Tuesday, September 15, 2009

How to Read: Tips & Tricks!

I learned from Tyler Cowen to abandon books. If you're not enjoying it, abandon. Abandon with abandon. You'll actually end up reading more, by moving on to something you'd rather be reading. I abandoned The Echo Maker, for now if not forever. It seemed fine, but the prose was florid and writerly in a way that made it difficult for me to concentrate on on the train, and that's when I read, so. I switched to Lorrie Moore's Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? which I read good things about in a review of her new novel. It's kind of like a cross between YA and a memoir, which makes for easy train reading, if not the most satisfying reader experience. (My problem is I'm so distractable. I like to look at couples having private conversations and check out women's clothes.)

John does this a lot, this abandoning, though he wouldn't call it that, and it's less because he isn't enjoying the book and more because he loves books so much he can't stop buying more of them all the time and then can't wait to start them. So our coffee table is always thoroughly littered with unfinished books.

Tyler Cowen also advocates throwing books away if they're bad. Don't sell them or donate to a library; remove the offending material, the potential brain poison from the set of readable things. How do we feel about this? Is this a more active form of a bad review, a refusal to create publicity of any kind for garbage? Or does it smack of fascism?

I advocate reviewing books for personal gain. (Or writing "essays" if you prefer.) It forces one to finish the book and be contemplative about it. This makes you smarter and helps you appreciate other books more. Compounding personal benefits! Benefits to the author, press and public are secondary.

I advocate keeping a book or non-trashy magazine in one's (my) bag at all times so one is (I am) never forced to read the Metro. The Metro printed the following headline last week:

US Poverty at Disturbing Low

They meant the opposite of course, but a "newspaper" can't call you-know-what-I-meansies. That is appalling. Plus, the accompanying graphic looked like this:


Seeing as "in America" we read left to right, this makes it look like the poverty rate is indeed going down. Metrotards.

While I'm at it, how dumb is it that the Weekly Dig has a five-star rating system in which two stars equal "average" and one star equals "meh"? Doesn't "meh" pretty much mean average? According to Urban Dictionary it signifies indifference; it's a "verbal shrug." For the love of God, can't things get worse than meh? I mean shouldn't three stars, which is plumb in the middle of the scale, symbolize averageness or that-which evokes-meh, with one star reserved for the horrible? What happens when the next Howard the Duck comes out? OK, I kind of like Howard the Duck. It's like, "What did you think of the terrorist attack?" "Meh."

22 comments:

  1. I try to finish everything because it makes me sad not knowing what's going to happen. But I do end up starting a lot of books and taking a long time to finish. Right now I'm reading probably 20-30 novels or story collections. I carry maybe 8-12 with me at all times, a randomly rotating selection. I've developed the ability to remember where I left off when I pick up a book after months of not reading it. I feel particularly bad about not finishing it if it's a book I bought, especially if it's a book I bought at full price. Throwing "bad" books away is just silly though—every day people go on the internet and argue about what books are good and bad. (Not to mention it's pretty wasteful.)

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  2. 8-12 at all times? How big is your bag?!

    I used to feel terribly guilty about starting a book and not finishing it, but I decided that was dumb. I'd end up rushing through the end to the point that I wasn't really reading it anyway.

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  3. My bag has two large compartments and three small ones, but it's a regular size backpack. It has served me well for about six years.

    My reading has gotten even slower over time, as my neurotic obsession with checking to make sure if I'm on the right page has ballooned almost out of control. I think my average reading speed is down to about 4 pp/hr.

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  4. (Oh yeah, there's also nothing else in my bag besides books, which is why there is room.)

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  5. I'm a slow reader too. I get distracted and then end up reading the same sentence/paragraph/page over and over again.

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  6. How about "walking out" of movies? It's something I do it all the time, just because i'm bored and don't think things will improve. But so many people are shocked by this, which shocks me. They think it's excessively dramatic and somehow wrong. I even have a friend who frostily told me he didn't "have a culture" of walking out of movies.

    The main argument seems to be, but it might improve. But I say, if i'd rather not be here, i'm going to leave. (Maybe this is why I'm still single, hm!)

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  7. I'm all for that. Though my usual approach is not to go to the movie in the first place.

    "A culture"! That is hilarious, I'm going to start throwing the phrase "a culture of" around more often.

    We rented Inland Empire, but I "walked out" of the room after about 45 minutes. Improve my a$$! You had your chance, movie.

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  8. Any way to combine "a culture of" with "there's an app for that"?

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  9. 1 800 a food culture dot com: There's an app for that!

    A culture of repression? Add to cart!

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  10. I can see the reason for a five-star rating system the nadir of which is average, so long as nothing is reviewed that falls below the lowest star. Why bother to review the second Howard the Duck anyhow? Any popular thing not reviewed would be clearly beneath the contempt of the editors. Or inadvertently ignored. I like this. It's pompous and complacent.

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  11. Very well then can you explain the distinction between "average" and "meh"?

    P.S. I voted for nadir

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  12. Certainly I can. "Average" is a thing that has been considered critically and found to be average; "meh" is a thing observed cursorily and found to be neither worth rebuke nor so average as to warrant any comment about its averageness.

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  13. I know. It's amazing the bullshit an office worker with no supervision can concoct.

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  14. Like a magnetic resonance force image of the herpes virus.

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  15. I could see not finishing a book (I rarely do), but why would you ever throw it away? I have many books that I have tried to read, hated, then come back to after years. ie.. Pound's Cantos and Basil Bunting, even Wallace Stevens. What if I had simply thrown Harmonium in the trash after some undergraduate fit of "taste"?

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  16. I'm glad you returned to Wallace Stevens. I think I have a sense though (call it arrogance) of the difference between something truly being trash-worthy and me just not being ready for it yet. I wouldn't feel bad about tossing Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul, e.g. But I had To the Lighthouse around for at least six or seven years before I finally read it. As a kid I was always buying classics that were over my head.

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  17. See, I never know if the reason I'm dragging my feet with a book is because it's bad or because I'm just being lazy. I've been on Sentimental Education for, I don't know, more than a year, and I've only gotten through about 90 pages. I actually find it hard to get past 100 pages in anything pre-20th century, but I know that's my problem, not the books'.

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  18. I read way more books from the 20th and 21st centuries too. John used to try to get me to read the "Canon" but I'd get really pissy. Agreed, it's my problem, but a lot of people have the opposite bias and hate everything new.

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  19. I love a lot of 20th & 21st century books, but I love a lot of pre-20th century books, too. I've sort of given up trying to 'force' people to read things they're not into, but I do think it's a shame when anyone's mind is closed to something (particularly mine, which could be a lot more open than it is ... though I work on it). I think it hleps to know a lot of history if you want to read older stuff. I really do think you become a better reader of your own peroid, and not because you can spot "refrences" or "influences" or anything as corney as that ... just because it lends you a different, more historical perspecitve. And history's still going on...

    On the other hand, there's stuff people just can't get into; I still can't read Jane Austin, for example. I just can't make myself care.

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  20. Jane Austin? What is that a store on Guadalupe

    ba-dum-CHHH

    Sorry

    I wish I could take a pill and be more well-read, I'm too old to actually read everything at this point unless someone becomes my benefactor.

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