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In Defense Of 'Difficult' Books

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This article from Huff-Post provides food for thought on the difficulties of reading, and by implication, the effect upon writing.

It's a longish report, but worth the effort to abandon any attempt to speed read it. (You'll understand what I mean by that, when you read it.)

The article begins by referencing a speed reading app, Spritz, and then proceeds to discuss the value of slower reading to appreciate the nuances and richness of more complex and denser texts than those which twitter offers.

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The article begins by referencing a speed reading app, Spritz, and then proceeds to discuss the value of slower reading to appreciate the nuances and richness of more complex and denser texts than those which twitter offers.

One of my best friends in high school was beset by the fact that he was a slow reader and had mediocre grades, so he took the Evelyn Wood Speed Reading class locally and wound up being a teacher for the company. I quizzed him about how it worked, and he basically said, "we train you to ignore the articles, the prepositions, and most of the adjectives, so you're basically reading one out of five words on every page." I was kind of horrified, because even as a teenager, I grasped that sometimes the richness of language is in the nuances of the description and the prose.

Just to brag, I had a spare class in my senior year, so I took a speed-reading course to see what it was like. The teacher tested us, then had me stay after class and kind of chided me, saying I was already at the highest level they could test -- about 1800-2000 words a minute. I asked what I should do, and he said, "sit in the back row, bring a book to read every day, and shut up." I did that and read a novel a week. Had a fine time -- and I actually read every word.

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I'm not all that fast at reading. I'll respond just as soon as I have finished reading your post, Pec. :rolleyes:

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I cannot conceive of using Spritz for the reading of poetry.

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I cannot conceive of using Spritz for the reading of poetry.

or Shakespeare.

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I guess the difference between speed reading and normal reading is the difference between a McDonald's dollar-menu meal and a four course meal at the Russian Tea Room.

C

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My question would be, why in the world would anyone who read at 2,000 words per minute sign up for a speed reading class?

I had no idea how fast I read. I just thought that was the way everybody was!

My parents tell me I taught myself how to read when I was 3, and I know I was reading "adult novels" (at least Ian Fleming's James Bond books) by the time I was 8 or 9. I don't think I can read that fast today, because I'm lazy. But I can knock out reading a chapter in maybe 5 minutes or so before bedtime, 7000-8000 words.

If only I could write that fast... :sowwy:

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Speed reading without comprehension is useless unless you're searching written material. I took speed reading in the eighth grade, and we were tested both on how fast we could read and how much of what we read we retained and understood. Speed Reading and Keyboarding were the two most valuable classes I took in intermediate school. (That's the 6th, 7th, and 8th grades; it's usually called middle school, but not where I lived.)

Colin :icon_geek:

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Yeah, comprehension was high on the test as well. My main issue, though, is if I hate the subject matter, it's drudgerous to try to slog through it. If I love the writing, I'll linger on the page and go back and re-read stuff just to try to analyze how the sentence is constructed. I just re-read James Hilton's Lost Horizon (which is available free as a download from Google), and I think I blew threw it in about 3-4 hours. Incredible book; I think I've read it 10 times in the past 40 years.

I agree with you about middle school: learning how to type in 7th grade was pretty much the most important thing I learned, and I think in some ways it was the only important thing I learned. My joke is that the most important thing I learned in two years of college was my social security number; that, plus having to see every Alfred Hitchcock picture and writing essays about them. :happy:

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I was confronted in my late teens by books that didn't have a happy ending. Then in my early twenties I read Alan Watts' books, and needed a dictionary by my side. Then came Zen books and the philosophical literature of Herman Hesse and others. The works of Erich Fromm posed a considerable philosophical and psychological challenge, but I preferred them to the then latest fashion of The Lord of the Rings which bored me sillier than I am now. I found examining Shakespeare's plays, a treasure chest of language and nuances with lost meanings just waiting to be rediscovered.

But, I was born for the theatre, as I had an ear for delivery, inflection, and intonation. It still dives me crazy when I hear actors delivering their words without a vestige of comprehension of meaning, or appropriate dramatic interaction with the other actors. Today's film-makers really need to learn the benefit of rehearsals,

Reading books and stories often reveals the author's intent and meanings when you have the time to understand the interplay of the characters' dialogue. If the author is good, even the narrative becomes a dialogue between the author and the reader; the meaning of the words interacting like a fugue with the thoughts they evoke in the mind of the reader.

Everything is music, even the silence between the notes (words.)

I can't imagine speed reading permitting such observations let alone participation in the wordplay, so to speak.

