May 24, 2013

"Do I really like reading?"

"Perhaps it is a failure of attention—there are times when I notice my own distraction while reading, and can, in a way, feel myself forgetting. There is a scarier question, one that might seem like asking if one is good at breathing, or walking. Am I actually quite bad at reading after all?"

33 comments:

edutcher said...

Depends on what you're reading, i would think.

fizzymagic said...

What an impressively useless exercise in navel-gazing. His primary concern appears to be that somebody in the "in" crowd might ask him a question about an "important" book and he wouldn't know the answer. Blecch.

wyo sis said...

My book club regulars and I have talked about this quite a bit. We've been together for more than 20 years on and off as we move away and come back and regroup. We tried to retroactively make a list of books we've read and each one of us brought a list that had only about 40% duplication.
We wonder if we should just retread the books that only appear on one list.
It's surprising how many of the duplicates were books we disliked. Maybe it's easier to remember the ones we took issue with because we discussed them differently.

wyo sis said...

re-read
but retread might work too

m stone said...

It's not existential, it's cognitive loss.

Ann Althouse said...

As I was saying in some other post today, I forget which, forgetting is an important mental function. Don't underestimate it.

Teri said...

Forgetting what you've read is a feature, not a bug. It means that you can read the book again and enjoy it all over again.

Quite economical as well.

Dante said...

Perhaps the words aren't that important, but the meaning one gets underneath from the words. Once assimilated as a part of ourselves, the specific words can be forgotten. On the other hand, that's dangerous because now it's outside of your mental control, and in your psyche.

I wonder vaguely about dreams. There are words in dreams, though they are telepathic, at least mine, but mostly there is a huge amount of emotion and sometimes the scenes are quite bizarre. For instance, in last night's dream some poor guy had a ripped penis, and was bleeding to death. He needed direct pressure on it, but no one would help. So I did. I was vaguely disgusted that the guy not only had a huge dick, but it was erect (so much for proper anatomical functioning). I still applied the direct pressure, even though I didn't like the guy, though somehow in my dream I knew he wasn't gay. I think this dream came about because of Ann's incessant topics of homosexuality and umbrellas. Since it came from here, I'm inflicting that dream on everyone.

I've done math in my sleep, and once in a while it's right, but mostly it's wrong.

So, that's what you get for reading and forgetting. If you let it through your filters, it's going to get stuck in your dreams.

Unless, like fizzymagic sez, the idea is to show off your literary chops.

Ann Althouse said...

If you don't see the value of forgetting, read the classic on the subject of remembering everything, "The Mind of a Mnemonist."

Unforgettable. The general gist of it anyway.

Ann Althouse said...

Think of all the clutter if you couldn't forget.

You'd be a hoarder in need of an intervention.

edutcher said...

Not being funny, but there are times I'm quite glad of the stuff I've left behind.

Dante said...

If you don't see the value of forgetting, read the classic on the subject of remembering everything, "The Mind of a Mnemonist."

From Amazon:

that he solved problems in a peculiar crablike fashion that worked, and that he was handicapped intellectually because he could not make discriminations, and because every abstraction and idea immediately dissolved into an image for him.

Sounds like he has other issues.

It took my kids two or three years to memorize the times tables (why they go to 12 is beyond me). It took them quite some time to memorize the letters of the alphabet, phonics, etc.

So long as the memory is under control, I fail to see a disadvantage, and many advantages, to being able to memorize stuff. It would work particularly well in today's regurgitation approach to schooling.

Dante said...

I fail to see a disadvantage

Retraction. You might be a politician.

Astro said...

Blunt honesty works, too. At Ian Crouch's imagined cocktail party discussing 'Daniel Deronda' he could find himself saying, "What about that book did you like? I thought it was rather forgettable."

I had the same thing happen with the movie 'Primer', recently discussed here. It was recommended, so I started watching it. Less than 1 minute into it, I remembered I'd seen it.

In my case, I'd like to be better at remembering people's names -- and to be better at forgetting the theme songs to mediocre sitcoms ("Come ride the little train that is rolling down the tracks to the junction... Petticoat Junction.") and TV commercials from the 1960s ("Plop, plop, fizz, fizz... Alka Seltzer)".

wildswan said...

When you retire you can become an amateur reader: reading books you like twice or more (Huckleberry Finn just gets better); throwing books in the trash and taking out the trash right away if you don't like a book (The Road by Cormac McCarthy); downloading text and creating new well-illustrated versions of travel books written about 1900. Winston Churchill's books are very interesting if you develop your own edition (Churchill went to the NW Frontier, to South Africa, to Uganda, joined the Liberals and founded the welfare state with Lloyd George, then back to the Conservatives and rebuilt the Royal navy - all before 1914); Charles Darwin is extremely interesting in a properly illustrated version and much easier to read. I think this New Yorker guy wants to say that he has to read a lot of junk for his job as cultural arbiter but he doesn't dare.

yashu said...

