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Have you ever heard the phrase, “writing is re-writing”?
It’s an important principle for people learning to write.
Because there’s a destructive fantasy going around:
The fantasy that the first draft is good enough.
The First Draft Usually Stinks!
It needs revision. Often lots of it.
Believe it or not, it’s the same thing with reading books.
Yes, you can use the Magnetic Memory Method to memorize a textbook. It’s an incredible skill to have.
But often enough … one read just doesn’t cut it.
And there are reasons why. Here are 11 of them.
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#1: Content May Be King, But Context Is God
Once upon a time, I could only afford to take one course at university. I had to work three jobs just to afford the tuition!
Looked at ironically, I was lucky I could afford to take just one course.
Because all those jobs left me with time enough to complete the reading requirements of only the one course!
All joking aside, I read Plato’s Republic that year while walking up and down the hill to the university. It was all the time I had.
But it was fitting because many of the dialogues that make up The Republic take place outdoors. And although it’s Aristotle who belongs more closely to the Peripatetic School of philosophy, walking around is … walking around.
And because I’m a diligent reader who enjoys the slower process of MMM Bibliomancy as taught in the Magnetic Memory Method Masterplan or briefly here, I let the books I need to read absorb me based on the context of reading.
The second time I read The Republic was as a professor living in Saarbrücken, Germany. This time I read The Republic as an audiobook, also while walking up and down a hill.
But even though the mechanical operation of walking from place to place was the same, I was reading The Republic this time as an educator, not a student.
And instead of reading The Republic in the context of other philosophers (like St. Augustine and Hobbes), I was re-reading it during a period when I was dialed deep into Eckhart Tolle and Wayne Dyer.
Context changes everything and that means the same book was actually very different.
Context unlocked thoughts about its contents and “unhid” more interesting details to remember.
Alethia for unhiding is a fancy ancient Greek word you’re going to want to add to your collection, by the way. Keep it and context in mind as your go-to rereading strategy. You’ll be delighted by what happens!
#2: The Organic Source Of New Ideas Re-generates Itself
You know that many of your cells regenerate, right?
Not all of them, but enough that you can make the claim that we have a chronological age and a cellular age.
And if you wait long enough to re-read a book, you’re technically not the same the person as the first time you read the book. Sure, your heart, brain and bones are pretty much the same, but the rest?
A whole new you.
And that means completely new arms, hands and eyes that deliver the book to your brain.
Isn’t that exciting to think about?
#3: Why Something Most People Dread
Is Really The Icing On The Cake
Most people regret getting older.
I’ve never understood why, but I guess it’s because they don’t value the power of re-reading books.
Think about it:
As you age, you collect more Memory Palaces to help you remember information.
Plus, your pool of imagery and associations to use within a Memory Palace gets larger year after year.
And as you work with your memory, you discover so many resources set in stone that you never discover unless you’re re-reading books.
Put simply, age is a currency. It is traded on the strength of connections. The older you are, the more connections you make on autopilot and can engineer deliberately.
Better be doing some brain exercises, though. You’re always in danger of losing what you’re not using, after all …
#4: How Location, Location, Location
Will Save The Life Of Your Memory
Think about this:
When you re-read a book, you can enter a multi-dimensional time-zone portal.
For example, I’m about the re-read The Republic for the third time.
This upcoming re-read is inspired by a conversation I had on the Magnetic Memory Method Podcast with Brad Zupp. We got deep into the weeds on matters of memory and philosophy in that one!
And as I re-read it, I can use Memory Palaces related to the university where I studied when I read The Republic for the first time.
Likewise, I can use Memory Palaces related to the university where I taught when I read it the second time with this rereading strategy. That will save me a ton of memory loss from stress.
And oh yes, you’d better believe I’ll be using Memory Palaces right here on the campus of QUT in Brisbane where I live to lock and load details I want to remember from my third read.
But without re-reading this monumental book from my past, all that Location, Location, Location juice goes untapped.
That would be tragic, sad and a complete waste of the constantly renewing cellular matter throughout my body.
What are you doing with your past, present and future untapped Memory Palace potential?
