Holding On To What You Read

In her post on reading goals, Keren noted that she was not planning to read more than 80-100 books this year because that is her threshold for retaining what she reads.  If you read a lot you probably have that sort of sense of threshold as well.  I know I do.

Since I read a lot, I keep trying new things to make sure that what I read really gets assimilated into my life.  I don’t just read to fill my brain with words (although I do love that).  I also love to really interact with ideas and learn new things.  To that end, in 2014 I’m adding a new tool to my usual reading routine.

I’ve blogged before about how I read to maximize retention: I use tabs to mark things that jump out at me, then I reread the tabs and take detailed notes, share the notes, and blog about the book (you can read more about that process here if you’re interested).  If there’s something I really want to devote more thinking time toward, I print out my book notes and put them into my thinking pile.

Yes, I have a thinking pile.  I’m all sorts of organized.

This year, inspired by the cool graphics lots of bloggers use (I’m not old school to be ironic; I honestly just haven’t had time to learn how to do it myself or I would) I decided to make an idea board for each month, based on things I’d like to keep thinking about.  I keep it in a frame on my desk, so I’m reminded of highlights from the thinking pile.  Here is my page for January:


I put in things I read on blogs, a couple of things people said to me in conversation, and ideas from things I was reading in December.

  • Cultivate a taste for beauty – This reminds me of the reasoning behind reading high quality books to the kids, surrounding them with good music and art and keeping things orderly.  Childhood is wheN our aesthetics are largely formed.
  • Build liturgy – Likewise, I’m thinking of how rhythm and routine define our family, and what sort of message they send to us and others about our values and what we worship.
  • Fifteen minute connections - I read something about how valuable even 15 minutes of focused connection can be to relationships.  Having started doing this with the children on school days I can already say I am seeing great results.
  • Make laughter your chocolate – I got this from Ann Voskamp, and I like the reminder to get my stress relief from relational joy rather than calories.
  • Carve out Sabbaths – I really do have to carve them.  It’s very, very hard to keep work out of Sunday, but I’m working on it.
  • Live the Good Life – This relates to seeing my life as Plan A and living accordingly.
  • Things that are difficult aren’t necessarily broken – I’m remembering that although I love to constantly tweak things for greater efficiency, some things are just hard.  that doesn’t necessarily mean something is wrong.
  • Legacy – I thought about making this my word of the year, but chose grace instead.  Legacy reminds me to think about how I’m spending my time in light of what will mean the most in the long run.  Surprisingly, while Facebook doesn’t always win, it doesn’t always lose either.
  • Sleep. Move. Eat real food. – I can get caught up in perfectionism when it comes to diet and exercise.  Oh no!  I ate a bite of apple!  I might as well have ice cream!  I don’t have time to do a 90 minute workout, so I might as well skip exercise today.  That sort of thing.  This line reminds me to simplify and not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
  • Be kind.  Always. – Another downside to being an efficiency-aholic is that I’ve noticed it doesn’t always make me kind.  I’d like to choose kindness, even if it means being five minutes late.  I notice this a lot because one of my children suffers from the same failing, and it’s made me see mine more clearly.
  • External order -> Internal calm – I find that when things are basically orderly (I didn’t say clean, just orderly!) I feel calmer.  And I am always, always looking for calmer!
  • Keep screens in their place – Because I work flexibly, I find it difficult not to be always working.  I’m trying to think of ways to keep my laptop in its place.  Similarly, I have a bad habit of checking my phone a lot.  I hate it when other people look at their phones when they are with me, so why do I do that to my children?
  • Here I raise mine Ebenezer, hither by Thy help I’m come – This is a line from one of my favorite hymns, and it’s a piece in the novel that I’m (still) working on.  It’s to remind me to, you know, work on it.
  • People are not interruptions – (Yet) another downside to the whole efficiency thing is that I’ve noticed I get impatient when people throw off my schedule.  I’m reminding myself that people are not interruptions, they are the point.
  • Calm and wise – This is a reminder to stop and think before I get wound up.  Funny enough, it’s something I say to the kids all the time.  Along the same lines, I found myself admonishing one kid this week, “Don’t freak out.  THINK out.”  Did I miss my calling as a motivational speaker or what?
  • Family meetings – full cups – We started having family meetings after I read about it in several books.  So far this involves giving everyone allowance, asking “what went right in our family this week?” and “what does our family need to work on next week?” as well as giving everyone full cups by going around in a circle and telling each person something you liked or admired about them this week.  To be honest, we have only done this once so far and my husband was not able to attend, but so far so good.
  • Zoom out once a week – This reminds me to take stock of how things are going, to keep perspective, and to get off the ride for a few minutes to really think things through.

I have high hopes for this as a tool to add to my reading retention arsenal of tabbing, note taking, and writing.  If you read a lot, how do you let it sink in?  If you were to make an idea board, what would you put on it?

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5 Responses to Holding On To What You Read

  1. Johanna says:

    I love this idea and am thinking about including it. I too do the tab idea when I read, but being overseas I have to read a lot on kindle (which is honestly not my preferred method) and I still am trying to find ways to figure out how to go back and find things. The highlighting tool is the only thing I can do, but it’s hard to go back and see things in context…

    Anyway, I think I could jot down some notes in my journal and then put them up visibly. Will think about this! Thanks for the idea.
    Johanna recently posted..A January of Rest and Reflection

  2. Frances says:

    I feel like this is just a bigger version of what you used to do in college. =) We always had lovely and/or funny quotes and sayings on our walls.

  3. sarah ronk says:

    I just got out some post-its to try your method. I have a few books I REALLY want to write in and highlight, but… they’re library books. Love you’re framed print-out!
    sarah ronk recently posted..A book look at 2013

  4. sarah ronk says:

    your* ACK. horrible typo!
    sarah ronk recently posted..A book look at 2013

  5. Julie says:

    The idea board is great, Catherine – I want to think about incorporating this into my own life. Thanks –
    Julie recently posted..Thank You, LORD . . .

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