Introducing the #ReadingNotes Series

In the #ReadingNotes series I’m trying to summarise what I read, partly so I have the notes myself and partly as a service to others. This post gives more on why I’m doing it, why I’m presenting my notes in particular way, and how I will evaluate and improve going forward.


I’m often told I read a lot. A common contribution from me to a discussion is to connect what someone has said to a writer or book (sometimes to reinforce, sometimes to offer a counter-point). I’m trying to help the conversation, and (usually) people take this well.

At the same time, I’ve very aware that I have a big ‘to read’ pile by my bed, on my office shelves, in my web browser, stored in Evernote and elsewhere. (In the image above, the bottom shelf is ‘to read’ and the top shelf is ‘read, now integrate’). Especially with the COVID lockdowns, I’ve been buying more books than I’ve been reading. I’m not the only one who feels they are ‘behind’ on reading.

Finally, one of my inquiries is: how can I accelerate my learning, so that I integrate insights into my strategies, actions and habits?

What if there was a habit which quickened the pace of my reading, integrated any insights into what I actually do, and make all that available to others to use as they see fit?

Hence #ReadingNotes Series.

My intention:

  • Post a Reading Note on everything I read that I think is professionally useful.
  • Use a specific format which is helps a third party (and myself in the future) understand the original text as well as what I drew from it.

The specific format is important. I love reading book reviews in the London Review of Books. But they are not always fair to the original writer. You cannot always tell what are the assertions of the book versus the judgements of the reviewer. And there is always a risk of creating a straw man (which is rightly criticised by David Snowden here).

Instead, I’m inspired by social psychologist and game theorist Anatol Rapoport (explained here by Dennet in Maria Popova’s Brainpickings), which separates out the claims of the original piece from the judgements of the reader.

So the format I’ll be using:

  • Lede. A paragraph summarising the most important aspects of the original piece and my insights.
  • KEY ARGUMENTS. Re-express concisely the original piece so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way”.
  • AGREE. YAny points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).
  • LEARN. Anything I have learnt from the piece.
  • CRITIQUE. Only then raise questions and challenges.
  • INTEGRATION. How I will be using the insights in my work, through strategies, actions, practices, habits or whatever.

Also, I’m deliberately calling these notes. I don’t want fussing over style to get in the way of publishing. So, they will mostly be in bulletpoint form.

Seeing as an experiment

Given this is part of my inquiry into accelerate my learning, then I need some ways of judging how it is going. Then later I can check against experience, and make any necessary adjustments to do things better or do better things.

To that end, I hope success looks like:

  • Increasing the amount of material I am reading in a week. Evidence: amount in the ‘to read’ piles goes down.
  • Increasing the insights I use, whether by integrating with my own practice or offered to others. Evidence: Changes in my own practices, actions, and strategies which come from the reading being written up.
  • Others using the #ReadingNotes series. Evidence: the number of readers of the blog goes up, and I get feedback that others are finding it useful. (For instance, someone read the one on Figueres and Carnac’s latest book and told me it was the Spark Notes of sustainability.)
  • Use them in my own writing. I want to express more of my own views, and having these notes will make it easier for me to build on the great work of others. Evidence: more writing by me that quote these.

Also, I’ll check in on progress in one month, by the end of Feb 2021

Wish me luck!

First posted: 24 January 2021


12 thoughts on “Introducing the #ReadingNotes Series

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  3. Andrew Kluth


    How are you?

    This looks to be an excellent idea. I’ve passed on your email introducing it to my daughter and will pass on to some others.


    1. David Bent Post author

      @Andrew — thanks for the message and hope you are well in these strange and fluid times. I’m fine. Glad to heard you like the idea and that you’ve passed it along. Good luck! — David

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