#5: Why You’re A Rookie If You Don’t Have Reason
Itself Working In Your Favor
I’m talking not just the force of reason as used by skeptics of memory, but also multiple reasons. Clearly defined reasons.
Back when I first read The Republic, the reason was simple:
I’d ponied up for a course in Political Science. In order to pass the course, I needed to read the book.
More than that, I wanted a degree. And I wanted knowledge and all the power and accomplishment it brings.
The second time around, I wanted a few more things.
First, I wanted the initial buzz of pleasure back.
I also needed confirmation that the book said the things I remembered it saying.
Plus, I had placed The Matrix on the syllabus of one of my Film Studies courses. I needed to at least re-read The Allegory of the Cave … so why not check in with the whole book?
And now, I want to revisit that earlier conversation with Brad Zupp and think more deeply about how The Republic relates to memory. After all my research and teaching in the field, I’m excited to see the book from a whole new perspective.
Plus, there’s the whole notion of Virtual Memory Palaces and making Memory Palaces based on movie locations and series. And it occurs to me that the Allegory of the Cave might be one of the best fantasy Memory Palaces one could borrow.
So I’ve got my reasons for re-reading intact. As I teach in the Masterplan, strategy is everything when it comes to improving your memory.
What could you re-read that revives old reasons and harnesses the power of new ones?
#7: What Wikipedia Can’t Tell You About Sequels,
Second Editions And New Translations
Yes, yes, I know you can blitz your way through books you’ve read before by checking out the summaries on Wikipedia.
And you know what?
There’s a place for that. I do it too and it’s a great enhancement of information.
In fact, I’ve already make my own little Wiki-adventure through and around a lot of The Republic and its many topics to set the stage for my re-reading.
But Wikipedia is not the territory. It’s not reading a new translations with a new introduction by a scholar with a different perspective.
And it’s not re-reading the book with all the benefits of new context, a new body and new reasons.
Only re-reading the book itself counts as re-reading the book.
Until you dive in, you’ll never know the value. And if you’re satisfied with skimming … well, you’ll just have to see if you enjoy paying the price of not re-reading important books. Only time can tell.
#8: Old Books Often Have Better Answers Than The New
James Clear made the point a good while ago in his newsletter that new books don’t have the benefit of hindsight.
We simply don’t know which of those books hitting the shelves this week will stand the test of time.
Sadly though … we can make some solid predictions that most will be forgotten within a fortnight or sooner.
That’s why it’s worth not only reading the classics, but also re-reading them. There are reasons why some books just won’t go away and one read often isn’t enough to squeeze out all the value.
Plus, without romanticizing the past, we can say with certainty that life throughout history often offered challenges far harder than what most of us face.
Can we learn about how to better thrive in the face of our “First World Problems” by looking at how people dealt with war, plague and famine in the past?
And a lot of those survivors were great literary stylists too. Many are worth re-reading just to dip back into the soul of their wit.
#9: How To Experience A Gold Rush Of
OMG! Moments Every Day Using A Rereading Strategy
You are studying a new language, right? Because you know how good it is for your health, don’t you? If not, here are 15 Reasons Why Learning A Language Is Good For Your Brain.
Well, re-reading books that you’re familiar with in the language you’re studying is a brilliant experience.
First, re-reading a book you already know in a foreign language helps reduce some cognitive load. You can settle back a bit more because you know in advance where things are going.
Second, with a rereading strategy, you can zero in on features like dialog, descriptions and whatever area of the language you’d like to improve. And you can do it with some feeling of familiarity to guide how you focus your lens.
Finally, you get to “spy” on the thinking of that culture. Ezra Pound called this feature of a language its logopoeia. It’s the logical element of processing the world that is different than sound and imagery.
And in re-reading you get to experience the logopoeia of your mother tongue and the language you’re studying at the same time.
What an incredible treat to give your exercise-starved brain!
#10: Defeat The Shocking Ways That
Digital Amnesia Is Destroying Your Brain
A lot of people just accept it. Google and the other Kings and Queens of the Internet are slowly eroding your brain.
It’s called Digital Amnesia.
