Why you should read this article slowly – The Guardian

Are we doomed to read distractedly in the digital age? Technology seems to deter slow, immersive reading. Scrolling down a web page with your thumb feels innately less attentive than turning over the pages of a book. Reading on a screen, particularly a phone screen, tires your eyes and makes it harder for you to keep your place. So online writing tends to be more skimmable and list-like than print. At the top of a web article, we are now often told how long it will detain us, forewarned that the words below are a “15-minute read”. The online reader’s put-down is TL;DR. Too long; didn’t read.

The cognitive neuroscientist Maryanne Wolf argued recently that this “new norm” of skim reading is producing “an invisible, game-changing transformation” in how readers process words. The neuronal circuit that underpins the brain’s capacity to read now favours the rapid ingestion of information, rather than skills fostered by deeper reading, like critical analysis and empathy.

We shouldn’t overplay these dangers. All readers skim. Skimming is the skill we acquire as children as we learn to read more sophisticatedly. From about the age of nine, our eyes start to bounce around the page, reading only about a quarter of the words properly, and filling in the gaps by inference. One of the little miracles of silent reading is that we can do it so quickly and yet also subvocalise, semi-hearing the words in our heads. Skimming is all part of that virtuoso human act.

I remember being taught how to skim in grade school, in order to efficiently read a newspaper. Given that American news journalists – at least back then – often used the the inverted pyramid approach, skimming was a good way to get news without having to read to much, and to know when we wanted to read more.

People who complain about skimming are missing the point. When they talk about reading articles on the internet, skimming is a useful strategy. The problem, however, is when that’s all that people read. I don’t think many people skim novels, though sometimes when a book isn’t that good, and I want to get to the end, I do skip some of the slow parts. Skimming non-fiction books is certainly a valid strategy, because you may not want to read every expanse an author presents.

I do agree that slow reading, or deep reading, is very useful, and worth doing when you read a really good book. But skimming isn’t new, and it’s not changing the way we read. Swiping and scrolling probably have more of an effect on attention spans than skimming articles.

Source: Why you should read this article slowly | Books | The Guardian

Learn How to Be More Productive with Take Control of Your Productivity

TCoYourProductivity 1 0 coverIf you’re like me, you have lots of tasks to juggle, and you may find that the tools you use aren’t sufficient to manage your work. Jeff Porten’s new book Take Control of Your Productivity has shown me that there are many options that I had not considered to develop a system to efficiently manage what I do.

Jeff has been studying and using a wide variety of productivity systems for decades, and although they all offer useful insights, none of them worked well for him. So Jeff developed a system that combines some of the best features of other approaches with his own “special sauce.” The result, described in detail in Take Control of Your Productivity, is a powerful yet flexible way to get all your ducks in a row and keep them there.

Whether you’ve been using a formal system like Getting Things Done or just making do with simple lists and calendars, this book will show you how to improve your approach so you can finish your projects and reach your goals—on time, with as little stress as possible.

Some of the things you’ll learn in this book:

  • What’s good (and bad) about your current approach to managing your time and activities
  • How to set and prioritize both short-term and long-term goals
  • How to pick a task-management app that’s appropriate for your needs (and whether that should be a simple app like Reminders, a more robust app such as Things or OmniFocus, or a super-complex tool such as Daylite)
  • What other productivity tools you’ll use alongside your main task management app, and how they all work together
  • Exactly how to track all your events and tasks, making sure everything happens in the right order
  • How to transition from an old system to your new system without worrying that anything will fall through the cracks
  • Where and how to collect all the thoughts and facts you encounter during the day that you might need to remember later—and what to do with them
  • What to do when you start on a task, only to find out that it’s much bigger than you expected
  • How to cope and adjust when something goes wrong—whether it’s a minor setback or a major life problem

Get Take Control of Your Productivity.

On Reading Long Books

Time was, I’d buy long books and devour them. I’d read them in the evening, often staying up late, absorbed by a work of fiction or non-fiction. I’ve always liked long books; the kind that you read for weeks at a time. I read fairly quickly – not through any form of speed reading – so back in the day when I had a one-hour commute morning and evening, having a 500-plus page book meant that I’d have enough to keep me going for a while.

I like the fact that with a long book – such as Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, arguably not one book, or James Joyce’s Ulysses, or lesser-known big tomes such as Russel Banks’ unjustly ignored Cloudsplitter (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), or Gregory David Roberts Shantaram (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), or so many others – you immerse yourself in a world that is enveloping, absorbing, that takes you on a long journey.

But in recent years, I’ve found that I don’t get along well with very long books any more. Perhaps it’s age, perhaps it’s a reduced attention span, but I don’t find it as interesting to sit down to read one of these long books. Sure, I read some – Richard Russo’s astounding Anybody’s Fool (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), a sequel to his equally wonderful Nobody’s Fool, for example – but I hesitate now when I see a large page count. I keep putting off buying Richard Powers’ latest novel The Overstory (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), even though he is one of my favorite authors, because it clocks in at more than 500 pages, and I never even started John Irving’s Avenue of Mysteries (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), his latest book.

One reason for my shunning long books has to do with the publishers. More and more, long books in print use tiny fonts. This has lead me to buy Kindle versions of more books, because publishers try to keep the page count lower to save money. But even then, I often find myself bored, or at least less interested, in longer books. Part of this could be the authors and editors; maybe that book didn’t need those extra hundred pages.

Lately, I’m more drawn to books around 200 pages long, often in a size that is similar to the standard trade paperback. I can read these books in an evening, perhaps two, and there’s no fat. Julian Barnes’ masterful The Only Story (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) is one example. At 224 pages, with a comfortable font, I read it in about three or four hours, one long evening where I couldn’t go to sleep until I finished it. And I have recently ordered two other short books: Last Stories, the final collection of short stories by the inimitable William Trevor (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), and Upstate by critic James Wood (Amazon.com, Amazon UK).

I won’t shun long books forever, but sometimes it’s nicer to read something that is concise, without Rushdian digressions or Pynchonesque casts of characters. A good story, well told, doesn’t always need to be 500 pages long.

Photo Book Review: Mont St. Michel, by Michael Kenna

Kenna msmMichael Kenna got access to Mont St. Michel at night, when there were no people, and shot these stunning photos of the island and its structures. Often long exposures, he captures this memorable site, its contrasts, and it’s shapes. As always with Kenna’s photos, he focuses on the light and shadow, the subtle contrasts between shades, and the forms and shapes that we often ignore.

Read the rest of the review on my photo website.

Photo Book Review: Bill Brandt, Shadow & Light

BrandtBill Brandt was born in Germany, and moved to England when he was around 30 years old. He began documenting British people, at a time when this wasn’t a common way to make photographs, and published two books in the 1930s. He then went on to shoot photos for popular magazines, and became one of the greatest British photographers.

This book, Bill Brandt: Shadow & Light (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) is a retrospective of his work.

Read the rest of the review on my photo website.