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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.