How to Read Multiple Books Simultaneously and Remember (Almost) Everything

by David · 13 comments



A few months back, while trying to recall some information, I came to realise that I often only remember a hazy outline of the books I read. This really bothered me – as trivial as it may seem, I couldn’t accept that after investing countless hours reading, I could only remember an outline of a book and little detail.

I wanted to do something about it. There had to be a way to remember more –  there just had to be.

Naturally, I dived in and started reading all I could about memory – soaking up information from books and articles, but I didn’t stop there, no –  I started experiementing.

Below is the simple three step system I use for reading for maximum retention. I don’t claim to have crafted anything revolutionary, but what I have done is pull exsisting ideas together to solve a specific problem: How to read mulltiple books simulateneously and rememeber (almost) everything. Definitly something worth sharing.

Why read multiple books simultaneously?

As strage as it may sound, I don’t read one book at a time, and I can’t imagine doing so. As a curious lover of knowledge I find myself jumping around from book to book, wanting to learn everything about everything, so I sought out to optimise my approach to reading. You may not want to read ten books simulateneousl –  that’s ok. This simple method can still help you remember more of what you read.

The three steps are:

1. Read one chapter at a time

2. Makes notes as you read

3. Review notes before and after reading

As you can see, this it’s really simple. You’re probably thinking too simple, but that’s what we need: simplicity. When I read, I want to focus on reading – I don’t want a system or method getting in the way.

Let’s take a look at why this system actually works.



Information is best retained when broken into small ‘chunks’  a classic everyday example is in the way we read and recite telephone numbers.

0207 123 1231 vs 02071231231

Was it easier to remember the first string of numbers? I’m certain you’ll say yes. However, a better question is: why are a string of numbers broken into chunks easier to rememeber? Becaues the brain is able to focus more intensly when it has less to deal with. This isn’t rocket science – you probably could have told me this. However, is this piece of knowledge you apply? Information is useless without application.

The first step in my method is to read one chapter at a time. The idea is to constrain information so the brain is given a better oppourtunity to focus.

For a while, chunking seemed only useful for improving short term memory, that is until I read Moonwaling with Einstein. This book showed me how poweful chunking can be for long-term memory when combined with Mnemonics.

While I don’t feel Mnemonics is a practical solution for rememebering details from a book – It did have me wondering what else I could combine chunking with to maximise how much I remember from reading.

That’s when I re-discovered the forgetting curve. Aha!

The forgetting curve

The forgetting curve was first discovered by German psychologist  Hermann Ebbinghaus. Through a series of experiments, he discovered when newly aquired information begins to deteriorate, and that by reviewing information at these points improves retention drastically. This was a great discovery.

The forgetting curve is what powers great programs like Anki and SuperMemo.

Forgetting curve


How is this helpful to us when reading? The second and third steps in this reading system involve the taking and reviewing of notes.

Reviewing all notes before reading each chapter will do two things:  keep the information fresh in your brain and cement it  further into your mind.

I often feel as though I’ve read a book many times by the time I read the last page.

In my case, reviewing notes takes a maximum of fifteen minutes, a small price to pay for an incredible increased rate of recall.

The quality of notes used for reviewing chapters will hugely impact the effectivness of this technique, be sure to subscribe to the RSS feed to make sure you don’t miss that article.

The system is really simple:

1. Read one chapter at a time

2. Makes notes as you read

3. Review notes before and after reading

I’m sure you won’t need to read this article again to remember 😉

  • Prize

    Really great article David. I don’t read books as much as e-books and blogs but I do have a similar method for retaining the information. I was experimenting with this method a month ago when I had to take a big standardized test.

    Concerning that, I guess my method is more about speed than anything else. When you’re reading something summarize each paragraph. Try to make small summaries of the paragraphs in five words or less. This seems a little counterproductive right? I mean, you’re stopping to write after every paragraph. Actually I thought that way at first as well, but then I tried it and it seemed to work. I don’t know about you, but when I read I tend to forget what I just read rather quickly. I have to go back up and read again to get it to stick. I’ve combated this problem with active reading but still when you’re reading very quickly it can be tough. So instead of going back up and wasting time re-reading, just write a small summary and read that instead.

    You should try it David. 🙂

    • Sounds great. All that really matters is that it works for the goal in mind, and it sounds as though it’s working for you. Awesome! 

  • Heiyin

    great article!!! short and sweet!! keep up the good work!

  • Aaron Posehn

    Great post David. I seem to recall having seen a graph like the one in this post in a psychology class I took once. I think your method of taking notes would also be pretty helpful. I tend to read multiple books at a time too, but end up forgetting to finish the ones that I first started as I slowly get pulled towards others. Perhaps I will try your method not only so that I will be able to remember more, but also so that I can finish what I start.

  • Etienne Eunson

    Thanks a lot, man. I’ve recently been having this problem a lot. This will really help me when I read my Teach Yourselfs.

  • Julian

    When you say read one chapter at a time are talking about reading a chapter, take notes as you go, read over those notes, then move on to the next chapter or only read one chapter, go to another book, then another? I’m curious why this looks like practically when you have several books to finish by a deadline.

    • There is no hard rule. The idea is to read a little at a time and make notes so that when you come back to the book you can refresh your memory of what you’ve already read.

  • The Eighth Dwarf (Forgetful)

    I think I may be beyond help. I bought a memory book once and no word of a lie, I forgot I even owned it when it turned up in the bottom of a bag one day..(although, maybe I am improving..I now have two memory books and I can remember that) but can I remember what they say…erm mnemonics rings a bell?.8)

  • Hey, a very nice article there. Can you do a post which elaborates the method you use for taking notes. Also, if you could give some snapshots of the notes you made then that would do the deal.

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