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Just Read the Book Already (slate.com)
262 points by howsilly 8 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 194 comments



I've gone from reading 10 books a year to reading 25+ books a year over the last few years. Mostly I've cut down on my screen time. I am on a computer all day for work but once I go home I try to spend as little time as possible on a computer.

What do I do now? Come home, do yoga for 15-30 minutes, make tea, meditate for 10 minutes, read for 15 - 50 minutes. Then I'll allow myself to do other things that may occupy my time.

I'll admit that as a single man without kids I have a lot more freedom over my schedule but this is very similar to my morning routine. At the minimum I've got 30 minutes of reading and 20 minutes of meditation in my day every day. This has done wonders for my ADD brain.

The other big thing is focuses on books I know I'll enjoy. For me that means Sci-Fi fiction novels and Magical Realism books. Also if I find myself not wanting to pick up the book then I'll move on from it.

Right now I'm reading alternating Murakami book, Vonnegut books, and books from The Sparrow (Mary Doria Russell) series. Are they all at the level or War and Peace? No. But I enjoy them and that's what maters.

P.S. I've got a kindle paperwhite which is IMO the best e reading device I've ever used. It sits in my draw while paper stack up around my house and near my bedside. It just doesnt feel the same. It's great for when I'm going to be traveling and need a few novels but dont have the space in my travel bag.


Getting an e-ink reader is the reason I've had a similar boost in reading hours, also over the last few years.

The thing's fantastic. I don't even mind the low dpi, or the delayed responsiveness (it's not slower than turning a paper page). I bring it with me and read anywhere. It does not have the attention seeking alerts nor the eye-straining of a back-lighted smartphone.

There's under a dozen simultaneous books I'm reading at any given time, spanning both fiction and non-fiction, and have already put 1500+ hours on it (the device has nifty time tracking stats!). To me it's about the niftiest piece of consumer tech the industry has put out the past two decades.


Yes, I recently got a Kobo Aura One. At 7.8" and high resolution screen it is not much different from reading a largish pocket book. Also being able to read in the dark without disturbing the wife, thanks to screen back light is also a big plus.

But even with bigger screen and higher resolution than most e-ink readers, it is still a bit small to read most magazines comfortably, which was a bit of a disappointment to me.

I read some ebooks on my phone before, but as you say, it does not compare. You have constant distractions and reading on a phone / tablet outside in daylight is no fun.


I have a Kobo Aura One too -- it's really a fantastic device. Waterproof (bathtime reading), large screen and "open" to all e-book formats. I used to have a Kindle but felt like I was reading a book on a postage stamp.


Smartphones are great for books, but you need an OLED screen (and hence no backlight). I was a very early adopter of eInk tech - got into it when Chinese started making the first affordable alternatives to the very first Kindle. It was great, but eventually, the smartphone won out of sheer convenience - it's always there in the pocket with me, so whenever I have to wait on the go, I can just whip it out and continue reading.


Yes - I wish I enjoyed my kindle paperwhite more because it is so incredibly useful. It's so useful because although I havnt touched it in months I'm sure it still has a 50%+ charge.


Battery life is mindblowing too! E-ink wastes so little electricity, that a single charge may last me two or three months.


I’m also reading more books than I ever have — and I have kids. Partly it’s because the library is a fun thing for us to do as a family, but also because it’s easier for me to wind down with a book than a screen when they go to bed.

I tend to check out more books than I’ll actually read, looking for the ones that really grab me; I read those through to completion. The ones that change me fundamentally, I buy a copy to hold on to.

I did the Marie Kondo discarding thing with books a couple of years back and it opened up a lot of shelf space; it’s very useful for keeping an always rotating stack of books from the library.


I just joined the library near me (Shout out for the incredible Harold Washington Library in Chicago!) and I've realized that It's a great way to test books out from authors I don't know about. It's also great for e books as you can check them out without even going to the library.


If I had to decide between keeping my iPhone and keeping ky paperwhite, I just might go paperwhite.

And I write iOS apps for a living.


I've got a venerable kobo touch. Rocking 2000 hours ;)


I don't read a lot because I have ADHD which makes it hard to focus. Do you also have that problem?


I had a problem focusing on reading until I started just listening to books on Audible while doing chores or taking walks. The physical activity occupies my mind enough to allow me to focus on the content.


Same here. I listen while driving, cleaning, and walking my dogs and am able to focus much better on the content of the book. I went from struggling to finish 3-5 paper books per year to completely finishing 20-30 audiobooks per year. I am often disappointed with the limited selection on Audible for things I am interested in, though.


I read epub and let my phone read them to me using TTS.


Are you happy with the voice? Would you be able to listen to it for 2-3 hours straight or would the computer voice become grating?


Try ivona tts kendra voice. It was available on play store but not anymore so you'll have to workaround to install it.


I use the Samsung voice. It's great. I don't really like the voice actin in audiobooks. I just want to hear the story. The google one is tolerable, but Samsung's is super nice.


I've got ADD and have difficulties reading from time to time because of it. Do you have a meditation practice at all? I do 10 minutes every morning with an app called, "simply being" and 10 minutes at night. It's changed my life. It took the constantly running internal monologue and slowed it down and/or quieted it a bit for me. I'm able to focus in on things a little better now which has helped a lot.

I also know that it takes me a few pages to really get into a book. I read all of Lovecraft's works in college. I had to set aside 45 minutes for reading time. The first 5-10 I would struggle but then eventually something would click and I would be locked into the book. If I took a few days off it was harder to lock in. I think sometimes reading is like getting on board with someone else's internal monologue or at least the characters via the authors writing style and that can be difficult for people with ADD.


I gradually stopped reading books over a period of years. I didn't really know why. Then I got progressive eyeglasses, and suddenly I was reading again.

Apparently, I had stopped reading because it was getting hard to see the words, a process so slow I didn't notice it.


I had this problem but it's ok now. Meditation or yoga before reading is helpful for me. It stops the constant flow of thought so it is easier to read after. And also, I don't force myself to read books I don't like


For fiction I read e-books.

However for all technical books, things like O’Reilly, No Starch, etc, I always buy physical. The decision to do that has very much 10x my learning. Even when it comes to long documentation (MySQL is an astounding 5,000+ pages) I’ll usually print out portions to cover if it’s reasonable.

I don’t know why this has increased my learning so much. The best I can come up with is that memory is based on some kind of spatial geography + other stuff. As I’m working on something, like configuring a CentOS server to a lengthy CIS Security Benchmark, I can recall in books what the page looked like, where I was when I read it, the feel of the page, and the part of the text I underlined in pen. Very strange.


I tend to prefer PDFs for technical books because it has a search feature. Most of the time I'm not reading a 1200 page technical reference cover to cover and of course Indexes aren't always comprehensive.


For books I'm trying to learn and retain from, like a textbook or a technical book it really helps me to take notes, underline, highlight, write questions, etc in the book itself. I think it both helps me retain it better the first time and then allows me to review the text later and get more out of it.


I find myself often marking up e-books a lot more


Literally the opposite of me. eBooks are searchable, paper books are not. I don't need to search a novel for a particular phrase, but I certainly do for a textbook.


With real books I find it easy to remember where in the book and what part of the page whatever I read was on, plus I find I'm much more likely to actually sit down and read offline.


Yeah, the spatial aspect of books is definitely a factor in why its easier for you (and just about everyone probably) to learn from physical texts than current electronic texts.

