The Forge Guide to Reading Better

How to Read

Humans have only been reading for 5,000 years, and we’re not that good at it yet

Ross McCammon
Published in
3 min readJan 22, 2020
Illustration: George(s)

CCongratulations, humanity, on learning how to read! It took a long time — about 300,000 years — but it finally clicked. In the last 5,000 years that we’ve been reading, we haven’t missed a single year! It’s been one long reading fest.

Who wants a pizza party?!

When it comes to reading, we are, all of us, the evolutionary equivalent of a six-year-old. The timeline would suggest we have a lot of potential for improvement. We at Forge have been exploring how to get even better at reading: How to read more, and how to enjoy it more. How to remember what we read. How to pick a book out of the hundreds of thousands that are published each year.

We’re not talking about reading hacks, like playing your audio book at double speed or cleaving your books in two to make them easier to transport, although I’ve personally done both of these things. (A learning: Don’t play George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo at double speed. It loses a certain something.) We’re more interested in ways to enrich our reading, to get more out of what we read.

We think becoming a stronger reader comes down to four steps:

Increase your reading memory

There are dozens of books on my bookshelf that I spent hours with, but that I couldn’t tell you a thing about. Not the plot, not a character name, not whether the typeface is Baskerville or Bembo. Genius in Disguise, a biography of the founding editor of the New Yorker Harold Ross, for instance. I remember very little of that book.

But you know what I do remember about it? I remember a passage in the book describing his unassuming editing style, and how Ross once wrote in the margins of a story, “Is Moby Dick the whale or the man?” Even the editor of the New Yorker has a hard time remembering what he reads. As Emily Underwood (who always manages to explain science in a way that makes you want to… well, keep reading) says in her essay “How to Remember More of What You Read,” that’s probably because Harold and I weren’t employing a simple two-pronged process for reading that anyone can…



Ross McCammon
Writer for

Author, Works Well With Others: Crucial Skills in Business No One Ever Teaches You // writing about creativity, work, and human behavior, in a useful way