Sounds scary, right?
Don’t worry. There’s a simple way to defeat it.
It’s called a book.
A real book.
Paper. Ink. You and your body somewhere offline.
And if you make that book a re-read of a book from the past, you’re defeating Digital Amnesia because you’re giving your brain the opportunity to revisit information from the past offline.
And if you’ve read a book on your Kindle device or some other digital reader and feel like you forgot more than you’d like, then re-reading a physical copy is the perfect cure for that problem.
#11: How Simple Memory Improvement
Helps You Invent The Perfect Future
The last reason that re-reading books is so good for you is simple:
Since you first stumbled across this blog and the Magnetic Memory Method Podcast, your memory is already better.
As a result, every book you re-read enters your head blessed with greater potential for being remembered.
All you have to do is use the techniques.
Good thing they’re so fun and easy.
And because you know how to connect information with locations and things you’re already familiar with, each and every day of life has the potential to improve your memory even more.
And re-reading books fuels the engine of memory by accessing the familiar in a new way and from a new angle.
You get to actively direct the future by harnessing the power of the past.
It’s never too late to get started re-reading books that you enjoyed in the past!
How To Create Your Personal Rereading Strategy And Plan
There’s lots of advice about how to plan out there, so let me just give the broad strokes in the form of a memory exercise:
Using the alphabet, try to list all of the books you can remember reading. For example:
- All’s Well that Ends Well or A Farewell to Arms for ‘A’
- The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins for ‘B’
- Cancer Ward by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn for ‘C’
If you can’t find something for each and every letter, just move forward and get as many as you can. You can also use the Wikipedia books by title page to help. Or you can go alphabetically by author name, which itself provides great memory exercise.
Next, cull out the books that you actually want to reread. If you wind up with 100 books, pick just 12, one per month.
Then, make sure you have access to all 12 choices. Order them on Amazon right away.
Have a calendar and a Memory Journal and show up to get them each read, one per month. By the end of the year, you will have reached your goal.
So Let Me Ask You Something Personal …
What book are you most excited about re-reading next?
Sage advice Anthony. I will contribute a twelfth point because I like the number; it rhymes with delve, which is something fun and positive to do. 😉
My twelfth point is “Finish what you start!” I say it because I tend to be the worst offender. There is so much cool stuff out there that I often don’t finish what I start, and then commence something new, without having gained the benefit of the old. Not very rhizomatic. But oh well, at least if I recognize it in myself I can try to mend my ways.
Perhaps these twelve steps can be summed into this credo: Grant me the serenity to read (and memorize) the things I can, avoid the traps and pitfalls of shoddy reading material, have the wisdom to know the difference and the courage to follow through.
Great point about finishing what you start, Alex.
By the same token, and as you suggest, we must recognize that many a book isn’t worth finishing.
Further, as Roland Barthes pointed out many moons ago in S/Z and to some extent in The Death of the Author, reading in a linear manner isn’t even necessary. Not even with novels.
In the meantime, I love the credo and share it wholeheartedly. Great variation on a theme! 🙂
Will start re-reading “One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel García Márquez
Life is too short for bad books, better to re-read good books from the past, thank you 🙂
Great choice – and a classic if ever there was one. Just the mention of the title brings back so many memories – particularly of the day I donated my copy before leaving Toronto for New York. I will have to put it on my re-read list too!
But for now, I had the lucky chance to find a copy Richard Wiseman’s The Luck Factor on a giveaway table the other day. That is some kind of sign from the universe that it’s time to re-read this book – if ever there was one! 🙂
Enjoyed your post Anthony, I have always loved books, even when I was a young dyslexic child struggling to read. (A time before they understood or even recognised the condition in education.)
Loved the pictures and remembered the stories using the images. I’ve read ever since now 61 many books later, most re-read, skimmed, listened to or watched films or dramas and YouTube of them or about them.
I truly agree with you. Many books are old friends, companions in our growth.
Good books expand your thinking, about life, people, and yourself. One read is never enough. Like good friends you want to meet up often.
Thanks for these insights, Susan. It’s great to hear about your experiences with rereading books and I’m enthused to hear that you’ve done this much rereading.