For myself, though, it's just not resource efficient to use physical copies of all the technical documentation I read. For example, I'm learning Vulkan right now, and there's just 0% chance I'm going to print out 1300+ pages of documentation that's liable to change a few times a year in subtle ways.

Then again, just thinking about it now, maybe specifically printing out just the diffs when the spec changes could make it easier to stay up to date?


I like physical books for textbooks because they do much better with illustrations and tables and are far easier to flip back and forth in. For anything I"m going to read sequentially pretty strictly I'll go with an e-book.


In my current job I have a lot of downtime, which means I can do whatever I want for a few hours a day. I try to read but I find it so difficult. I don't know what it is about reading ebooks but I can't hold my attention on them for more than a few minutes at a time. I have a few physical books in my desk that I can focus on very well, but they aren't the ones I need right now. Considering ebooks are typically half the cost of physical books (also that most ebooks can be obtained for 'free' through some medium), it's hard to pull the trigger on getting a physical copy.


If you buy from Amazon, some books fall under their "Matchbook" program, where if you buy the paper copy you receive the ebook version for free or small additional cost ($2-3).


O'Reilly used to do this until they ditched their online store


Just to make sure, have you tried an E Ink display? They really make the difference for me. They look very much like paper and ink.


Also the devices are really designed to foster reading and not flitting around.


E-Books may be half the cost of retail books, but there are lots of used books out there at much less than half. Or, free books to read from your local library.

Obviously this doesn't applies to all new books, but if you're willing to read older books, there's a lot to read for relatively little cost.


I'm the same.

I still buy textbooks to this day because I find it far easier to absorb technical information from that medium.


> for all technical books, things like O’Reilly, No Starch, etc, I always buy physical

Same here. I always feel odd when I'm reading a physical book at my desk, though, since I've never, ever, not even once in 25 years, seen anybody else actually reading a book - not even the ones who have a shelf full of them at their desks.


Where on earth do you work? Everyplace I've ever worked (over the last 15-20 years), people constantly close their doors and read.


Door? Wow, I just wish I had my cubicle walls back again.


Where do you work that has doors?


I would never in a million years even consider working someplace that doesn't.


Honest question - how do you have that flexibility? I'm qualified as hell - or at least, I look really good on paper. Yet I probably have at least a 3-to-1 rejection ratio for jobs that I'm insanely qualified for. As much as they go on about a "tech labor shortage", I feel pretty grateful when I find full time work because I get turned down so often - plus, I feel like even if I demanded (the quiet that I actually need to work effectively but who cares, right?), they could rescind that at any moment and I'd be left choosing between quitting and being unemployed again or just gritting my teeth and taking what they dish out.


In Silicon Valley, I've only seen offices for all employees at Microsoft's Mountain View campus.


The issue I've found is that my primary reading device is my Kindle Paperwhite, however for many technical books, that screen size is just not big enough. The net result is that code examples are often too tiny to easily read. Particularly when reading at night with dimmer brightness settings.


For me it depends on whether the subject matter requires flipping back through pages a lot.


It's easy to blame the internet, but for me the biggest reason why my deep reading capacities suffered was college. If every semester you have to grind thousands of pages, the art of skimming and superficial reading is necessary survival tool. Writing papers with short deadlines quickly leads to fishing for quotes and references in source material. After few hard years of college it's difficult to get back to old reading habits, even if it's just fiction in leisure time.


My reading habits suspended during college for skim culture, and rebounded every break from school and fully recovered after graduation.


For me it was even earlier, forced to read absurd amounts of very boring textbook material for early school. Put me off reading for life, just like an abusive piano teacher would for music.


Problem I have with books is that it's much harder to justify the "time" to get lost in books. When I was a kid, I was near the top of the school's reading program and devoured books. But now, when I do have time on vacation or sick, I'd almost much rather read something that's educational-ish. It's hard to justify the X hours falling into a fantasy world, though it's still almost as fun as it used to be.

Practically I think I have more "ties" to the real world, with a job, family, etc, and it's harder for me to stop worrying about those things long enough to slip inside the mind of a character in a book.


Be careful with that. It's easy to get overwhelmed when you least expect it. Let yourself relax and get lost on occasion. It will do wonders for your mental health.


> It's easy to get overwhelmed when you least expect it.

I am in process of learning this the hard way. Too much stress built up has lead to lots of physical manifestations.


If you have to justify it, you're doing it wrong. Your free time is your playground. Take half an hour -- or ten minutes -- each day and enjoy those fantasy worlds. They might refresh you.


A problem with fantasy worlds is the escapism is mild, and I develop something like tolerance to it. The tolerance effect makes finishing very long fantasy books / trilogies slow, since it causes me to put them down in the middle if the story slows down at any point. Once I've put it down for a few days, the mild escapism isn't enough to pull me back and I start losing touch with the characters and plot. I experience something like that with video games as well.


This got out of hand. TL; DR: If the fantasy novels you're reading don't work for you, try different styles or even different genres. We don't all have to read the same books.

I'd disagree strongly that fantasy novels have only mild escapism, but that leads me to this point: It sounds more like you need a different genre of book or style of writing. Fantasy may just not be engaging for you, or maybe you need something less Tolkien/Robert Jordan/Steven Erikson style. Something more escapist/lighthearted (Brandon Sanderson is good, R.A. Salvatore's Forgotten Realms novels are good, L.E. Modesitt Jr's Imager series, etc.). Or vice/versa - escapism may just not work for you, in which case something more thoughtful like Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen may be worth trying.

I will say I've rarely put down a fantasy series in the middle the way you've mentioned. Scifi will get me to do that though - I have the entire Mars trilogy on my bookshelf, but I've only read half of the first book - it's just too dry for me (and, frankly, I dislike the author's style. Revealing plot points near the beginning of the novel was a very poor choice). On the other hand, I very much enjoy the Culture novels, and Peter Hamilton's work.

For other unrelated genres: I really don't do mystery novels at all, as they don't interest me. Alternate history, I quite enjoy (at least Harry Turtledove's work- I can't say I've read much else)

Incidentally, there's one other thing that just kind of happens, but avoids me avoid dropping a novel - I rarely start a new series with only a short time to read. Get 15 minutes in to a series and go away for the day, and you may not feel that it's interesting enough to come back. Get an hour in, and usually that's not a problem.


If you want to try SciFi that draws you into a world like fantasy, strong recommend for the Ringworld series!


Hard disagree there.

Your 'free' time is valuable currency, and every minute must be invested as productively as possible, or you'll lose to someone else who does in this kill or die monkey knife fight economy [https://slatestarcodex.com/2014/07/30/meditations-on-moloch/].

(edit: corrected link. Thank you!)


Ah, but read to the end of the essay:

"So be it with Gnon. Our job is to placate him insofar as is necessary to avoid starvation and invasion. And that only for a short time, until we come into our full power."

To give everything of yourself over to Gnon/Moloch is to deny Elua, who Scott names the god of art, science, philosophy, love, niceness, community, civilization. One might add to that: the god of play, of gardening – of reading.


Hard disagree there.

Free time is for enjoying life, doing things you love, spending time with loved ones,... Not everything has to be about ones productivity.

Our time is way too short to spend everything producing things that will likely be forgotten or not used anymore in 75 years.

We must not forget to live life.