I'm not a speedy reader, and I envy Pec for his obvious ability to read fast and comprehend. I can however take pleasure in knowing that I can read faster than he writes. :lol:

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In honor of Slow Reading (A Rant)

We acknowledge a tradition of Great Books, meaning those writings which have come down to us through the ages. In the Western canon it begins with texts from the ancient Greek poets, playwrights, and philosophers and builds through the Roman writers and leads on to works by thinkers through the centuries. Taken together, all constitute a Great Conversation, with successive writings often prompted by, and written in reply to, what has come before. This is no idle conversation, and it constitutes our heritage of Western thought.

More recently we have come to include in this grand discourse the equally seminal writings of the Eastern civilizations and cultures. These Great Books, taken together, attempt to clarify who we are and where we began and point to where we might be going.

Learning to read these works carefully and thoughtfully was once the mark of and educated man. Developing the skills necessary to read and understand them successfully was the principal object of educational endeavor in many of our schools and colleges.

These techniques might well be described as “Slow Reading” to distinguish the undertaking from that of galloping through a text in order to reach the end of it.

In order for any thoughtful reader to be enabled to take part in the Great Conversation which is his heritage, he must be willing to throw off the temptation to read fast and selectively, his urge to mine a text only for its bullet points, and his satisfaction with executive summaries and condensed versions. He must be willing to immerse himself in the text before him, engage its complexity, and participate in the process of thought as it develops before his eyes and mind. He must be willing to not turn to the next page before his mind has finished dealing with the page he is on. He must be willing to crawl before he can run.


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Beautifully said Merkin.

You describe exactly my experience with the books from East and West, from antiquity to current thinkers and writers.

I remember my mentor saying to me that he envied the ease with which I could access the writings that were so rare in his own youth ( the early 1900s.)

I have no doubt he would agree with you, and marvel at the feast of literature which the Internet provides today.

When you think about the rich and diverse subjects available, it becomes clearer as to why the authorities are trying to limit the reach of the Internet.

It's just possible that we might educate ourselves where the censors would limit not only what we read, but also the ability to satisfy our curiosity of life, love and the whole mysteries of the cosmos. Freedom of information is so very, very important to our continued existence, let alone our evolution as conscious, compassionate and loving beings.

One lifetime is just too short, but the opening of the doors of the mind to new and wondrous levels of consciousness is never ending.

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I was confronted in my late teens by books that didn't have a happy ending. Then in my early twenties I read Alan Watts' books, and needed a dictionary by my side. Then came Zen books and the philosophical literature of Herman Hesse and others.

Yes, I can remember being puzzled by books like this when I was 10 or 11, and thinking, "whoa -- am I supposed to feel this sad from a book?" And yet it's the sad, poignant stories that often stick with us. I just forced my partner against his will to read Lost Horizon, and he agreed with me that the poignant final line of that novel -- "Do you think he ever found it?" -- was very thoughtful and emotional, and leads the reader to fill in a great deal of blanks.

But, I was born for the theatre, as I had an ear for delivery, inflection, and intonation. It still dives me crazy when I hear actors delivering their words without a vestige of comprehension of meaning, or appropriate dramatic interaction with the other actors. Today's film-makers really need to learn the benefit of rehearsals.

I agree completely. I have complained bitterly on projects I've worked on because the producers never thought to give the actors a few days' of rehearsals prior to the shoot. This winds up adding hours and hours to each shooting day, all wasted time that could've been solved if 1) the actors just knew their bloody lines, and 2) they understood the emotional context in which the dialogue needed to be said. When recording sound on the set, I've had to bite my tongue in frustration, because I notice every nuance they say (or don't say), knowing how much better their performance could've been had they just rehearsed. But often, the producers are too stupid or cheap to schedule rehearsal days, or they've just run out of time.

Despite reading very quickly, I'm not afraid to go back and re-read a chapter purely for pleasure and to try to appreciate the language and the subtleties the author used. But if it's non-fiction, and I'm just blowing through the book quickly -- I'm reading a TV series history book right now, and am up to page 120 in about 2 hours -- I'm just letting the facts rain down like a waterfall. That's enjoyable on a certain level, and these are the opposite of "difficult" books since they're just recounting interviews, facts, and history, as opposed to emotion, pathos, and drama.

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Reading for pleasure is not a concept we teach in public schools here. (for those of you in the EU these would be government funded schools as opposed to our private institutions) I remember a few of the years I was forced into public schools because of where we lived. Classes had a strict syllabus, so much had to be accomplished in such and such a time. Reading assignments were like being waterboarded, there was no time for pleasure.