"Funes the Memorious" by Jorge Luis Borges

Lem said...

Don't underestimate it.

Don't misunderestimated it.

Lem said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lem said...

Make room, I'm having a memory.

'Over the past century, we’ve seen the rise of the theater/movie class and decline of the written word.'

mccullough said...

Daniel Deronda is forgettable. So is DH Lawrence. Read quality stuff and you'll remember it.

Michael K said...

There are quite a few books that I reread even though I haven't forgotten them. They are mostly fiction but not all. I just get pleasure from reading the passage, sometimes not the whole book.

Sam L. said...

Sometimes they can't keep your attention. They just aren't interesting. Or, it could be just bad writing.

I read a novel (The Fourth Durango) that didn't make much sense at the beginning, but the writing! That held me.

traditionalguy said...

Late onset dyslexia. It maybe a scan-read gear turned on by TLDR articles and stuck there.

The antidote maybe twitter, provided that they do not become a chain twitter.

G Joubert said...

It's an over 60 thing.

MisterBuddwing said...

As I was saying in some other post today, I forget which, forgetting is an important mental function. Don't underestimate it.

"Happiness is good health and a bad memory." Attributed to a variety of people, including Ingrid Bergman.

MisterBuddwing said...

As for the whole reading thing, my problem with reading is trying to hold the book up while lying in bed; my arms get tired real fast.

Zach said...

Should we reread when there is a nearly endless shelf of books out there to read and a certainly not-endless amount of time in which to do it?

Of course you should! Part of the enjoyment you get out of a book are the things you think about while you're reading. So if you're in a WWII mood, you read about WWII, and so on.

Ideally, you should read new books when you're in a new book mood. You should be open to new experiences and have a little bit of attention free to devote to the book. If you're stressed or busy, an old book might be better. It's easy to ruin a book by reading it at the wrong time.

Zach said...

Throwing books in the trash and taking out the trash right away if you don't like a book (The Road by Cormac McCarthy)

I've also had this experience on page 1 of a McCarthy novel. His prose just grates on me as pretentious drivel.

gerry said...

What an impressively useless exercise in navel-gazing. His primary concern appears to be that somebody in the "in" crowd might ask him a question about an "important" book and he wouldn't know the answer. Blecch.

fizzymagic, these words describe my reaction as I read the article. I couldn't read the whole thing. It was becoming Woody Allenesque with minutiae piling atop drivel. One tends to forget stuff without repetition!

If I like a book, I re-read it shortly after finishing it (say within a year). I loved "Mary, Queen of Scots", a biography I bought at a used bookstore years ago, and read it three times in as many years. I remember much of it for that reason.

By the way, I forgot the author! A quick Bing and there it was, still in print at Amazon, by Antonia Fraser.

I love the interwebs.

I may read it again.

George said...

I need a word for that feeling you get when you begin a "new" book and you gradually realize that you've read it before.

I've also gotten to the point where I just don't read fiction anymore.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Re reading a book is something that I do often. I have many books that I just won't part with because I know that they will be read again. My husband doesn't understand this concept at all.

Probably this is a technique that I used in school to learn the materials and is/was very helpful in my work where I had to read huge amounts of material.

First, read the book to get the plot. I generally fly through the book to see what happens. Sometimes I might slow down if there is an especially interesting passage or clever word usage. In academic type reading the first skimming is useful because it allows you to find and mark the important points or facts that you need to explore in more depth.

Next, in a few months for books or the next day for academic work type material, read it again for in depth content and context. Some books aren't worth reading again and are just to be read for fun the first time. Clive Cussler comes to mind or many modern murder mysteries. Fun but not filling.

Later, for books read again and be amazed at how differently you look at the material based on how your life has changed or how the world has changed. Things that you didn't even consider before now have new meaning.

Chip Ahoy said...

Okay I just now read that whole thing to get out of unloading the dishwasher and realized at the end the guy was just taking the long way of admitting he was reading for conquest which is a very poor motivation for reading and I realized too that nobody magically appeared to unload the dishwasher.

But my favorite part is about how the kids are described brutally as kids are and the book a High Wind in Jamaica is precursor and more subtle and frankly better than Lord of the Flies.

Mitchell the Bat said...

I used to hate reading. I only read for purposes of necessary education, never for pleasure. Forgetting stuff that I forced myself to read pissed me off, royally.

But now in my early fifties, I've discovered that reading is like medicine, irrespective of memory. Reading tends to promote both mental and physical health.

I just wish I could say the same about sexual relations.

So far as that goes I'm completely unqualified to express any opinion whatsoever.