Poe's law may be in effect here, especially as I'm unfamiliar with SSC Moloch, but I can't agree with you if you are serious.

I don't need to win a knife fight against an opponent who poisons himself. And, well, we're on HN: as we all know, burnout will pretty quickly put you out of the fight.


I don't think you want to go down this rabbit hole. Free time and relaxing is important investment IMO. My own experience with this philosophy was that it results in heavy burnout. And besides, you never know what you'll get out of a book or a TV show, some of them have been just as impactful on my life as works of philosophy or workout podcasts or what have you.


There you go: https://slatestarcodex.com/2014/07/30/meditations-on-moloch/ :)

I've read that twice now. Just as interesting, funny and depressing both times.


Apparently you think there's not much to be gained from reading fiction. Maybe there's your problem.


Good fiction can teach you more about human nature than any non-fiction. Marginally more knowledge about human nature can get you further than marginally more technical knowledge.


I read about 30-40 books a year but I am the same as you, I don't have the time or patience to cut out a slice dedicated to staring at a page.

Can I recommend you try an audio book? I have found that most of the time I do chores, like dishes, fixing stuff around the place, the treadmill or even the shower can be quite enjoyable when listening to an audio book.

Any automatic mundane task which you are already expending time on can easily be overlaid with audio.

A fun example is that I am listening to "Countdown to Day Zero: Stuxnet" which was recommended here! I ended up enjoying the book for an hour, and at the end of it, the kitchen was spotless.


Maybe you could do history or classic literary fiction to combine the enjoyment with a somewhat educational feel.


I feel the exact same way. I tend to lean towards self-help books but this ranges anywhere from your typical self-help, to dog training books, to biographies, to educational, to technical ones for developing.


I think most people are too committed to finishing books that they start. Changing my attitude about this has made a huge difference in how much book content I actually read.

Until pretty recently, if I found myself reading a book that I found boring, or too dense, or hard to get into, I would just get "stuck". I wouldn't be able to pay attention for long enough to make real progress, but it would "block" me from starting any other books.

Now I just abandon the book and move on to a different book that I haven't started reading yet. It makes a huge difference in my "book throughput", and reading books cover-to-cover is overrated in any case.


So much this. The wake call was Naval Ravikant on a podcast (Tim Ferriss I think?) that said something like "don't be afraid to stop reading a book if you're not enjoying it. If it's non-fiction it's okay to skip for the relevant chapters".


The best way to read more books is reading books that you enjoy rather than just because you have the urge to finish it, no doubt.


I have had a similar experience but I don't blame the internet. I blame my age and a growth of my own critical thinking. It used to be that anything an authority told me was "great writing" was great writing. This of course included a wide array of 18th and 19th century writing. But as I've read more I've come to the conclusion that while writing of that era is full of many woderful plots, observations, philosophies, etc, it mostly is not great writing. And a good portion of the ideas illuminated in that writing have been better presented in later writing. So I have a develop an extreme intolerance for 1) naval gazing in writing and 2) complexity. Your thoughts can be complex. Your use of the comma however should not be.

This is not an intolerance for complex ideas or difficult subjects. It is the same reaction I have to a set of bad instructions. That is to thrust them away and try for myself or find another source.

Edit: A little more succinctly, I trust authors less. I have less faith that because you've published a book you have something worth saying. I believe less that wrangling with your abstruse language will yield a reward worth struggling for. So when I encounter difficulty, I discard the coconut and seek an orange.


Are you able to get through books by Tolkein, Robert Jordan or Terry Goodkind?

I wonder because as I've aged I don't have the patience to sit through a description of every blade of grass in a meadow...


Never read Goodkind. I don't think I could read Jordan anymore. Just kind of got over high fantasy a bit and don't find it all that rewarding. With Tolkien, I used to view "The Hobbit" as pretty good and TLOTR as his magnum opus. Now I'm convinced it's the other way round.

Generally, I'm very much the same. Let's set the scene quick and get the characters doing stuff. I used to see intricate scene dressing as a skill now I see it as an indulgence. There are too many period films, mini-series and series with beautiful sets and costumes etc if I really want that. There I can marvel at them without much addition time cost.


>> Never read Goodkind. I like his Sword of Truth books, the whole Confessor magic user thing leads to some good dynamics. He falls down in his 80 pages of character introspection... For me anyway. I used to reread this series every few years but now I end up putting books down when the blades of grass start.

>> Let's set the scene quick and get the characters doing stuff

Yes. Please!


Wow, do I feel this pain. As both an author[1] and a book-lover, I've been on both sides of this divide. People just don't consume books the same way they used to.

As a reader, I find I have to slowly re-introduce deep reading -- even if I've just been away for a week or two. I usually do this by getting a physical book and a physical distraction device, usually my phone. I go to a place where there's nothing else in the room.

Then I read as much as I can until I feel "bothered" (beats me what the correct adjective is here. "Bored"?) At that point I pick up the distraction device and poke around: Twitter, Facebook, HN, and so on. I make an effort to put it down. Eventually I succeed, then back to reading.

Over a period of many cycles, my reading time gets up to close to an hour long. But it's a struggle.

I don't think I could do it with an e-book reader. In those things, they put the distraction stuff just a click away. Hell, they'll sell you more distraction stuff you can play the millisecond you get bored with the text.

What I'd like to know is whether I'm some weird outlier or whether many other readers are going through this same process.

As a book writer, I tried as hard as possible to plug into a feedback loop with my readers. I ran beta groups, I emailed extensively to find out what worked and what didn't. All of the communication, as far as I could tell, collapsed into some version of "Make it take five minutes so I can go consume more material" Hey, I'm with you, but some things can't be covered in five minutes. Some things require a narrative and background for you to make sense of it, dear reader. What to do then?

(Add: Had one beta reader assure me that he already understood all the stuff around the first third of the book and I was wasting his time. So I jumped him directly to the second third. He was completely lost. I thought about cross-indexing the book to show how each part was used later, but what the heck would that accomplish, aside from reassuring myself that the text was needed? It is a frustrating problem from both sides.)

1. Shameless book plug: https://leanpub.com/info-ops


> I don't think I could do it with an e-book reader. In those things, they put the distraction stuff just a click away. Hell, they'll sell you more distraction stuff you can play the millisecond you get bored with the text.

I have owned some model of Kindle for six years now. For each device I have owned, I put it in airplane mode as soon as I took it out of the box and I kept it that way. (I generally download what I want to read from pirated ebook communities, so no need to deal with an online bookshop’s ecosystem.) It is not hard to avoid distractions of being sold more stuff.


> Then I read as much as I can until I feel "bothered" (beats me what the correct adjective is here. "Bored"?) At that point I pick up the distraction device and poke around: Twitter, Facebook, HN, and so on. I make an effort to put it down. Eventually I succeed, then back to reading.

I noticed myself doing this while watching a movie. Even at suspenseful moments, I press "pause" and pick up my phone to browse around HN and Facebook. After a while I continue watching, but then five or ten minutes later I'm back on the phone.


Video games do this for me. I don't know how kids these days spend hours playing Fortnite. A few rounds of that and I need a break.


> Then I read as much as I can until I feel "bothered" (beats me what the correct adjective is here. "Bored"?) At that point I pick up the distraction device and poke around: Twitter, Facebook, HN, and so on. I make an effort to put it down. Eventually I succeed, then back to reading.