Any particular experiences stand out to you more than others?
For me, rereading The Running Man jumps to mind. It’s so sharp and crisp in description, it amazes me how the pictures it creates match up when I reread it. This is especially the case since I’m close to having aphantasia in many ways with a low visual threshold.
Now I want to reread it again and think more intensely about what it is that makes this novel so visual for me. It certainly can’t be its author because I’ve enjoyed many other King novels that had little to no visual effect. It also can’t be the movie adaptation of The Running Man, since the two bear very little resemblance, particularly at the visual level.
In any case, thank you kindly for the input, perspective and intriguing prompt to reread yet another book to help answer another intriguing question related to memory and mnemonics. Very grateful! 🙂
Hey Anthony, Insightful and challenging. What book would I re-read? After deep reflection it would be the 14th Century classic, “The Cloud of Unknowing” by the unknown author. It’s been about twenty years since my last read -a lot has transpired since then.
Thanks for checking this out, Garry. I’ve read The Cloud of Unknowing after hearing it mentioned in Delillo’s Underworld. It’s a very interesting little book and I’d love to hear how your initial memory of the book matches up with what you encounter the second time around.
One thing you can try is writing a short summary before you reread it. Even if it’s just a sentence or two or a few notes, it will prime your brain for having a more interesting second read than without taking this step.
Thanks for commenting and look forward to corresponding with you further about your experience with this! 🙂
You’re right that old books have better answers than the new one’s. Most often we remember that we had read an awesome explanation to a question but need to re read the book to explore the answer. I am going to re read my favorite book, Voicemates.
Thanks for taking a moment to comment and share the title of your next read, Vashishtha. Looks fascinating! 🙂
Gosh when you think about it there are so many books I have read in the past that it might be challenging to choose one to read over again.
So instead what I will always do is, as interesting as this might seem, is let the book, choose me!!
One that immediately comes to mind is the Kybalion by Hermes. Another, and newer is the Way of the Peaceful Warrior.. For me being versed in energy I know that
Some days are better numerically speaking for reading than others. This is especially so when it comes to focus, concentration, life relevance at the time and more.
As to re-reading I am all for it and a big proponent
Thanks for your very informative article. Enjoyed it, and the content wisdom and experience of it.
I guess you’re right that the more you’ve read, the harder it is to choose, Bruce. Especially if you’ve got a good memory. 😉
But your point brings to mind the fact that even just mining around your mind for what those titles might be is a great memory exercise in and of itself.
Kybalion sounds interesting. It reminds me of a certain project I’ve started working on that I’m very excited about. The presentation of knowledge structures it makes look like a fit. And if it becomes a book I wind up re-reading – all the better! 🙂
Will start re-reading ‘Management’ by Peter Drucker within this month.
I totally agree with your thoughts on the importance of re-reading that I try to do as many times as I can.
Great choice, Ryo! That’s one I need to re-read too. Thanks for taking a moment to mention it – much appreciated! 🙂
I was reading Schopenhauer the other day and he said something that stuck with me since: “When we read, another person thinks for us; we merely repeat his mental process … So it comes about that if anyone spends almost the whole day in reading … he gradually loses the capacity for thinking.”
How do you think we should understand this? How much reading is too much reading?
Also, I have the habit of taking extensive notes while reading. So when I need to refer to a book, I find myself reading the notes I took instead.
However, your article suggests a reread of the book, which is a bit more involved than just reading from one’s notes. What role should notes play in the process you describe in your very useful article?
Many thanks in advance.
Thanks for these great thoughts and this quote, Papa.
I think Schopenhauer raises a good point with this objection to reading “too much.”
However, given the historical context and the role of reading in it, we have to wonder to what exact kinds of reading material Schopenhauer refers. Does he name any particular kinds of books, articles, etc.?
I’m guessing that he’s probably pointing at what I would say is a input/output threshold. For me, I think we all need to find a balance between how much information we take in from any particular medium and how much we put out in terms of our own writing. We process material we’ve consumed through writing and also interact with the world in that way. Or at least through journaling and writing summaries, we see the material in our own words “outside of our heads,” so to speak.
