Discovering and capturing quintessence in reference books (02)

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What is active reading and why should you do it?

Active reading is when you use pen and paper or other tools to work on the sections of text you read. There are no limits to your creativity. The most common methods are highlighting, summarizing, and writing out quotes.
The advantage of this is that you will be able to work intensively with the book, and in doing so, you will be able to work out the knowledge contained in it better for yourself. However, if you have borrowed the book, you must refrain from certain applications, otherwise you will violate good manners.

How do I proceed when actively reading a textbook?

  1. First of all, I ask myself why I want to read the book in the first place and what expectations I have of the work. You can write a small sentence about your expectations after reading the back cover, table of contents, and introduction of the book.
  1. I flip from the first page to the last page, paying special attention to the intertitles. I know it sounds weird at first, but you store a lot in your subconscious when you do this little ,,ritual”.
  2. I do research on the author. This way I build a personal connection to the book and almost imagine that he wrote it just for me. This works especially well if the author has an exciting biography and seems likeable. If you find only bad things about the author, you can think again about whether you want to invest your time here.
  3. Think about which technique fits best. I personally vary the different techniques. I always have fun trying out or inventing new variations.
    Talking to friends and acquaintances about the impressions I have gained is a good way to consolidate the new information. I also like to simply apply what I have learned and try to integrate the connections from the book that are valuable to me into my life. Moving from theory to practice can be an important step of consolidation. For example, one author talked about the benefits of a ukulele as a musical instrument. His arguments made me curious about the instrument. I didn’t think twice and got myself a ukulele. Since then, I’ve been using it to musically reflect.

8 techniques you can use for active reading

  1. Post-it: You can use post-its to mark the different sections of the book. To make it clearer, you should write important key points on the Post-it. You just have to be mindful when toddlers are around. My one-year-old niece knew no pardon when I read Erich Fromm’s “To Have or To Be.” The beautiful colored slips of paper were scattered all over the living room, only they were no longer to be found in the book. So when in doubt, always place important books on the higher level of a shelf.
  2. Marking: Before marking, you should think about your personal system. You can use different colors. For example, you can take one color for good advice, another color for cool ideas you want to try out in your life, yet another for advice you should take especially to heart. The important thing is to create your own system and keep developing it. Personally, I just use one color and highlight all the things that seem important to me.
  3. Write out quotes: If I find a sentence particularly good, I write it off. Usually a book has 2 to 6 white pages in the front where you can make notes. Writing in itself and especially by hand helps you to memorize the sentence better. For this reason alone, it is worthwhile to write out a passage from time to time. It is best to write down the chapter and page number next to it so that you can read the quotation in the context of the text if necessary.
  4. Summarize key statements: Instead of simply copying a sentence, you can try to find your own words for the content. You can also include your own thoughts. The more you express what you read in your own words, the better you will be able to refer back to it later. In this way, the author’s book also becomes the reader’s book.
  5. Contribute your knowledge: Try writing down your own experiences on the topic of the book. The best thing to do is to write: “My own experiences …” and get started. Any thoughts that move you can be written down during the reading process. There are no rules. You will be surprised what you will come up with. Flashes of inspiration and “aha”-experiences often occur.
  6. Create an audiobook: Instead of listening to an audiobook on Audible or on Spotify, you can listen to yourself. You need a room where you feel comfortable and no noise from outside disturbs you. Here, you can read a passage of text aloud and record it with your smartphone to listen to again later. It takes some practice, but it also helps you develop a good voice, one that’s a pleasure to listen to. Just give it a try with a thin book. Who knows, maybe you’ll become the next Thomas Danneberg or the next Claudia Urbschat-Mingues. You are not allowed to publish your audio book, because otherwise you would violate copyright. Only you are allowed to use it, for everything else you have to get permission from the author/publisher.
  7. Visual representation: Maybe this seems exaggerated? You know the saying: A picture is worth a thousand words. So summarize the book of your choice in pictures if you enjoy it, whether you do it sketchily or with more effort is up to you.
  8. Reflect: Especially if you have acquaintances who have also read the book, you can debate an exciting book with them and reflect together. In doing so, you may find that each person reflects on the content slightly differently. Through our different perspectives, we can learn from each other and thus develop an ever broader horizon.
Mount Olympus in Greece
Near Mount Olympus in Greece

Of course, there will be other ways with which you can actively read. And who knows, maybe you’ll use a technique that I haven’t even mentioned here.
The question now is whether there are also any disadvantages when you switch from normal reading to active reading. Where there is a plus, there is often a minus and vice versa.

