybe it’s time to reread that old favourite instead.