Monday, May 11, 2009

Reading with Dewey

Patched-up blog migration complete! Moving on to other topics.

Every book and article I read about becoming a better writer advises reading lots of books. And not just books within the genre I want to write, but across all genres and categories. Fiction and non-fiction.

I don't have a problem reading all sorts of different fiction books, but I've never sought out the non-fiction bookshelves looking for recreational reading. I've only ventured to that part of the library for research purposes.

I started thinking about the vast collection of books I've never explored and I decided to delve into them systematically, starting with 001. So I checked out the very first book on the shelf in the non-fiction section and took it home. It looked interesting - theories on American thinking, titled The opening of the American mind : canons, culture, and history - and I thought I'd enjoy reading it. I put the book in the To Be Read pile on my desk with the others and four weeks later I realized it was overdue and I had never even picked it up.

I returned the late book , paid my fee and thought that was the end of my grand ambition. But a few weeks later I was back in the library picking up more fiction and the non-fiction section started beckoning to me to partake of all it had to offer.

I went back to 001 and grabbed another title off the shelf, Eureka! 81 Key Ideas Explained. Then I thought if I wanted to really make progress on this goal I was going to need to check out more than one book at a time. In the 002 section my library only had 3 choices on the shelf. I chose the tiny 67-page option, Caring for Your Books, rather than one of the 300 page volumes next to it. In the 003 section I had a few more choices so I picked the title that seemed most accessible, Fuzzy Logic, not mine that's actually the title of the book.

Once at home I picked up the smallest of my three selections and skipped through it in an afternoon. And I even squeezed in a nap. This was already going much better than my first attempt. Then a few days later I picked up the next book thinking I'd be able to breeze through this one as well. It was only 242 pages describing 81 key ideas. Short chapters equal fast reading, I thought.

But then as I read I got slowed down by the philosophical ideas being explained. I found it's really impossible to speed-read philosophy. Philosophy is weight-lifting for the brain - slow and painful, but builds a stronger muscle.

I began to ask myself - what constitutes reading a book? Can I skim or is that cheating? How much do I have to read? Every page or three quarters of the book or two thirds or how about just half? Anything less than all of the book felt like 'cheating'. So I started to plod through it hoping to pick up some speed as my brain got stronger.

But what's my rush? Maybe I speed through life too fast and it's time to learn how to slow down. So I'm going to renew my 001 book and read every page before I move on to the next one.

Anyone want to read along with Dewey and me?


  1. You should read Going to See the Elephant - the main character judges every work of fiction on the first sentence and never reads anything else!

  2. Sounds like an interesting challenge. There are a lot of books out there. Could be fun. I will cheer you on from the sides.