This sounds reinforcing. I understand you have to fight through the boredom a bit, but not sure giving yourself a quick fiddle on your phone is optimal.


>I don't think I could do it with an e-book reader. In those things, they put the distraction stuff just a click away. Hell, they'll sell you more distraction stuff you can play the millisecond you get bored with the text.

My first ereader did not have wifi. For me, the absence was a feature. Still, I now have a Kobo which has wifi, but I don't find it a distraction at all. Everything is pretty slow - if I wanted to browse the web, it's easier to put down the ereader and do it on my PC or phone. So for me, there isn't any distraction at all.


> What I'd like to know is whether I'm some weird outlier or whether many other readers are going through this same process.

Been there, done that. I blame several things:

(a) the Internet, of course.

(b) I am much pickier about what I read. In the past I would have simply said "the language is poor, but the story is good" etc. Now, such things really bother me and I don't want to continue.

(c) I somehow lost my ability to read without subvocalization (actually, I know why, but it's really hard to get it back). Extremely annoying!


The Kindle Paperwhite helps a great deal with the e-book reader problem, and having distractions just a click away. It's useless as anything but a book.


Mabye you're just not reading things you find interesting? I personally find that I only get bored of reading if I'm reading something I've read already or if it's about a topic I don't feel like reading at the time.


For around ten years I didn’t read much, not because I didn’t want to, I certainly did, but because it takes too long. I get up at around 6am, get home from work at around 5pm and then I have daily chores mixed with family stuff for 3-5 hours. Not much left after that, and I’m not good at setting fixed hours for specific hobbies, so reading a whole book just didn’t work out for me.

I soon found that even if I managed to pick a book up, it’d have to be really great for me not to start questioning if it was worth the time.

I did take a few courses related to work, where I had to read books and articles, but I don’t count those because they were part of studying, so reading them had a specific purpose of getting me good grades at whatever certification/examination came with the course.

Then a few years ago I started listening to audiobooks, and it’s really changed things. Now I “read” one or two books a month. Sometimes it’s stuff like Sapiens, other times it’s the new world of Warcraft novel, but both kinds have really improved the quality of my life. I do have two hours of commute each day, where the audiobook fits in perfectly. I used to fill it with music and podcasts, but for me the books have been a huge improvement exactly because of the depth.


Was halfway through an almost identical reply when you posted this haha (also enjoyed Sapiens!).

I think the level of absorption is as high if not higher than reading but I have been wondering if it 'counts' (and wondering what I mean by that).

With audiobooks we're not practicing the physical scanning of words (assuming that's a skill which can deteriorate) and difficult sentences are definitely easier to follow when stressed by a good voice actor. That said I think we're still picking up vocabulary, empathizing and learning which feel like the biggest wins of reading a variety of books.


I’m kind of in your camp. Back when I had a lot of time, I used to read a lot. But it’s such a low bandwidth communication, and books seem to have so much useless filler material. I tried e-books but failed. If I listen to them while I’m doing something else like commuting, I don’t pay attention (since I’m trying to not get killed on I-680), and if I listen while I’m not doing anything else, I fall asleep. Still waiting for someone to invent that The Matrix style “download into my brain” technology.


A year or so ago, I decided I wanted to read all of the "best" books so I found a few lists of the best literature in English from the past few hundred years and read a few dozen of the books that showed up on most lists, and I realized that really well written books aren't nearly as low-bandwidth as a lot of more pulpy type books are.

Obviously I didn't enjoy all of the books on the list, but even the ones I kind of slogged through felt like they contained more... knowledge (wisdom?)

I'm also really into sci-fi and fantasy, so I've been working my way down awards lists like the Hugos. The books on these lists also seem more high bandwidth, with the bonus of giving you exposure to a bunch of different authors who have mostly all written a bunch of stuff that's similar to whatever won them the award.


N. N. Taleb always says you shouldn’t read any books that are less than 200 years old. If a book survives for 200 years it must have something genuinely valuable to say.

I think this is good advice. I try to follow it for the most part, but obviously I don’t apply that to technical material. Still, I bet if you read Euclid instead of O’Reilly you’d end up a pretty good programmer.


I've read some of Taleb's books and while I find him very smart and with very valuable insights, I'd rather take some of these extreme things he says (like what you pointed) with a grain of salt.


And how old are his books?

Paradoxes are fun, but dangerous to organize your life around.


I find audiobooks excellent when I'm doing something that occupies my body but not my mind. Excercise (whether working out or just going for a walk) is great, as are any jobs you do around the house that are >90% autopilot -- cooking familiar meals, vacuuming, washing up, that sort of thing.

(When driving I think it's better and safer to listen to something you can easily drift into and out of, like music or a podcast you don't feel the need to follow closely, rather than a book.)


Yep. I knock out 30-40 books a year through audiobooks. I rotate between NF, sci-fi, and fantasy, and literature.

Audiobooks are perfect while commuting, working out, and doing chores. During the times I'd have time to read a physical book, I read a technical one, a comic book, or a video game instead.


I read a lot on the train, but I find it impossible to keep the thread with audiobooks.


Nothing too revelatory here, but I can certainly agree with the ideas presented. So many of us are used to a constant, reliable dopamine drip while reading things on the internet that larger texts bore us. The conclusion at the end of the piece is right, though--it just takes willpower.

Choosing delayed gratification in the form of good, rich, long-form writing is a lot like choosing a balanced diet. The benefits of traipsing through difficult texts may not be readily apparent but doing so invariably pays dividends for years to come.


I find the new trend of long form articles infuriating. Just get to the point, without all the rigamarole! Is there an actual benefit? Or is it just something people say?


Long articles are fine but -- remember five-paragraph essays from grade/primary school? Good, because many online journalists seem to have forgotten them.

The thing about the five-paragraph essay is its structure scales well to longer articles. You state your main idea up front, then spend a bit of time elaborating on that main idea, then you wrap up. Online articles are like -- they pick a source, say, a college professor or someone with a new book out. Then they spend half the article or more talking about their source's early childhood, failed marriage and/or relationship with their dog, anything that might have a loose tenuous relationship with the main idea. THEN they hit you with the main idea, then they pad out their essay with quotes from the source, whom by now you have "gotten to know". It's infuriating, but I guess the idea is to tease a main idea with the headline, then keep you slogging through barely relevant detail long enough to show you quite a few ads before wrapping up with stuff that relates what was teased to you, even if the body doesn't justify the headline. Clickbait, in other words.


I agree -- I wouldn't mind long articles as much if they got the main points upfront. But the New Yorkers of the world don't do that. They're obsessed with starting in media res with some anecdote that gives painstaking details about the subject's mannerisms or appearance or fashion sense.

When I want people to summarize links they post, it's not because I have a short attention span or categorically refuse to read them. It's because I want to know the broad sketches of what it's claiming so that I know whether I need the extra detail (sorry, "color") it provides vs. whether it's citing a study or argument I'm already familiar with (or is even a relevant point to make).


I heard that for SEO purposes you want to reach >2000 words. If it's true, for now, you'll be seeing articles around this word count for the same reason you see YouTube videos slightly longer than 10 minutes.

Try paying for something that's behind a hard paywall and you'll see shorter articles.


New trend?


I enjoyed long articles from the ye olde early days of the world wide web, when long articles were long because the author had a lot of interesting things to say. Now, too many articles are long just for the sake of being long. And often peppered with animated / video advertisements for products I do not want.


