Stop Reading!

cover of the book I'm talking about

‘Classic’ — A book which people praise and don’t read. -Mark Twain

My uncle wanted How to talk about books you haven’t read by Pierre Bayard, so I checked it out for the semester through school. Gave it a lil skim before sending it off to him. It’s actually really interesting (not the content of the book itself [rather dry] but the overarching concept) to think about the sheer volume of content that will go unread. How many times have you checked out a book only to return it with nary a skim-through? How many cocktail party conversations are a biblio-centric whose-is-bigger competition based on lies?

You’re skimming this article right now. AREN’T YOU!?!?

This principle can influence your own behavior, how your librarian finds information for you, and especially how a writer effectively sends his/her message. BTW, skimming is an art form that you should have mastered early in high school, but can continually practice; especially for books written by Frenchies (damned frenchmen!).

  • Consider how you start any quest for information. What is your first ‘source?’ If you answered Wikipedia, you’re certainly not alone.
  • Wikipedia doesn’t have an absolute maximum length for an article, but brevity (a hallmark of encyclopedic encyclopediae) is encouraged.
  • This is why it’s great for the hard sciences especially – the writers are trying to explain complex things in as little space as possible.
  • The bite-sized information is gentler on the cranial uptake than, say, a 450-page textbook. If an article is shorter than your attention span, you’re more likely to remember it.

It’s one of the most shielded non-secrets in everyday life: everyone discussing books and citing papers, though everyone knows that not a lot of reading is really occuring. It almost makes me feel better about being a non-reading librarian. Can we all just agree that being really well-read is a lot like being really buff: there’s a certain point where it’s no longer useful, and you’re just showing off.

This is a call to all the writers out there — write for your audience.