Re-reads and First-passes

I’ve recently re-subscribed to Scribd which despite its strange and unexplained rules regarding which audiobooks are available to you at a certain time does still give me access to a lot of audiobooks each month for only $10. (I would gladly pay $20 or even $30 to allow me access to all audiobooks at all times. Even at those prices I’d still be saving a fortune.)

I’m currently playing with what I call “first-pass reading.” The basic idea of the first pass is to read a book once through in a more shallow and entertainment-focused way before deciding whether it is a book worth note-taking and more careful examination.

Approaching things this way relieves me of one of my chief concerns about audiobooks: I like to listen to them while walking the dog or relaxing, but it’s kind of a hassle to do either when I’m concerned with taking notes about the books I’m listening to. With first-pass reading, I can ignore that completely and just figure out whether or not I like the book or if I find it valuable. I can then decide to move it into the re-read queue based on how important I find the information in it. “I want to know this stuff but do I want to know it right now? How about in a month? Or a year?”

Actually, as I write that, it occurs to me that I could steal a bit from GTD methodology (or maybe it’s stealing from spaced repetition) regarding my re-reads. After finishing a book I can then decide when in the future I want to approach a book for a deeper examination and then schedule it. This could be very useful for books which my opinion of may evolve over time, i.e. reading a book about the electoral college every four years, prior to the presidential election. How might the person in office alter my feelings on the subject?

Currently, the way that I approach re-reads is through the use of index cards. I have a box full of cards and on each card in the name of a book that I’ve read. On the back is a list of every year that I’ve read that book. (I find only the years matter.) I then have the box separated into four sections based on my interest in re-reading the books:

  • Section 1 – Books that I want to continually re-read and study. These are not necessarily my favorite books but rather the ones I find most valuable.
  • Section 2 – Books that I enjoyed and would like to read again.
  • Section 3 – books that I don’t feel a pressing need to re-read frequently. The difference here is just a difference in frequency with Section 2. I’m not in a rush to get back to these books even if I enjoyed them.
  • Section 4 – books I disliked or books that I don’t think would be worthwhile to re-read. (Yes, I even re-read books I didn’t like. Books deserve another chance. It’s not always the book’s fault that I didn’t like it, often it’s who I was at the time that I read it. I’m convinced that one day I will re-read Don Quixote and understand why people enjoy it. I’m just not there yet.)

The books in each section are arranged chronologically with the most recently read ones at the back and the most distantly read ones at the front. Each year I draw four cards from Section 1, three cards from Section 2, two cards from Section 3, and one card from Section 4. Then I re-read them, add a year to the back of the card, and move them to the back of the appropriate section. This is also the time when they may move between sections. Perhaps reading a Section 1 book three times is enough for a while so I may move that book to Section 2 or 3.

There’s a lot of good about this system but it relies more on the randomness of my initial chronology. For the most part, I’m continuing to re-read books in the order that I first read them. This is somewhat problematic because it may be providing a context which biases my reading. Maybe I would get more value out of re-reading Dune if I were next time to re-read it following a re-read of  The Foundations as it’s said that Frank Herbert wrote Dune as a response to Asimov’s book. This is where I think the idea of scheduling re-reads might be a valuable addition.

Another point regarding first-pass reading and the use of a service like Scribd: I will no longer waste money on books that I don’t like or books that are not what I thought they were.


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Categorized as Thoughts

By C.A. Hall

Writer / Podcaster I'm a well-written sentence marred by a curse word. In another life I might have been a criminal profiler, a jazz drummer, an architect, an acrobat, an actor, or a children’s book illustrator.