And giant floating headers, and autoplay, and making me look at it through blinds on mobile.


Well that and scanning text for fast insight combined with your current knowledge is a kind of skill. I can't tell you how many P1s I've solved with 5-10 mins of googling and a gut check.


A lot of non-fiction books have a lot of filler. No need to read 300 pages when a wiki articles or PDF gives you important points


This times a thousand. To justify an entire book on their thoughts, which aren't that deep, they write a long winded book, when 2-3 articles would have sufficed. Or worse, the book was based off their 2-3 most successful articles.


I have to agree with "a lot of filler" part of your comment. This must be a result of the expectation that publishers set for authors regarding the minimum expected length of the book. I found that I would stop reading many books past the first few chapters because then the repetition sets in. The first few chapters deliver the core message and then the author is forced to extend the narrative to deliver the expected word count.

In any case, I find reading a physical book to be more enjoyable and effective (in terms of retention and recall) than reading on a digital screen.


Publishers are part of it but basically there's a whole economic and distribution system built around books being 200+ pages. Arguably consumers "should" be willing to pay as much for a 75 page book as a 400 page one for a given level of quality (whatever that means) but they're not. So you end up with a large class of non-fiction that pads out ideas which probably deserve something more than a 3,000 word magazine article into a 75,000-100,000 word book because that's what's required for everyone to get paid (however little). And ebooks don't really change that because very little of the cost is in physical distribution.


I agree, and even reading this piece, I just couldn't. For factual pieces, just give me the bullet points.

Perhaps the the worst consistent example is the New Yorker - I just read, uh ok, skimmed, a piece about Elliot hedge fund. It's many many pages long, but could be summarized in a paragraph, or a page, to add some supporting examples.

But, there's a big difference between reading for information, and reading for pleasure/escape.

I get quite frustrated by information pieces fluffed into literature, but can still find the time for engrossing stories and captivating writing.


I don't really agree for the most part. But, individual preferences aside, the economic reality is that you don't get paid for doing weeks of research and turning it into a few bullet points in an abstract. At some level, people pay for quantity as well as quality.


Agree. There are usually one 2-3 good ideas in most non-fiction books these days. I don't feel any guilt about skimming and not finishing such books.

Another effective way to absorb the main points quickly is to Youtube the author giving a longish talk about his/her book, typically Talks at Google or some such. Or a podcast in which the author discusses the book.


The author's more concerned with fiction


Fiction has suffered the same bloat. Used to be that letting an author ramble for 200,000+ words was considered indulgent. Dune told it's entire story in around 180,000 words, I can hardly say anything more intriguing is going on in Song of Ice & Fire at 1.7 million words.


Dune and A Song of Ice & Fire use very different narrative techniques.

In Dune most of the narration follows a protagonist that navigates the world. In A Song of Ice & Fire there is not a single protagonist. There are multiple characters that are elevated to the same level of importance. Covering world events from each point of view requires more pages. Having multiple characters that are the same level of importance is one of the hallmarks of the series. When starting to read the series a person is usually told that they will not be able to predict who will die. This is a key element of the story telling process.

A Song of Ice and Fire has more named minor characters and a wider range of named minor characters. In my opinion this makes the world more rich and represents a deep understanding of the entire society. Dune deals primarily (99% or more) with aristocrats and their servants/warriors. A Song of Ice and Fire will talk about everyone from Kings to poor fisherman.


That's not a perspective I expected someone to argue, and I'd argue directly the opposite.

I find the older the book, the slower and more waffly (if you want to be uncharitable) its prose. I haven't looked into this at all, but it always feels to me like editors are a new edition to the writing process.

Ironically I usually really enjoy the actual prose they wrote, because it's often beautiful, but after dozens and dozens of pages of hearing about how pious some bishop is you have no context for you really start to wish Victor Hugo would just move the fuck on.


The term is purple prose. It peaked around 1920 or so, I think.

Our aesthetics have changed, that is for sure.


>I find the older the book, the slower and more waffly (if you want to be uncharitable) its prose.

In some cases older writers were actually paid per word. Dickens comes to mind.


The ancients were not paid by the word but didn't think much of a couple pages of genealogies.


Come on, the Song of Ice & Fire books are particularly long, but you're still comparing an entire series with a single book. Dune is a series too, and I'll argue that the quality drops off much more sharply after the first one than ASoI&F does.

For what it's worth, in SF & Fantasy short fiction is still hanging in there:

http://clarkesworldmagazine.com http://dailysciencefiction.com http://www.analogsf.com


There are actually 6 Herbert Dune novels and over a dozen others.


I'm not very interested in fantasy, but the idea that writing is more long-winded than it used to be doesn't really survive even the most cursory survey of literature from the 1800s. Or if that's not your speed check ancient literature and see if you find it more to-the-point.

You're the second person I see in this thread complaining that texts have become too bloated and using this exact example. Perhaps the guy is just a hack.


I picked Dune/Song of Ice and Fire because they're thematically similar.

In terms of bloat, excluding the Tale of Genji or the Story of the Stone, I can hardly think of anything in the 1800s that pushes into the 1M+ word mark in order to tell a complete story. I mean, people used to joke about War & Peace being long and it's hovering around 1/2 a million words -- and at least when I read it, Tolstoy seemed to be using every last one of them.


David Copperfield is 360k. Two Cities is 140k. (http://normblog.typepad.com/normblog/2011/12/a-dickens-of-a-...)


In absolute length of the longest works I can't really tell you. But the style of diction is much wordier and can often be trying for modern readers. I feel bad about this, being a proud New Englander, but I find the transcendentalists practically unreadable.


Dune is about the size of Game of Thrones, no?


Once upon a time, there was a great market for Reader's Digest.


I blame math. In mathematical prose (proofs in particular) every word down to the articles (a/the) matters. Non-technical prose is usually (necessarily?) bloated with extraneous info and many irrelevant words/sentences (and often paragraphs). I don't have patience for that anymore. I skim an article to find the main point the author trying to make and if I can't find it by the mid point of the page, I simply leave the page/article/site.


> In mathematical prose (proofs in particular) every word down to the articles (a/the) matters.

You might like Flaubert, who was a perfectionist when it came to the words he had to put down on paper. From the wiki (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gustave_Flaubert#Perfectionist...):

> Flaubert famously avoided the inexact, the abstract, the vaguely inapt expression, and scrupulously eschewed the cliché. (...) Flaubert believed in, and pursued, the principle of finding "le mot juste" ("the right word"), which he considered as the key means to achieve quality in literary art.


Is it possible that losing one's taste for Hesse is simply a result of age and career choice? Critics, professional readers, have a very different mission than casual readers like me. It's their job to sift through great piles of words to find what's important. I have no such burden -- I've found that time and exposure to the internet have made me more interested in challenging books, not less.


I do wonder a lot about the root causes of this. Personally, I'm working on my Master's degree and am reading about 300-400 pages a week, and still enjoy reading novels if I have any spare time or during the summer. I don't have this issue, have no problem with deep focus, and am a computer programmer during the day so am constantly consuming computer-based media.

What I DON'T do is watch TV. We don't own a TV, don't have a netflix subscription any longer, and I see movies about once every 3-4 months. I do watch Youtube, but not ads...I wonder how much of an attention problem while reading is actually internet related and how much is media related.