Disadvantages of active reading

Once you have chosen a path, you should reflect briefly now and then. Not because you chose the wrong destination at the time, but to steer your course onto a more pleasant path. With new skills, you can constantly adjust your strategy.

Here are the disadvantages of active reading
  1. in active reading, you need more time to finish a book. Even a method like speed reading cannot be applied here.
  2. active reading can be more exhausting than relaxed reading in an armchair.
  3. there is a danger of imposing a compulsion on oneself, which in the end takes away the fun of reading.

Use Spotify, Youtube, Audible and Co. as supplements

I am convinced that books, whether printed or in the form of e-books, cannot be replaced. Digital media can be a wonderful supplement. But if you want to build up fundamental knowledge and constantly develop it, you can’t get around real literature. And that’s mainly because you actively absorb information with books and more passively with podcasts and the like.
A book author also has to put in significantly more effort and overcome obstacles in order to write and publish his or her work. The advantage of this is that far fewer bad books with incorrect information end up in the public domain than is the case with YouTube content and the like. Of course, a good quality of digitally prepared information is still not impossible and certainly many good influencers would not exist if they had had these obstacles.

There is always a plus and a minus, as already mentioned. If you have read a good book about fitness training, for example, you can judge much better whether the tips of the influencer make sense or not. You yourself then have a sound knowledge and can thus separate the wheat from the chaff very early on. In this way, precisely because you are reading, you can make much better use of today’s media and deepen or supplement what you have learned with their help. And who knows, maybe you’ll be able to pass on your skills yourself at some point through podcasting, YouTube content and the like. If you’ve built up in-depth knowledge in an in-demand niche, there’s bound to be a high demand for your advice. Your expertise can add valuable value to society.



Active reading is a technique that anyone can learn and adapt individually for themselves. You don’t have to limit yourself to one technique, but can vary and incorporate your own ideas.
The best technique is of no use if it takes the fun out of reading. Active reading should be a witty addition and not a torment to the reader. Apply active reading only if it gives you a lasting advantage.

In conclusion, I would like to say that personally, active reading has helped me a lot in broadening my horizons. I came up with some of the techniques independently. To me, this is a sign that my creativity and independent thinking have been tremendously stimulated by using active reading. Creativity is difficult to measure and will be one of those things that only people can deliver in the increasingly digitized world of work. By exercising your creativity and creative spirit, you may someday have the chance to do great things like Steve Jobs did during his lifetime.

Here’s another little task that tests your creativity:

Draw the pattern on a piece of paper and try to connect all the dots with four strokes without putting the pen down.

quintessence in reference books

Now it’s your turn:

Your thoughts are welcome in the comments section.

Which technique helps you the most?

Please leave your opinium in the comments

Thank you

Here are two recommended books:

On self-management: Gary W. Keller and Jay Papasan: The one thing.

Success requires a planned approach and a focus on one thing. A concrete strategy is presented here that will help you become more organized.

Those amazon links are affilliat links. It brings you direct to the product. If you click here and buy with this link, I get a provision of the online shop. You will get same prize as usual.

Thanks for your support. It help for new content on booksbackinyourlife.

Triggers/reasons/characteristics of important events: Malcolm Gladwell: Tipping Point
Malcolm Gladwell tells how and why a tipping point was or was not triggered with historical and contemporary stories. He also explains what a tipping point is, what stages it goes through beforehand, and what specific lessons can be learned from it. I would especially like to highlight his examples about word of mouth. Very interesting how small details make a huge difference here.

Those amazon links are affilliat links. It brings you direct to the product. If you click here and buy with this link, I get a provision of the online shop. You will get same prize as usual.

Thanks for your support. It help for new content on booksbackinyourlife.


For better concentration, I recommend Classical music with a slow to moderate tempo.

Good piano music from HALIDONMUSIC youtube channel

Mixed from Brilliant Classics Youtube channel

By the way, my favorite classic piece is New York by the artist RIOPY

Veröffentlicht von Chris

Monthly one blog articel about reading, growth or inspiring ideas (in english and german).

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