May 22, 2016

"What's the best book you've read in the last year?"/"Uh... I have not read a book in the last year."

That's Scott Adams (at 22:11 in this interview). He continues:
It is not unusual for me to write more books in a year than I read. The reason for that is that — I hate say it because I've written a book — but most books can be summarized so easily.

I only read nonfiction, and you can get the good bits of the nonfiction pretty quickly without reading the book. So I'm a voracious reader, but I'm on the internet, picking up the best of everything, instead of just one good chapter followed by 12 chapters of filler.
Ah! So it's just fine to give up books and do all your reading on the internet. It's better to snap up this and that, getting the good bits, which includes summaries of what's in some new book or an excerpt from it. It's not that you shouldn't read books if you want, it's that you don't have to feel bad about not being a person who reads books. You can be out and proud. 

43 comments:

MayBee said...

Good.

I like to read books, but I hate the smugness of some readers.

rhhardin said...

I haven't read a book in years because I already know everything.

Stuff I have read I remember, though. Shelves and shelves from the 70s and 80s. Give me an hour and I can find anything.

tim maguire said...

I read fewer books, mostly because I'm busier. I'm the kind of reader who reads slowly, pauses over well turned phrases, and so takes a while to get the job done. Which means picking up a book is a commitment and, frankly, since the invention of the word processor, when rewriting became easy, most books are 200 pages longer than they need to be.

Hagar said...

But the "good bits" that makes sense of the story are hidden in the little details, not in the overall summary

Tregonsee said...

I always have a non-fiction book which I am reading. Currently I am reading the 7th book of the official Winston Churchill biography. Despite the terrible events of WW2, it is actually a refreshing change from the daily news. Reasonable people, behaving mostly like adults, determining the fate of nations and peoples. Much more serious than worrying about bathrooms, or ignoring the fate of nations and peoples. I suppose I would call it escapist non-fiction.

Sharc said...

I listened to that too. I was ready to call Adams arrogant for his response, but now I just think he was being refreshingly honest.

traditionalguy said...

And more irritating is the person who refuses to ever skip around, scan and find the good parts. They actually insist on starting at the beginning and reading linearly. Of course they never finish it. And the good parts are in the end.

Some of these idiots religiously read the Forward and the Preface...and then quit because they have lost interest.

AReasonableMan said...

I read a lot of book reviews. I place many of these books on my Amazon list. I actually buy very few and, as Adams notes, for nonfiction books you can usually figure out the main point very quickly, without reading the entire book. I will then go on the internet to read what others thought. I am glad I am not an author.

Bob said...

Shades of Sarah Palin's "All of them!"

Adams came up with a better excuse, though - - he's so smart he can distill a book from a few paragraphs.

Rusty said...

The devil, as they say, is in the details, Mr. Adams. We are fortunate you do no practice law.
Or medicine.
I am a compulsive reader. Which means, when I'm bored,I read whatever is in front of me. Although I have timed my visits to the dentist so that I'm not compelled to read PEOPLE magazine.

MisterBuddwing said...

As the late critic Stanley Kauffmann once remarked, "If you can summarize a book very adequately in a paragraph, why bother to write it? Or read it?"

Deirdre Mundy said...

These days, a lot of non-fiction is expanded from an original magazine article. And he's right-- read the original article, and the book is pointless.

Chuck said...

Adams' admiring obsession with Trump gets clearer all the time. Who's got time for books, with nine seasons of Celebrity Aaprentice on your DVR?

Daniel Richwine said...

His point is absolutely correct. Most modern books are extremely easy to understand. Once you understand what they mean, you really don't have to read the whole thing.
I first understood this reading another writer years ago. I forget who it was. He used the example of the book "Rich Dad, Poor Dad." The message of the book is "spend your money in assets which will gain in value, not ones which decline in value." Once you understand that, the whole series is just repeating this and illustrations.

ddh said...

One of the main characters in Turgenev's "Fathers and Sons" probably would agree with Scott Adams, but he dies of blood poisoning.

Saint Croix said...

We're an ADD culture now. We've lost many of the slower skills.

We will go down in history as the tweeters.

Wilbur said...

Wilbur likes books of epigrams or quotations. Maybe short essays.

uffda said...

Those who "only read non-fiction" are only half educated.

tim in vermont said...

Personally I dislike well turned phrases. They are usually self-indulgent. Like many a club DJ.

Paddy O said...

How does one know what the good bits of a book are without reading it?

Is the plot the good bit? A sketch of the characters? The mystery?

It's letting someone else tell you what the good bits are and assuming they're right.

Really, all of life, everything we do, can be boiled down to a few bullet points of the good bits. Any movie, any piece of art, any bit of music, any personal interaction.

The trouble is that we don't know what we miss if we don't engage something more thoroughly. This is like all those studies about multitasking (we're much worse at it than we imagine) and students using computers in the classroom. We think we're getting what we want or need, but we're not. It's the investment and attention that leads to a depth of learning.

Althouse, thanks for summing up the good bits of that interview. I didn't listen to it.

Ann Althouse said...

Paddy, did you mean to be funny by writing:

"How does one know what the good bits of a book are without reading it?... Althouse, thanks for summing up the good bits of that interview. I didn't listen to it."

