Thursday, August 1, 2013

Notes on my version of how to read

I have demonstrated many times that I can read a book and remember much of what I read.  In grad school, I found that reading something interesting or important or revealing or controversial did me little good unless I could remember the source, the book and its author.  It is often helpful to remember the publisher and the date of publication, since different publishing houses tend to have different specializations and concentrations.  When a work was published helps put it perspective.  Something published in 1938 did not have the background of WW II, for instance.

I have had little interest in highlighting passages with a marker or making notes in the margins of pages.  I have sometimes noted on the flyleaf of the cover, page numbers of things I thought I wanted to be able to find later.  Kindles make such a process much easier and can allow the searching of the whole text or clicking to the site of a note quickly and conveniently.  Over nearly the last year, I have developed a habit of sharing a quote that I like or think to be important on Twitter.  The process is aided by Amazon and it very quick and convenient.

I have had a suspicion for more than 50 years that some of the digestion of a good work depends on the attitude of the reader while reading it.  If I am tense and gritting my teeth in determination to REMEMBER, Damnit! what I am reading, I take longer to read and seem to retain less.  If I concentrate on what the text is about and picture relevant scenes in my mind, I think I retain more with less effort and tension.  As with many activities, reading is richer, smoother and more fun when you are in harmony with the work, the author and the activity as you are doing it.

I just wrote to my cousin that two of the best books I have read in a long time were "Everything Is Obvious, Once You Know the Answer" and "Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error".  As an example of the sort of passages I mark using a Kindle, see this page of highlights from Kathryn Schulz's Being Wrong.

I sometimes feel that a book is so rich or so delightful that I do not want to gulp it down.  That's when I purposely ration it out taking more days to get through it all.  Sometimes, I feel it is so dense that I need to take small bites with plenty of breaks between them.

I encourage people to try over a week or so to write down every book they can remember reading, from the Pokey Little Puppy Golden Book to the latest prizewinner you just finished.  It can be shock how many or how few you can remember more or less unaided.  But if you don't remember a book, that doesn't mean there is no trace of it in your mind or habits or world view.  Sometimes, you may come across a title, say by scanning your collection from college days or your parents' attic, and suddenly remember how very much a book meant to you, even though you couldn't recall it without a prompt.

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