This is completely non-scientific, but I feel like your body adjusts to what you train it to. Media and TV in particular train you to appreciate interruptions, shallower and half-hour to hour-long stories. The internet and mobile trains you to however you use it...if it's facebook, maybe reloading the feed every 30 seconds isn't the best thing to train your attention? But there is plenty of deep reading content on the web as well.


In the digital world of brainless games, and binge watching media it is very hard to focus on reading as our minds are being trained to get most amount of information in as compressed way as possible. While commuting on trains of NYC I tend to look around and see 9/10 people are either playing some no brainer games or watching something while listening to music. Hardly would we find a reader involved in his/her kindle or a book or even reading on phone. I am guilty of binge watching a show endlessly sinking in my couch (even while working). I think rather than fighting whether we are reading a device or a physical book the important point is that we keep reading and promote reading to our next generation with all mediums available (book, kindle, mobile, messengers...) and whichever is the most convenient for them.


Interesting read (no pun intended). I find that it is hard to read something when I'm thinking about other things, which is to say my mind wanders into other areas while reading so I lose track of where I am. But on the flip side when I'm fully engaged I have a hard time stopping reading and that can lead to some late nights where resting/sleeping would have been a "better" use of my time.

My biggest challenge has been with what I consider poorly written documentation for things. If I'm really busy and just want to use something to get one thing done, but can't because I have to read the documentation thoroughly in order to understand the special way a particular tool works, it can be excruciatingly difficult to force myself to read that.


> I find that it is hard to read something when I'm thinking about other things, which is to say my mind wanders into other areas while reading so I lose track of where I am.

I do this too, so I've started keeping a small notebook and pen in my bag. When my mind starts to wander, I write my thoughts into the notebook. I don't know why or how it works, but getting the thoughts onto a page gets them out of my head, which lets me focus.


Perhaps ironically, it's pablum like this Slate article killing my ability to read. The onslaught of digital publishers cranking out vapid nonsense and pushing it far and wide means I only skim. This article is 2k words and I've got shit to do today.

The only thing I can read cover-to-cover is fiction. Often documentation and emails if I'm convinced they're useful. Anything else my brain gets stuck in skimming mode and I have to concentrate harder on reading every word than the content itself.


Whenever he tried to read anything substantial, Carr wrote, “I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. … The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.”

100% describes me. Haven’t found a solution yet.


Am in my twenties, hadn't read a book for fun since I was eight (nothing outside of school).

Two things got me going reading books again: 1) not getting that much from blog posts and not learning enough from coworkers and 2) friends I looked up to who read much more than me. Three years ago I forced myself to read 2 technical books. Two years ago I read 8. Last year I read 40 and this year I'm on track for 50+ (33 so far).

At first I could only make myself put in time to read advanced books on programming and architecture. But in time I was able to force myself to read (older) fiction as well as books on economics, finance, psychology, management, writing and history.

These days it's easy enough to keep myself on track because I feel like I'm losing ground to myself if I don't keep reading. There's so much to learn and while I can never get it all, I've internalized the drive.

I cannot recommend enough reading about psychology, history, finance and programming/architecture/management to fellows in tech. These topics apply so clearly and frequently in life/at work.

If you're curious I'm on Goodreads with this username.


Hey bud, I've never lost the drive to read and learn new things, but I definitely have trouble organizing everything I want to be learning/reading.

Usually I have a fiction book going at all times. Keeps me sharp, interested, engaged, even if I don't feel like being "productive". But apart from that, there are so many things I'm working on, I feel a bit muddled.

Do you have any advice for a dude like me? How to know when to read or do what? Especially when you don't have a preference at a particular moment in time?


The first few books I read were from lists I found online aggregating suggestions on HN and Reddit. After that I'd just make a note of any books referenced in ones I read that I liked and branched out. After a bit you have no end to books you want to follow up on.


That appears to be my same problem.


I've never had a druthers to read the Big Novels. I've usually found them almost pointless. Which is probably more on me than any other thing. Always have preferred books with a bit of sparkle and imagination - great science fiction or fantasy - interesting in the worlds built and the characters in them. E.g., Jim Butcher and Seanan McGuire are nearly automatic buys right now.

As I've gotten older, my tolerance for blather has dropped like a stone, though. And some authors blather and yammer. E.g., a certain popular author lovingly details the military details of his space ships, which is really irrelevant to pretty much the entire rest of the book. Wish he'd keep that stuff in his private notefiles.

For non-fiction, I am, when I have the time, gripped by it to a great degree... although I confess I straight up fell asleep the other weekend.

I also note that my attention tends to wander a lot more than it used to when I'm bored. Some of this I attribute to the US national mood; some of it I attribute to Sturgeon's law and my increased sensitivity. And some of it I attribute to the dopamine hits social media gives us. I also wonder about experience and pattern matching - I'm 34, not 14. I've seen a fair bit of stuff before.

Another thing that I want to remark on - the non-fiction world is, simply put, a fascinating place that can be explored at will, to arbitrary depths, at this point. Fiction authors have to compete with, e.g., people on Twitter talking about their sessile spiny oysters and showing pictures of them off. If I was a hair less sleepy this morning, I might have spent 20 minutes learning about spiny oysters - where in 2004 I might have read a fiction paperback instead. So perhaps, in a certain subset of the population, we're all turning into the people who would have read the encyclopedia for fun, with its short articles on fascinating topics.


>As I've gotten older, my tolerance for blather has dropped like a stone, though. And some authors blather and yammer. E.g., a certain popular author lovingly details the military details of his space ships, which is really irrelevant to pretty much the entire rest of the book. Wish he'd keep that stuff in his private notefiles.

What blathering is to some, is worldbuilding for others. Personally, I read all 5 GoT books (the first three were the best, the last two were meh) and GRRM is really good in describing food ... man my mouth always started watering reading those passages of banquets and feasts.


So what I am hearing here is that practicing reading will help develop that skill of deep reading? I remember in High School when I used to run through my History textbooks and loving the process, remembering most everything I encountered. Now (5 years later), I feel this block in my mind that prevents me from going deep on those topics. It's hard to describe, but it feels like the material isn't being absorbed... Somehow it's getting stuck in my short-term memory and not making it much further unless I really study the material.


I disagree with most of what she says. I know I spend too much time online, but at the same time I don't have any problems getting lost in books. Just last week I devoured Name of the Wind (600+ pages) in a matter of days, even though I ultimately didn't particularly like it.

It seems like she has trained herself to read a certain way and then blames the world around her for her own actions. Spending time online doesn't have to affect your reading behaviour, especially if you practice self awareness.


And probably you are missing the fact, that way how you read is established when there were no internet around.


I'm not sure if this is supposed to be directed at me or a general comment, but the internet was most certainly there when I started reading. In fact I hated reading when I was in middle school. It was only in my last couple years (of school) that I really started to enjoy it.


When you are a digital addict, it is no surprise that you cannot sustain focus and attention. "Deep reading" is going to seem like a chore when your brain is craving the dopamine hits it's used to. I've had a lot of success using apps to limit my computer usage, like Cold Turkey (no affiliation). I can block specific sites, apps, or freeze my whole computer on a schedule. Would recommend it, let me know if anyone knows of a libre alternative though.


Short plug: your local library has thousands of books, all free to borrow.

Many libraries let you listen to unlimited free audiobooks using the Libby app (honestly a life-changer for me).


