Archive for the ‘reading’ Category

The Lost Art of Reading, Writing, and Conversation

December 14, 2012

I am in the airport awaiting my flight. I am reading a book. I look up and around and see one person reading a newspaper (USA Today), a few  people texting on their cellphone, many people intently focused on their mobile device (doing what, I have no idea), one person is talking on her cellphone, a couple people are sleeping. No one is talking or involved in a conversation.

I think back 5 years and remember many people reading books, writing with pen and paper, and discussing events with others.

What has happened to our society?

Someone just pulled out “The Economist” and started reading it. That’s exciting.

I received this feedback from a learned friend: People don’t read except “tweets.”  It used to be that young people learned Latin, Greek, and the Classics in high school. Now they struggle to learn Remedial English in college.

Walk while you work! Work the body and mind simultaneously!

March 1, 2008

Every morning I spend an hour on my stationary bike.  I read as I pedal.  I get my best thinking during that time.  I am convinced that it is due to the movement of the blood throughout my body and brain.

A few years ago, on the TV program 60 Minutes, they featured a Mayo clinic doctor – Dr. James Levine – who rigged a treadmill with a keyboard and monitor.  He sets the treadmill to a very slow pace, 1 mile per hour, and walks while he works on his computer!  Recently he was productized this idea, into a product called a Walkstation.

When I have a lot of reading to do for work, I hop on my stationary bike for hours, sometimes up to 5 hours.  Unfortunately, that gives me a very sore read-end.  It’s time to buy a treadmill and rig it with my keyboard and monitor!

Best reader in the world?

November 17, 2007

What do I mean by best? First, let me say what I don’t mean. I don’t mean, necessarily, a fast reader.

A good reader is able to take an article that is above him and bootstrap himself up to the level of the author. A good reader teaches himself new things by reading.

I have no statistics, but I imagine that a good reader can learn ten times more than an average reader. (Do you have any statistics on this?)

I read a lot, but I know that I still have a long way to go to be classified as a “superior reader.” How do I know this? Well, here’s how: I subscribe to several Internet lists. Oftentimes I read a list message and think, “Huh, what in the world is he saying?” I can’t begin to parse the message. And yet, invariably, someone else will be able to parse it, make sense of it, and respond. Clearly that person is a better reader than me.

Do you find yourself baffled by some messages, or are you able to grasp even the most obscure messages?

Who would you nominate as the best reader in the world?


Here is a related blog: The Best Are Much Better Than The Rest

And here’s another related blog: Good Books Are Over Your Head

The Best Are Much Better Than the Rest

November 14, 2007
  • One study showed that a mere 16 composers produced about 50% of the classical music that is performed and recorded today
  • Another study found that 10% of the authors had written about 50% of the books in the Library of Congress
  • Research on computer programmers showed that the most productive programmers were 10 times more productive than the least productive, and 5 times more productive than average programmers

Hard Facts by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I Sutton


I wonder how much better good readers are than average readers. I know that I am a much better reader today than I was, say, 10 years ago. But I realize that there is still room for a lot of improvement. For example, I subscribe to several Internet lists. Oftentimes someone will post a message; I read it and think, “Huh? What is this message saying? I have no idea what this message is saying.” And yet, invariably someone else will be able to make sense of it and respond to it. This tells me that I still have a long ways to go in developing my reading skills.

It may be seriously questioned whether the advent of modern communications media has much enhanced our understanding of the world in which we live

November 10, 2007

From How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles van Doren:

There is some feeling nowadays that reading is not as necessary as it once was. Radio and especially television have taken over many of the functions once served by print, just as photography has taken over functions once served by painting and other graphic arts. Admittedly, television serves some of these functions extremely well; the visual communication of news events, for example, has enormous impact. The ability of radio to give us information while we are engaged in doing other things — for instance, driving a car — is remarkable, and a great saving of time. But it may be seriously questioned whether the advent of modern communications media has much enhanced our understanding of the world in which we live.

