Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Time Management Tuesday: Forget About Reading Every Word

Okay, as I was saying back before we were interrupted by a hurricane, writers, like people in any other field of work, need to do a lot of professional reading. How can we find/make time to do it all?

Well, maybe we should be looking at this problem differently. Instead of finding/making time to read, maybe we should be trying to read differently so we can read more in whatever time we have.

Iin his book How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read, Pierre Bayard actually writes about reading, not about not reading. He's talking about acquiring knowledge about how a book relates to the rest of the world. When writers are reading for professional reasons, to a great extent that is what we're trying to do. More specifically, even, we're trying to acquire knowledge about how a journal, editor, agent, or other author--whatever we're reading about--relates to us. How can we use this information in our work, our lives? We don't need to read every word in order to do that. We can hunt for specific info and then zone in on that material that is really necessary to us.

Bayard talks in his book about different types of what he calls not reading but, of course, I would say he is talking about just the opposite. Two of the types of reading are skimming and collecting info about the book through reading about a book rather than the book, itself. For instance, there's info all over the Internet about Bayard's How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read. You can get a lot of  information about it. If you have nearly two hours to kill, you can hear him speak and not have to read anything at all. (But two hours is a long time for those of us who struggle with time.) You can benefit from his ideas without having to read every word of the book that contains them. Or even any word at all.

Bayard also talks about books we've read and forgotten about. For example, I can't remember if Bayard says what percentage of what we read we actually retain. A quote from his book at 3:17 am describes our retention as "in truth no more than a few fragments afloat, like so many islands, on an ocean of oblivion." You get the idea. Does this suggest that we really should be reading more of what we read in the hopes of remembering a better percentage or that we should be reading less and looking for the important stuff, those "few fragments" that will stick with us? You choose.

A case in point: Several summers back I read The Art of the Short Story by Dana Gioia and R.S. Gwynn. I can guarantee you I didn't read every word. Now I can't remember most of the authors I was excited about at the time. What I remember is Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis. I read it in my sun room in the evenings. To have culled just that memorable experience from that book is worth everything I've forgotten and if it had been all I'd read of that book, it would have been enough.

So, if you've been skimming this blog post (and if you were, good for you), the point here is to think about your definition of "reading."  Are you going to insist that reading means reading every word and completing every piece of writing you encounter? Or are you going to sometimes define reading as acquiring information that you need, for whatever reason?

If the latter, consider:

1. Skimming, particularly nonfiction or anthologies from which you are looking for particular kinds of information. When you find what you're seeking, you can always slow down and start giving more attention to detail. Personally, I will also often skim fictional works that I don't care for but feel a responsibility to familiarize myself with. (I'm thinking of you, last Harry Potter book, whatever the heck you were called.) I refers to such books as "skimmers."

2. Reading articles as well as reviews about a book you're interested in. This will help you decide whether or not you should dedicate time to the book, itself, and particularly in the case of nonfiction it could provide you with the information you need on some particular subject so that you don't need to read the entire book at all.

1 comment:

noochinator said...

And with DVD movies that have slow spots, putting the subtitles on and fast forwarding on 2X or 4X allows you to follow the story while getting through poorly paced sections. Great speed reading practice too!