I doubt the cost is the barrier for most of us here. Reading books isn't a very expensive hobby even if you buy them all.


It depends on the books and your rate of reading. I spend about $100/month on books which is often only 2 or 3. I can't always justify spending more. I would agree with you in the case of fiction, as the books are cheaper and better represented at libraries. But non-fiction is expensive, and I read a lot of technical and niche nonfiction.


I see. I mostly read history and fiction. I read a lot of technical books when I was trying to become a programmer but now it's often the last thing I feel like reading.


I started really reading a lot a few years ago and I have to say that it's mostly a matter of practice. If you are used to reading dense texts and not anxious about how many books you "have to" blow through, you can slowly and calmly read a book and you'll finish it sooner than you think. I actually am reading the book mentioned in the article, War and Peace, and rather enjoying it.


I now read on the surface and very quickly; in fact, I read too fast to comprehend deeper levels, which forced me constantly to go back and reread the same sentence over and over with increasing frustration.” She had lost the “cognitive patience” that once sustained her in reading such books.

I had a similar, but opposite problem most of my life since computers came along. In high school, I started reading technical books on programming. Along with my textbooks, of course. Around my junior year, I realized that I'd lost the ability to just smoothly flow through 'light' text. I'd obsessively rescan paragraphs if I'd missed a single word.

About once a decade, I'd realize that I'd lost the ability to read fiction for pleasure and make it a point to redevelop the skill. My last bout was reading everything by Murakami.

Maybe her mind is just wandering, because in my opinion the key to fiction is allowing yourself to skip minor details and let your brain figure it out as you go.


Speaking of unnecessarily difficult, the writing style of this article, by itself, seems to be trying to prove the author’s point.


The article was excellently written and worth the time to read & digest. Your comment is beautifully indicative of the shallow "garbage in, garbage out" point the author made at the end.


I think she has a very valid point, since I didn't finish the article at all, and merely hopped over various phrasea in the first couple of paragraphs before feeling compelled to post here, and then move on to other stuff.

Semantic dyslexia, perhaps.


It's small point, and doesn't invalidate her overall argument, but Hermann Hesse probably just isn't a very good writer, and as an adult, Ms Wolf realised this.


Recently I began reading the glorious P.G. Wodehouse (his books with the inimitable Jeeves and other characters) as a breather from the non-fiction work I read. After a serious day with dry technical work, it's incredibly pleasant to read Wodehouse and retire into the night.

As the back cover of my current book, Thank You, Jeeves, says: "Wodehouse always lifts your spirits, no matter how high they happen to be already."


I think the so-called effect of the digital age is totally overblown. It's easy to write headlines about it and make everybody panic, but I don't think people in ancient times were that much of avid readers either. In fact the general literacy and the average time spent on reading by the population definitely increased massively, if anything. The ancient populace didn't have computers or TV to occupy themselves with, but they had plenty of other games and entertainment activities all the same. Bear in mind that reading and writing was never natural to human beings until very, very recently.

Also, it's true that reading whole books is one way to get information. But plenty of great writers/readers have used reading methods where they distill the essence of the work or actively search out portions to put their emphasis on, and it worked out great for them. I was guilty of reading plenty of newsletters too seriously or reading through whole articles from the beginning to the end, even though reading on might produce very little additional information whatsoever. Now I have learned to better focus my energy: sometimes I skim the headlines, sometimes I skim the first and last paragraphs of an article, and I've already got 70% of what they have to say. Of course one might say that reading books can be something different to reading lower-quality news articles, but in the end time is really limited and "actual work" is something that gets done with your own hands, your own exploration and experience, not by reading and talking. This holds especially true for engineering work. One can't conceivably read whole reference manuals end to end without having actually built something serious with the tools being discussed. That's just pure procrastination, not real learning. Of course there are really well written or foundational books that deserve to be read cover to cover, accompanied with practices, and if one is reading for leisure on their spare time it's also totally fine to enjoy every line of a fiction. But I guess in terms of "getting things done", emphasizing "complete reading" instead of "getting the essence and doing" can be a bit misleading.

tl;dr: I think if there's anything worth emphasizing in this age of information explosion, that is "just get real shit done already" instead of "just read the book and lose yourself/procrastinate potentially endlessly". This is something that has cost me very dearly and I'll ensure in the future to avoid this trap as best as I can.


Reminds me of Bob Newhart's "Stop It" sketch. People with good self control don't have problems focusing.


The biggest obstacle for my reading after I got older was to find books that I would find interesting.

As I had less time, I did not enjoyed filler action/sci-fi/etx books anymore. And to this day, I did not found consistent source of interesting books for adult me. Some manga came close, but the rest I rarely cared to finish.


Same here, ive read between 100 to 200 fiction fantasy books it feels like I've seen every plot variation by now. It gets stale after awhile. Same applies to video games too.

Also once you've read some of the best authors in the genre everything else is just less impressive


I think there is a huge difference between reading fiction and nonfiction. One is tied to reality, the other is a socially accepted temporary delusion. I say this as someone who loves fiction in all forms. I wish I had only read nonfiction growing up.


I read about 30 minutes a day, using the following approach:

1. Kindle

2. Prepare lunch and dinner such that I have about 15 minutes of waiting time each time.

3. Read during this waiting time

After two days of reading this way, if I am not enjoying the book, then I drop it and move on.


>Wolf resolved to allot a set period every day to reread a novel she had loved as a young woman, Hermann Hesse’s Magister Ludi. It was exactly the sort of demanding text she’d once reveled in. But now she discovered to her dismay that she could not bear it. “I hated the book,” she writes. “I hated the whole so-called experiment.” She had to force herself to wrangle the novel’s “unnecessarily difficult words and sentences whose snakelike constructions obfuscated, rather than illuminated, meaning for me.”

"Demanding text"? "unnecessarily difficult words and sentences"? "snakelike constructions"?

Who described the book as such, Beavis and Butthead? Herman Hesse is at the young adult fiction level of difficulty (and in Europe has been traditionally read by adolescents).


I found it funny that immediately following the article (at least on mobile) were the worst clickbait ads “10 questions to figure out your mental wealth!”


https://github.com/gorhill/uBlock

This is an excellent ad-blocker, available for Firefox, Chrome, Edge & macOS Safari. It's well worth using; the only time I see clickbait is when I use someone else's computer.


Safari version looks to be abandonware :/


Not available on iOS AFAIK.


Pity — it works great on Firefox on Android.


> The narrative action struck her as intolerably slow.

> She had, she concluded, “changed in ways I would never have predicted. I now read on the surface and very quickly; in fact, I read too fast to comprehend deeper levels

Here she lays the blame solely on her, but I would think that it's also a writer's skill to hook the reader.

It takes two to tango, and if she felt the narrative was so slow she started to skim the sentences and ended up missing the deeper parts, perhaps the book could have used some trimming, better pacing, or a different approach to present the subject.

I feel that while we tend to read faster in general, we also read a lot more volume than the previous generations and I genuinely think we are pretty optimised to understand a lot very fast.

There is a ton of last century news articles or magazines that are unbearably slow and very diluted. Sometimes there will be deeper thoughts buried there, but 98% of the times it's not, which is depressing.

Even nowadays, there is a cute TLDR bot on reddit, and from times to times reading the original article really doesn't bring anything more than what the bot put in a more succinct way.