Reading for study is about absorbing the facts from an author, on in the case of a textbook I would think a committee of authors who couldn't write a novel to save their lives. To me reading for pleasure is akin to an orgasmic experience, but only if the author doesn't bore me to death. These days I go the library and check out six or eight books, guaranteeing myself that at least two or three of them will be worth reading. Even reading the liner notes and the reviews by other authors leads me to believe that they are all in bed together and offering cheap flattery to the consumer.

I had no access to television during the formative school years, a real blessing in disguise because that left only books. I liked history and biographies, although even then I chose books way over my head. I tried to read War and Peace in third grade. I thought it would be a story about Russian soldiers, and there was some of that but not like I expected. I can laugh at myself for it now.

When you begin to write at an early age the style and content of a book read for pleasure takes on a whole new meaning. I still go back and reread a paragraph just for the thrill of noting how well an author expresses a concept. I delight in the play of words in a sentence knowing that what the author is saying could have been expressed in so many ways, but they chose these words and not others...and perhaps understood the impact they would have. That is a good author.

I do read quickly when necessary. Never took a class and was never tested to see how fast my comprehension is. But give me a good story, a good book and I slow down because the words are like fine wine and need to be savored. I don't imagine we try and teach that to the younger generations these days who only talk with their thumbs on a little electronic screen. They have become speed readers in a bad way, corrupting the English language into symbols and abbreviations. I imagine the textbooks of the future will look like a Twitter posting just to keep the attention of the readers. Glad I won't be here to see that.

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Reading for pleasure is not a concept we teach in public schools here. (for those of you in the EU these would be government funded schools as opposed to our private institutions) I remember a few of the years I was forced into public schools because of where we lived. Classes had a strict syllabus, so much had to be accomplished in such and such a time. Reading assignments were like being waterboarded, there was no time for pleasure.

Wow, "No Time for Pleasure" would be a good story title.

My partner and I have argued bitterly about this for many years, because he went through college and law school and was brought up to believe that reading is a chore. I only read for pleasure for many years, starting when I was 3 or 4, and I think some of my happiest hours as a kid was spent curled up in a chair, reading a book. I can't imagine reading not being a pleasure, at least if it's fiction and it's entertaining.

But for him, reading meant studying boring law books, memorizing facts, writing long essays, arguing with teachers, and otherwise doing everything you could to get a degree. We come at it from completely different directions, and it's been a battle that I'm glad to say I'm winning. I got him to read all seven books of the Harry Potter series, and he was glad at the end for having read them.

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Pec, your partner is a lawyer? Talk about taking one for the team. :hehe:

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I'm with you, Pec. I read for pleasure from an early age. One of the reasons I didn't like school was the reading that was forced on us was awful, and I was used to reading good books, exciting books, imaginative books. Not stuff like Silas Marner or The Mill and the Floss or The Cloister and the Hearth. Perhaps those were good books, but they certainly didn't appeal to a young teen.

Then in college I was supposed to wade through Chaucer and Milton and Kant and Sartre. Ugh. Not for me.

I admire Des for liking that stuff. To each his own, and it's the differences that make the world so interesting. There's something for everyone. And for me, that's for enjoyable, not laborious, books.

C

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Reading for pleasure is not a concept we teach in public schools here. (for those of you in the EU these would be government funded schools...

I'm glad that where I went to school we were taught to read for pleasure in school. That was supported by my folks who are readers. I guess it depends on the school district and the teachers, and access to a wide variety of books in both the school and public libraries.

Colin :icon_geek:

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Pec, your partner is a lawyer? Talk about taking one for the team. :hehe:

He has a law degree, but realized when he was interning that he didn't have the stomach for it and dropped out, and after a few years, became a feature magazine writer.

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What an intelligent man; he turned out to be a keeper, then? :hug:

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What an intelligent man; he turned out to be a keeper, then? :hug:

Can't drive worth a shit, and we fight about that constantly. But I'm grateful than in 30 years, I've managed to nag him to the point where he does read for pleasure occasionally. I got him to read Stephen King's recent best-seller 11/22/63 (time-traveller goes back to 1963 to try to stop the Kennedy assassination, with unexpected results) as well as J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye. So I win some, lose some.

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Why in the world did you have him read the Salinger book? That's the most over-praised book I've ever read. What's so great about it? Tell me.

C

That's a challenge I won't touch, Cole. But I don't think it matters. I'm thinking Pec is sharing with his partner books that matter to him, so they have even more in common. That's the best way to use literature, I think, for it develops a common culture, whether it be within a relationship or among a circle of close friends.

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