Perhaps we know more about the world than we used to, and insofar as knowledge is prerequisite to understanding, that is all to the good. But knowledge is not as much a prerequisite to understanding as is commonly supposed. We do not have to know everything about something in order to understand it; too many facts are often as much of an obstacle to understanding as too few. There is a sense in which moderns are inundated with facts to the detriment of understanding.

One of the reasons for this situation is that the very media we have mentioned are so designed as to make thinking seem unnecessary (though this is only an appearance). The packaging of intellectual positions and views is one of the more active enterprises of some of the best minds of our day. The viewer of television, the listener to radio, the reader of magazines, is presented with a whole complex of elements — all the way from ingenious rhetoric to carefully selected data and statistics — to make it easy for him to “make up his own mind” with the minimum of difficulty and effort. But the packaging is often done so effectively that the viewer, listener, or reader does not make up his own mind at all. Instead, he inserts a packaged opinion into his mind, somewhat like inserting a cassette into a cassette player. He then pushes a button and “plays back” the opinion whenever it seems appropriate to do so. He has performed acceptably without having had to think.


For related blogs see:

The person who says he know what he thinks but cannot express it usually does not know what he thinks

November 2, 2007

It is an old saying that you have to “read between the lines” to get the most out of anything. The rules of reading are a formal way of saying this. But we want to persuade you to “write between the lines,” too. Unless you do, you are not likely to do the most efficient kind of reading.

When you buy a book, you establish a property right in it, just as you do in clothes or furniture when you buy and pay for them. But the act of purchase is actually only the prelude to possession in the case of a book. Full ownership of a book only comes when you have made it a part of yourself, and the best way to make yourself a part of it — which comes to the same thing — is by writing in it.

Why is marking a book indispensable to reading it? First, it keeps you awake — not merely conscious, but wide awake. Second, reading, if it is active, is thinking, and thinking tends to express itself in words, spoken or written. The person who says he know what he thinks but cannot express it usually does not know what he thinks. Third, writing your reactions down helps you to remember the thoughts of the author.

Reading a book should be a conversation between you and the author. Presumably he knows more about the subject than you do; if not, you probably should not be bothering with his book. But understanding is a two-way operation: the learner has to question himself and question the teacher. He even has to be willing to argue with the teacher, once he understands what the teacher is saying. Marking a book is literally an expression of your differences or your agreements with the author. It is the highest respect you can pay him.

How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles van Doren

Reading and writing … (baseball) catching and pitching

November 1, 2007

The reader (of a book) is much like the catcher in a game of baseball.

Catching the ball is just as much an activity as pitching it.  The pitcher is the sender in the sense that his activity initiates the motion of the ball.  The catcher is the receiver in the sense that his activity terminates it.  Both are active, though the activities are different.  If anything is passive, it is the ball.  It is the inert thing that is put in motion or stopped, whereas the players are active, moving to pitch or catch.  The analogy with writing and reading is almost perfect.  The thing that is written and read, like the ball, is the passive object common to the two activities that begin and terminate the process.

We can take this analogy a step further.  The art of catching is the skill of catching every kind of pitch – fast balls and curves, changeups and knucklers.   Similarly, the art of reading is the skill of catching every sort of communication as well as possible.

It is noteworthy that the pitcher and catcher are successful only to the extent that they cooperate.  The relation of writer and reader is similar.  The writer isn’t trying not to be  caught, although it sometimes seems so.  Successful communication occurs in any case where what the writer wanted to have received finds its way into the reader’s possession.  The writer’s skill and the reader’s skill converge upon a common end.

Admittedly, writers vary, just as pitchers do.  Some writers have excellent “control”; they know exactly what they want to convey, and they convey it precisely and accurately.  Other things being equal, they are easier to “catch” than a “wild” writer without control.

There is one respect in which the analogy breaks down.  The ball is a simple unit.  It is either completely caught or not.  A piece of writing, however, is a complex object.  It can be received more or less completely, all the way from very little of what the writer intended to the whole of it.  The amount the reader “catches” will usually depend on the amount of activity he puts into the process, as well as upon the skill with which he executes the different mental acts involved.

How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles van Doren