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  • Writer's pictureKelly Adams

My 1 Year Journey Towards Remembering Everything I Read (Update)


A bookshelf filled with books right along a brick wall, in front of a table are flowers

One of my first blog posts was about my journey towards remembering what I read. Previously I said while I'm an avid reader I don't remember most of the books I've read. I felt like I was passively taking in the content. I didn't absorb any of it. After getting my first Kindle in 2008 I felt more active in my reading. I began highlighting passages and taking notes. Later on I began taking detailed notes on non-fiction books I felt had high value. Like the Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg and Level Up Your Life by Steve Kamb. I mostly copied down the text word-for-word. I felt like I wasn't absorbing the information.

That was for non-fiction, my memory with fiction books was worse. I wasn't sure how to retain fiction books because I wasn't focusing on analyzing it. I wasn't taking detailed notes, only occasionally highlighting passages. Until I discovered Ali Abdaal's video a little over a year ago, "How I Remember Everything I Read" . In it he explains how he remembers everything he reads. Abdaal says there are seven levels that are on our path to retaining what we read.


This will be part of my project where I'll be revisiting old blog posts I've written. Not only to rewrite it and make it better. But also to explain what I've learned since I've written the article. To document if anything has changed. This won't happen for every article but for many of my earlier posts. If you've already read this post and want to skip to what's new click here.


Overview of Ali Abdaal's Video

First is the overview of Ali Abdaal's video.

  1. Muggle - We're just reading the material, we're not engaging in it. We'll most likely forget it after some time.

  2. Squib - Now we're highlighting or underling the things that resonate with us. We don't remember the text we highlight and they are left inside our book/Kindle. There's no system to review them.

  3. Hufflepuff - We have a systematic system for reviewing highlights. Abdaal uses Readwise to review these highlights.

  4. Ravenclaw - We have developed a system where it automatically pulls in your highlights into a central note taking app like Notion or Evernote.

  5. Dumbledore's Army - We engage with books by taking quick notes on the what we read. Abdaal has a Notion template for every book he reads. There's also sections for each book to include the author, genre, score (out of 5), date finished and if it's a series. In each template it asks him a series of questions about the book.

  6. Nonfiction: The Book in 3 Sentences, Impressions, Who Should Read It?, How the Book Changed Me, Top 3 Quotes

  7. Fiction: What It's About, How I Discovered It, Thoughts, Who Would Like It?

  8. Order of the Phoenix - Now we add a section for Summary and Notes on the book on itself (for him it's books that changed his life or 5 star books).

  9. Create a mini summary of the book and focusing on the points that resonate with us or points that are the most insightful or surprising.

  10. Zettelkasten Method - take literature notes but avoid copying and pasting quotes, rephrase things in our own words

  11. You can even post your book notes on a personal blog but it's not necessary.

  12. Dumbledore - Zettelkasten (Evergreen) Method, once we've taken our literature notes we're turning them into permanent notes on the book. These are notes on topics you find interesting (e.g. productivity, photography, etc.) and the notes are self contained and linked to the other notes in your system. For example, if you have a section on Productivity then any note that has to do with productivity will be linked in that section.

How I've Changed the Template

I've completed over 250 book notes so far. I have added my own sections. Including for fiction, the top quotes. For both fiction and non-fiction a detailed notes section. I also link to my notes in Evernote (if applicable). In the database view section of notion. I added columns for if the book is a series or not, format (paperback, kindle or audiobook), if I own it (sometimes I borrow books from a digital library) and whether or not there's detailed notes and if I've published it. I've also included a column for the Amazon link. I've tailored this format to my own needs. If you're interested in Ali's template to try it out for yourself here is the link.


Benefits

I've committed to this process and only have about 50 more books to go. I'd already been doing levels 1 through 4 regularly for the past few years but level 5 (Dumbledore's Army), creating quick notes, was new. I use his template for both nonfiction and fiction books. I'm actually thinking and processing what I took away from the book. For each book I finish I make sure to do write down my notes as soon as possible. While I have the book in my mind. The most powerful section for me is "The Book in 3 Sentences" in his Nonfiction template because I write down a summary in my own words. The "Thoughts" section in his Fiction template lets me reflect on what I read and how it affected me.


This method is a quick way to summarize the book along with my thoughts. I can look back at my list and quickly find almost anything about the book. I can also search for my notes and filter out by specific conditions like: when I finished the book, genre, authors, and by series. It's like having my own personal library index but with my own notes. Each note only takes about 10 minutes but the payoff is big.

Conclusion

I would recommend this method to anyone who is an avid reader. Even if you're not interested in having a database like in Notion or Excel. Having a quick summary for each book would be beneficial. It would only take 5-10 minutes for each summary. I don't think Level 7 (Dumbledore) taking Evergreen notes is useful for everyone. It's mostly for those who love productivity systems and organizing everything in their life. Try the quick summary/notes with the next few books. Experiment. Or try your own method.

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