How do you know I gave you the good bits? It can't be just because I gave a bit that happened to be good.

There was also the bit about how he has a 6-pack though he's 59, because he takes care of himself, and a technique that works every time if your kids are fighting in the back seat of the car.

Paddy O said...

Also, I wonder why the Comics Curmudgeon never talks about Dilbert.

It's gotten bogged down as the daily summary of Rex Morgan and Judge Parker over there. He needs to mix up the strips a bit more.

Paddy O said...

Althouse, yeah I was trying for a bit of funny. It was also true. Made for a good example of the problem with that approach.

Michael McClain said...

Hard to say what the best I've read over the past year, it's a truly target-rich environment. Currently reading a fine translation of "The Divine Comedy" and after finishing "The Inferno", I'll give Milton's "Paradise Lost" a try.

ddh said...

The best part of "Paradise Lost":

"Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav'n."

Don't give up all hope, take my word for it.

buwaya puti said...

This is a stupid position.
The only way to understand a situation is to absorb a huge number of facts and impressions, with which to build a useful internal world with any perspective. A good writer will provide this, in nonfiction as well as fiction. This can't be summarized, if the book is non- trivial.
I mention Francis Parkman in the thread above. You can't summarize stuff like that.
Best recent book from last year, a great surprise, as I got it as research for a personal project - Yay Panlilio "The Crucible", Rutgers University Press. I got it as its a memoir, but it reads like a novel.

dreams said...

I haven't read the book but I'm familiar the contents.

tim in vermont said...

Engineer is smarter than his boss. No need to read Dilbert I guess.

tim in vermont said...

I read that as "I haven't read the book, but I have read the comments."

rhhardin said...

Althouse should get Wm. Empson's _The Structure of Complex Words_ (hard copy only available), for essays on hidden persuasion, or hidden doctrines, better put. She doesn't buy hard copy, though.

There's a bit of mechanism introduced that he knows but does not say is ridiculous; he does say, however, look at how far you can get with it, and proceeds to use it.

Mark said...

The best book I've read is one I re-read, having last read it years ago -- 1984.

Before, what made the biggest impression on me was "Big Brother is watching you."

Today, the book is prophetic with "Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four."

Farmer said...

I think people who read only non-fiction are crazy.

coupe said...
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Michael K said...

The best book I have read this year is "The 10,000 year explosion."

That is non-fiction and very densely packed with information so that I have already read it four times. My wife is reading it now.

Last year I spent most of it working on my own Book, which is Kindle only so far.

I usually have several books in progress around the house and read three or four at the same time depending on where I sit.

coupe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
iowan2 said...

This conversation is much like travel, like, dislike, should, shouldn't, benificial, or not?

The journey is at least as important as the destination. I read voraciously, news, trade information, education, fiction, non-fiction, trash, and drivel. It depends on my attitude, and disposition at the time of the experience. If I have an open mind and acceptance is my guiding principle, reading the entire book, regardless of already knowing the core idea, or the end of the story, I feel rewarded. Travel is the same. The journey can be tedium, or entertaining, time consuming or enlightening. But in the end, I am the only one that can influence the experience.

William said...

In my youth there was no such thing as internet porn or HBO, so I was forced to read many novels to while away the idle hours. They ruined my eyes and gave me many sentimental views that were not conducive to making money or getting laid. They did, however, give me a large vocabulary so I'm able to express my frustration with the world with far more clarity and precision than those who did not read a lot of books.

Terry said...

I don't see a binary division between fiction and non-fiction. Why is Moby Dick fiction, but a literary analysis of Moby Dick non-fiction?

Zach said...

You're not really reading nonfiction if it can be summarized by only looking at the "good bits."

Say you're reading about the Russian Revolution. The good bits are something like: people didn't like the czar, Rasputin, WWI, mutiny, mensheviks unprepared, Bolshevik coup, Whites vs Reds, New Economic Policy, Lenin dies, infighting and purges, Stalin eventually consolidates. But that doesn't tell you anything! You don't have any sense of the personalities involved, or who wanted what, or what the alternatives were.

And if you think the Russian Revolution is complicated, the French Revolution is a hundred times worse. Heck, try finding a single volume biography of Napoleon that's worth reading.

The point of nonfiction is that you enjoy the details.

Szoszolo said...

Ah, Zach beat me to it. I was about to post about reading histories of WWI and WWII and noting that there was a little more going on in both than just "They started it; we won."

That said, I recently read a biography of Gerd von Rundstedt that actually could have used some trimming. That's probably true with any biographies of people who didn't leave a lot of records. The authors end up giving us laborious detail about what is known, even if it's not relevant to the bigger picture. Writers of historical fiction sometimes do this, too, because they did all that research and can't bear to let any of it go un-used.

Michael K said...

I have probably read more in the Civil War than WWI or WWII although I have read a lot on WWII.

My favorite is Sherman and the best biography of him is by JFC Fuller.

Ann Althouse said...

The books he's thinking of are probably not history. Probably books about business and politics and psychological, which do tend to be padded.

rhhardin said...

There was a fight over whether the bible ought to go under fiction or nonfiction.

This is usually resolved by putting it under religion.