Reading your own notes, or “marginalia” as I’ve heard it called, seems fine to me. To avoid this, one can always buy a fresh new copy or grab one from a library. This seems like a good way to avoid this issue altogether.
As for notetaking itself, I think the value here is in using your notes to write a summary, blog post or tell a friend via email so that you’re processing the notes, putting them into your own words and connecting with the world.
This is so easy to do and is a great means of getting the information even deeper into memory.
I think the key point is that information is useful at multiple levels. But the most useful information is the information that is used. And the more you use it in different ways and different levels, the more useful it becomes.
Hope these thoughts help and thanks for taking the time to post such interesting questions! 🙂
Thank you so much Anthony for the prompt response. The input/output ratio makes a lot of sense. I learned a new word in the process: “marginalia”.
Since no good deed goes unpunished, I will ask a further question 🙂
Can you describe your ritual after finishing a book? You provide some hints in your reply, and I would like to ask, if possible, to tell us more about what you think is the best way to finish a book.
Glad you found this helpful, Papa.
Often I will write a summary, blog post or hold a YouTube Live to talk about a book I’ve finished reading (or re-reading).
The point is to process the knowledge through as many representation channels as you can:
Memory (both with and without mnemonics)
Listening (such as listening to interviews with an author)
It’s really easy to do and each step helps with memory consolidation at a very high level.
In a word:
Thanks so much for your discussion posts. Look forward to more on future Magnetic Memory Method posts on this site! 🙂
I wish I had time to read new books! But it is true that when we re-read or read a book, something changes in us. This is why I ask students to read books and live the experience. Reading or re-reading a book makes me to draw from the book, write poetry, or create new things. It is “Fantastic”!
I hope you can make the time to read and re-read more books, Maricela. You’re right that reading is a great springboard for new creativity.
Wow – many thanks for covering this topic.
I was amazed when seeing Underworld by Don Delillo.
How did you find it and could you tell me some other unknown books like this from other authors. Maybe classics about life, hard tasks, planning, memory and mind.
Underworld was a birthday present from someone who knew how much I liked Delillo’s fiction. Somehow he had an advance copy of it a few days before it came out.
There are many books we could list, but technically a “classic” is not unknown. Frank Kermode has a book called The Classic that I highly recommend reading, and it gives many examples you can research.
As for finding obscure gems, I would suggest searching blogs for recommendations, noting that so much of the joy comes from the search and challenging your own sense of taste and interest along the way.
Ultimately, I’m not sure whether a book’s fame or obscurity matters nearly as much as the process of cultivating our own reading lists and then making sure we have a rereading strategy to make sure we get more out of the best of the bunch.
Does this way of thinking about it make sense to you?
What are you re-reading now?
I recently enjoyed Way of the Peaceful Warrior. What’s your opinion on it and suggestions for further reading?
I am currently going through some books by Darwin Ortiz again, just now Designing Miracles: Creating the Illusion of Impossibility. It’s fantastic and this must be the fifth time I’ve read it.
I don’t know the book you’ve mentioned so cannot comment on it. Many reviews seem to point out common flaws of its genre.
If that is true, you might want to check out something more substantial and science-based like Happiness Beyond Thought by Gary Weber. I wrote extensively about it in my latest book, The Victorious Mind.
Happiness Beyond Thought is another book I’ve read multiple times and highly recommend it to everyone.
Darwin Ortiz looks fascinating. I ordered it. Thanks
I’m also looking for negotiation books and books like How to Win Friends and Influence People. Who are your favorite authors in this field?
I haven’t read much in the area of negotiation. Sorry.
Thank you. I remember Roland Barthes said that”the reader must be at the cost of the death of the author.” Very good to mention that point.
Are you going to re-read memory books? Which ones?
Barthes is probably incorrect on that point. I’m unaware of any author who has died as a result of people reading a book in the way that Barthes means.
I am currently re-reading On the Shadows of the Ideas by Giordano Bruno. It is a powerful and important memory book I highly recommend, especially if you also know Thirty Seals and The Seal of Seals.