Thursday, July 15, 2010

Reading for Beginners

I just read an article about the art of slow reading. In a nutshell - thanks to the internet, we all read too fast, our minds wander and we are losing the ability to appreciate and absorb longer texts.

I read all of my books on paper - I know that's increasingly unique, but not in Ireland. Although the Sony e-Reader is popular over here, the Kindle still hasn't been released, and with the iPad announcement earlier this year, I think most Irish consumers are still waiting to see what will win before we sink cash into more plastic and wires. Plus, Irish consumers are notoriously resistant to change at the moment.

But I am guilty of a short attention span when I'm reading, even if I don't read any medium that has a built in web browser. I read on the bus a lot, sometimes with my headphones in, and I'm prone to dropping my book if I notice the Sudoku in the free newspaper hasn't been done, or if I remember I have a podcast to listen to. I read on my lunchbreaks from work, which is probably the closest I get to total immersion, but even then I'm constantly checking the time to make sure I'm not late back, or sending text messages.

But I'm not sure every book necessarily needs to be read slowly and with the level of focus that the Guardian suggests - some books have a different natural habitat. I'm currently working my way through the memoirs of an Irish childcare worker named Shane Dunphy, who has written a series of books about his professional experiences (the misery-memoir-y titles don't fully reflect the content - they are personal yet professional reflections). These books are about society, and so I feel they can be read anywhere - on the bus, in a cafe, in the doctor's waiting room, at home.

On the other hand, Alexander McCall Smith books are the literary equivalent of a hot chocolate with marshmallows and a Flake. Where possible, AMcCS is only read on the couch, or in bed, with a large pot of tea and some biscuits, when I'm sure I won't be disturbed. He's also a great Christmas Day read.

And then there's everything in between - any book can be read anywhere, but some are more rewarding when you put more into them. Alexander McCall Smith is a lovely, relaxing, pleasantly thought-provoking chill-out read and where possible, I treat him as such. Alice Hoffman is another writer I like to tackle when I have a bit of free time, because she creates such detailed and rich worlds without info-dumping. I might read Alice Hoffman on the bus but I certainly don't start her books on the bus. I've even been known to go to cafes specially to start my new Alice Hoffman.

Is this just me?

Oh, and after all that, have an Etch-A-Sketch of Elvis. When I go to read the Guardian's G2 supplement I try to bring you guys back two presents :p


  1. Oh, I used to really like Etch A Sketch. I'm not entirely sure how it was possible to do a picture of Elvis using this "machine", however. A labour of love, surely, performed by someone with far too much time on their hands.

    Hello. No, I don't think it's just you. If the reading material is gripping enough then it should be possible to read absolutely anywhere - the background noise and confusions melting towards irrelevance. There is also something quite nice, of course, in being partially aware and involved with one's surroundings (in a cafe, say) whilst submerging the mind in a book. I'm not sure there's anything particularly wrong with such an approach.

    I do tend to agree that people's concentrations have become fractured as a result of the link/click/scan/jump/dash/inhale everything (glorious) madness of the internet, however. That seems a fair enough observation and a few books are beginning to emerge which attempt to grapple with this new development and what it may mean and where it all might lead. I found myself nodding in agreement more often than not whilst reading (on paper, naturally, I'm a Luddite) the book The Tyranny of Email.

    I just have an impression that people don't take the time anymore to read things through properly (specifically on the internet, I mean, but maybe this affects us when we're away from our computers, as well) or make time for other people or even bother to be, you know, polite. The ease with which we click and send tends to militate against good behaviours. I find this depressing.

    And the ease with which we can access "information" tends to make us lazier in actually finding out what it all means. Far easier to imagine oneself an expert at a glance than to take the trouble to learn things thoroughly.

    Hmm. I may be straying away from the point somewhat, sorry about that. (Blame it on my fractured concentration.)

    I'll shut up.

    Kind regards etc....


  2. You might be on to something there, I was just thinking I need to give a book my complete focus, and can't read in distracting environments, but the reason for that is because I get distracted.

    I also have a tendency of not reading character names properly and then they become ingrained incorrectly in my mind confusing people when I talk about said book.

    I couldn't say if this is due to the information age or not as I always needed a quiet place for my reading. Even before we had a computer I couldn't read in the family room.

  3. For me the style of writing always dictated how fast I read, or whether or not I could read something anywhere. You are so right about things changing. Attention spans are getting shorter and shorter. I see it in my own kids. I believe the cell phone and pager are the primary causes. "Back in the day," you needed to find a phone to call someone. Now the phone is in purse or pocket. Even the phone call is dying off, being replaced by "texting." I hate texting. Must people have access to each other during every waking minute? And when they do text each other, where is the thought process? They just fire messages back and forth at each other. Okay, I'm done ranting... great post!

  4. I've always been a fast reader and I enjoy books that are more fast-paced and generally less descriptive.

    Given what I've seen from the kids I've taught in secondary school, I would agree that kids are less used to reading longer texts. But I'm not sure they've lost the ability.

  5. I always read fast... my CPs love that... but I love the slower feel of the classics... just skim through the "descriptions."

    They used to have speed reading and comprehension drills where I grew up when I was in school. I tended to do very well in them. HIgher levels ..

    My DD's biggest problem now is that she is a "short writer" and is penalized for this in essays. She gets to the point. Subjective readers want the flowery phrases rather than just looking at her ability to communicate. Perhaps social media is a problem, but I think it is her math brain that drives the score.

  6. Tpe, I was thinking about how we access information today. I was on the bus and I saw a sign for a delicatessen and I thought 'I bet that word has a German root, it would be such a coincidence if it didn't. I'll look that up.' Thanks to the internet, I now know (yes, it does). In one way, it's nice. I don't have to trawl through encyclopedias for hours to find out a minor fact in which I'm not hugely interested anyway.

    But I feel it could devalue knowledge. If you remember the song 'I Wish I Was A Punk Rocker With Flowers In My Hair' from a couple of years ago, there's a line in it that sums up what I mean 'When computers were still scary and we didn't know everything.' It's strange to live in a world where knowledge is so readily available - it's fantastic in some ways, but I wonder how we'll deal with it. Will we end up respecting knowledge less? If my friend the doctor mentions perforimg a blood transfusion and I read about it on Wikipedia as a result and gain a rudimentary understanding of it, will I wind up respecting him less?

    (No, I won't, because I am a hypochondriac and this I believe doctors are geniuses who know all. But anyway. . .)

    Great comment, though, thanks :) You may like this link too, about embracing slowness in life in general.


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