How to read difficult books in 9 steps?

A lot of you have asked me how I read so many difficult, long books, like some of the classics I have discussed here? And how can I read, summarise and analyse them on this channel? Today, I will explain my process in 9 steps to help you read and digest meaty books but more importantly how to be more productive with your reading.

8/28/20235 min read

woman in brown long sleeve shirt sitting by the window
woman in brown long sleeve shirt sitting by the window

There are 2 types of writers and readers: discovery readers are intuitive and planners are logical. Discovery readers seek experiences and surprises. Planners, however, have a specific goal. In my younger days I used to be a discovery reader and I would let the book take me on a journey. Now I plan my reading. When you’re young, you date for fun. But once closer to 30, you search for a good mate to have babies with. When it comes to books, I am picky. Typically fiction readers are discovery readers and non-fiction readers are planners, but I’m a planner through and through.

Just as in life and stories, reading is a three-part process: before reading, while reading and after reading. So each section comes with three tips. Let’s begin.

Before reading

Step 1: Start with short books.

I used to be scared of commitment, so I read shorter books. Short books are fun dates, while long books are like a full-on marriage. Reading the 7 volumes by Marcel Proust, about 3000 pages was a marriage, with lots of ups and downs. I started slow and moved up once I had the stomach to digest a chunkier book. Just like in gaming, you want to start at level one. Two of my favourite books of all time are short novellas: the Blind Owl and Pedro Paramo.

Step: 2: You must judge a book by its cover.

Reading is like mating. While selecting a partner, we judge them by their looks, smell, speech, wealth and health. We ask them questions. I use Marie Kondo’s method. I grab a book and if it makes me excited, I keep it and if it doesn’t excite me, I chuck it away. You will be surprised how quickly you can get rid of a lot of books on your list, or desk or shelf. In a library or a bookstore, I don’t chuck them away, instead I read page 99 to see if it excites me. I borrow one book at a time. Buying a book makes me appreciate it more, and I can highlight and write on it too. Once I have chosen one book, I’m ready to read.

Step 3: Have a deadline

I got two major distractions: my phone and my fridge. When I decided to read Proust’s novel, I gave myself 6 months. It pushed me to finish it and I did. Humans are inherently lazy, but nature has given us cold winters as a deadline, so we must prepare for the harsh weather. I pretend winter is coming so I sit down and count the pages and give myself a deadline. Not finishing the book is not an option. Back in our cave days, if we didn’t prepare for winter, we would die. Reading a book is a luxury. Millions of people do jobs they hate, so I have no excuses. When you get lazy, remember sitting inside a cave shivering in the cold without firewood to burn. Once you finish the book, the feeling of achievement is amazing. Then treat yourself to an ice-cream or a nice lunch. I’m a goal-oriented animal and deadlines motivate and make you read faster.

While reading

Step 4: Make some predictions

Before reading, I write down a few predictions. To focus my attention, I decide what the book is about before even reading it. Philosophy books have a neat outline so I read the table of contents. With novels, I write my predictions based on its title, subtitle, cover and any other visual indication like chapters. Predicting the message of the book helps you use your prior knowledge of the subject. I spend 5 to 10 minutes on my predictions. The more you read, the better you can predict. Baseball players can predict where the ball lands after a lot of practice and it’s the same with books. After I finish the book, I go back and compare it to my predictions. It’s a confidence boost when you get things right.

Step 5: Skim, skip and stop.

Skimming helps you get the bigger picture. Skimming is when you look at the table of contents, chapter titles and even read the first sentence of each paragraph to get an idea of what the book is talking about. This is important if you want to summarise the book. I also skip when I lose focus, or get bored. I move to the next paragraph, page or even chapter to refocus. We’re evolved to seek change. I also skip, if the book is too easy. But if the book is too easy or too difficult, I also stop. The best book is the one that is a little harder than your level, so it challenges your intellect and curiosity. So I skim, skip and stop because not every word, paragraph or page deserves my attention. The author had good days and bad days writing the book so they aren’t all good stuff. Also there are times, you give up reading because you’re not in that place. Read something else. Reading has to be challenging but also fun to get something out of it.

Step 6: Take notes on your phone.

As I read, I use the dictation function on my phone to note some of the ideas that come to me or I highlight interesting passages. I also note the page number, so it is easier for me to go back. If the book is my own copy, I highlight the interesting passages and write on the margins. To make a video, I have to write a lot of notes. I don’t use all the notes, but when I want to analyse the book, my notes are fundamental. I organise my notes into two sections: for summary and for analysis.

After reading

Step 7: Summarise the book in your own words.

Summary is true to the book’s main story or message. After finishing the book, I write a brief summary, mostly from memory but also use my notes for some key events. I don’t always get things 100% right but if it is close enough that’s good enough. Writing a summary also helps me get the big picture and nothing is more thrilling than having a full picture of something. It’s like climbing a summit and now you own the mountain. Summarising a book is like rereading it. It stays with you and forces you to really understand the book.

Step 8: Analyse the book

A summary is a snapshot of the book but an analysis is your reaction to the work. Once I have a summary, the next step is to organise my notes into a few general themes and topics. Using my notes, I examine each theme of the novel or book with some examples from the book. Here you can use quotes you have highlighted to strengthen your arguments. Usually three or four themes should be enough.

Step 9: Your angle of view

The final step is to understand the main message. To help you, write a one sentence summary of the book and one sentence analysis of the book. This helps me to angle my piece of writing or video. This is my own unique insight into the book. This can also be my title for the piece or the single takeaway from the book. This could also be the central question the book answered. Or a single piece of insight you learnt. Marcel Proust’s novel is about human’s innate desire to defeat time and be immortal.


Good readers are like cows. When cows graze, they don't eat everything. They pick and choose. As a result, they have developed four separate stomachs. When you read a lot, you develop four brains. One for judging good books from bad ones, one for breaking the good books down for analysis, one for digesting the heavy elements and one for regurgitating it back to others. I read like a cow, I don't read everything in front of me. If I waste my time on a bad book, it is not the fault of the book or the author. It’s my fault for picking the wrong book. The ultimate goal is to read and respond and that’s how we grow. Cows graze, digest, burp and poop. That’s how they get bigger. Good grass gives us good milk, great cheese and Kobe Beef. Good books do the same. So happy grazing. I mean happy reading.