I don't think the world needs to consist solely of page-turning books that "hook the reader."


I'd say that in order to stay with a book, it needs a hook that the reader can grab on to. But readers have different tastes, so while you might enjoy slow moving brooding works (just guessing), someone else enjoys some fast paced, packed, dense writing. But in either case, if the book fails to meet expectations, chances are that you'll put it aside before you finish.


I want something different from an Abe Kobo novel than I do from an Agatha Christie one.


Anything written needs to be interesting though. There is no way to escape the time spent / return on investment balance.

The return can be entertainment, practical info on a legal subject, or thought provoking opinions on a message board.

But the worst the text is written, the higher the return needs to be for the reader to continue reading.


So, for instance, if you're writing an avant-garde novel, the point may be to alienate the reader. That's not really "hooking" them in the traditional sense.


Editors have gotten indulgent IMHO, especially if the author is famous. For example, I'm sure George R. R. Martin is really interested in medieval royal feasts, but readers tend to get bored with yet another page filled with food items after the 20th time.


How much 19th-Century writing have you read, man?


I was more comparing to early 20th century works. There seemed to be a period where pages were expensive and authors more often felt the need to get to the point. Novels were considered long if they were more than an inch thick. The Lord of the Rings was considered epic length (it is dwarfed by a Song of Ice and Fire, especially if you count the unfinished works).

When you pick up a copy of Fahrenheit 451 one thing you notice is how thin it is. To Kill a Mockingbird is another example. There are plenty of others.

Now I wonder if that wasn't an indirect response to ponderous tomes like Moby Dick and War and Peace? Maybe the authors who grew up with those books realized that brevity was a virtue and learned to tamp back their natural urges to digress into long rambling and ultimately pointless interludes?


If we take so few examples, we can easily make the opposite argument. The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Bartleby the Scrivener are quite a bit shorter than Gravity's Rainbow or For Whom the Bell Tolls.

War and Peace and Moby Dick are both exceptionally compelling, by the way, and the latter was actually much more appreciated in the early 20th Century than when it was written.


You were seriously invested with all of those pages on the whaling practices of the 18th century?


You bet your ass I was, but you mean the 19th Century


I've recently regained the ability to do in-depth reading. I attribute the final loss of my old since-childhood book habit to the Kindle app on my iPad... it seemed "better" to buy electronic books instead. But that meant the Internet was there waiting for me, after every chapter or pause, I could just go check Facebook or email, or... yeah.

So I started reading paper books again. The context switch into paper is relatively expensive, so I'd stay there, not cutting over to the internet. I started reading serious material again. From there, my spouse gave me her unused Kindle Paperwhite (she reads a ton on her iPad, so she doesn't use the Paperwhite), and I found the Paperwhite gave me most of the Kindle advantages without the multipurpose device disadvantages.

Next, I cut back seriously on my social media. I went cold turkey on Facebook for a bit (and on Twitter shortly after), and I consciously avoid bad FB habits. Nonetheless, it's an addiction machine, and when I do use it again, I realize that cold turkey is probably better.

Without social media apps on my phone, I find myself with a Kindle app instead. Much better!

When I was 20 or so and reading very heavily (I had a job that gave me four hours of sitting time in half hour chunks, so I read a lot), I started a self-control process of reading one fiction and one non-fiction book simultaneously - at that time, to make sure I read plenty of non-fiction. Now, I have to make myself read fiction instead. I seem to have settled that divide by reading fiction on my phone, and non-fiction on my Kindle.

Audiobooks and podcasts have been a change for me, too. I started with a serious audiobook on a road trip (The Order of Time, by Carlo Rovelli). From there, I blew through all 120 episodes of the Philosophize This! podcast. A new job has me on an ugly commute for the first time in years, so I'm filling that time in the car with Hardcore History (the monstrous six hour Celtic Holocaust episode about the Roman invasion of Gaul), and foreign language vocabulary study (Spanish).

Having a proper reading habit of an hour or two a day on average has me back to reading heavy things. I've read a lot of history this year, and I'm currently back to reading philosophy (Simone de Beauvoir and Herbert Marcuse). Plus, I'm managing to dig through a backlog of software industry books, mostly DevOps things I'd missed out on before.

It's so much better than social media.


> From there, I blew through all 120 episodes of the Philosophize This! podcast.

Good recommendation (based on the first episode anyway).


Can someone please provide a TL;DR?

:)


just don't post anything from slate, there is no way to opt-out from their tracking shit



Thank you! This site is beautiful. How is it sustainable?


Amazing! I didn't know about outline. So much nicer than the original. Thank you.


“Readers” are so judgey. There is nothing wrong with reading the wikipedia summary of books instead of the whole thing. I read “Fellowship of the Ring” in middle school. Took forever! Put me off the whole enterprise.


If all you care about are plot details, maybe.

But you're missing out on a person's voice. Prose can be as beautiful as any piece of visual art in a gallery. Not only are you depriving yourself of an aesthetic experience, but also a learning experience. Reading will boost your vocabulary and help your writing and give you more cultural references to pull from (and recognize, when they come up in another's work).

But...if you can't be assed, you can't be assed, I suppose.


> But you're missing out on a person's voice. Prose can be as beautiful as any piece of visual art in a gallery. Not only are you depriving yourself of an aesthetic experience...

Sure, but people who enjoy art don't write high-and-mighty articles titled "Just Go to MOMA Already." "Readers" act like these aesthetic experiences are something that are universally important.

> Reading will boost your vocabulary and help your writing and give you more cultural references to pull from

But this is only valuable if you're writing for other "readers" (which typically you're not).


Literacy is universally considered an important indicator of human development.


> Prose can be as beautiful as any piece of visual art in a gallery

For many people, "prose" is just what you have to get through to find out what happens in the plot or to the characters. A lot of people have a minimal appreciation for most forms of art and literature is far more subtle and unappreciated than visual and auditory forms of art.

> Not only are you depriving yourself of an aesthetic experience, but also a learning experience. Reading will boost your vocabulary and help your writing and give you more cultural references to pull from (and recognize, when they come up in another's work).

I'm not sure what the inherent merit you see in boosting one's vocabulary is. I know a lot of words that I never use and no one I know ever uses. If I didn't know them, my life wouldn't be any different.

Reading is important for writers but most of us aren't writers. The vast majority of us that are writers write things like emails, internet comments, and work related documents. Not the kind of thing that reading fiction is going to help with.

As for cultural references, culture has been trending away from literature and towards movies and television for a very long time. I'd go so far as to say that in modern American culture, you're not going to be missing anything by not reading books.

Anyways, it's not that people "can't be assed", it's that books don't hold the same value for them that they hold for you. There's nothing wrong with that.


That last statement was me resigning myself to that fact. Slightly vulgar phrasing to contrast previous phrasing, which I find slightly humorous.

can't be assed -> can't be bothered -> doesn't hold literature in high-regard -> I suppose - > okay.

Anyway, spice-of-life, and all that. To each, their own. Etc.


I, too, preferred the animated, stick-figure version of Lawrence of Arabia.


With fiction it's not about the one point the author wanted to make like some waste-of-paper self-help books, it's more about the journey


I did not like the Hobbit, but other door-stop books like Moby Dick and Crime and Punishment I really have enjoyed. Seems stupid to stop because you didn't like one book. Would you write off movies if the first one you saw were bad?




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