Five Mistakes In Reading

Emma Oulton writes about five of the most common mistakes we make when reading, but if # 2–telling somebody what you’re reading–is a mistake, then Books Here And There ought not to exist.  I always tell you what I’m reading; or, in most cases, what I’ve read, and what I think about what I’ve read.

Ms. Oulton refers, of course, to spoilers.  We all hate them.  I have a vivid memory of plunging headlong in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice And Fire only to be speared through the heart when a colleague at work told me (before I got to that point) that Robb Stark dies.  Only the sheer scope of Martin’s story kept me going when what I really wanted to do was quit.

When I was younger, the only bookmarks I had were ones that I carried around in my head.  I could pick up a book and go back exactly to the place where I had left off and move seamlessly forward.  Not any more.  I need bookmarks, both physical and digital, to remind me where I stopped.  Fortunately, the modern e-reader has made bookmarking a breeze.

E-readers have also provided us with easy ways to correct Oulton’s mistake # 4:  not taking enough books with us on vacation.  Even the smallest e-reader has storage space for hundreds of books; most readers can store thousands.  Those readers also make marking a page and taking notes very easy, a fact I discovered last week after buying a Kindle Voyage.  It’s half the weight of an Ipad, has a crystal-clear screen, and comes with every convenience a book-lover might wish for already built-in.  The top-of-the-line Voyage is expensive, no doubt about it (serviceable e-readers can be bought for $50 less), but for serious readers–those who read at night or at the breakfast table or in the bathtub–the Voyage, the Kindle Paperwhite, or the e-reader of your preference is darn near essential.

Oulton regards finishing every book we start to be a mistake.  I cannot agree with her.  There have been books I’ve started and not finished, but not because I disliked the book.  Other books, those that were essential reading for my academic career, intervened, and I had to put books like Karleen Koen’s Through A Glass Darkly to one side.  I’ve told you before in this space when a book was difficult, most recently, Paula Hawkins’s The Girl On The Train, but I persevered and found that mystery quite rewarding in the end.  I bought a book recently–the name of it escapes me–that I might not be able to finish because, apparently, the foundation of its inquiry into science is laid with the bricks of Intelligent Design, a way of thinking of which I am highly skeptical.  Still, if I can steel myself to get through it, I might learn something.  If it’s hogwash, though, I’ll cast it aside without a second thought.

I’ll cast it aside because life’s too short to read bad books, and the need to know–really know, fearlessly and bravely–is too urgent.  Books Here And There doesn’t deal in bad books, books we can’t finish.  If I write about a book in this space, it’s because, in my judgment, the book is worth at least your perusal, if not your full attention.  That’s a service I owe not only to you, but also to the memory of those who taught me to read in the first place.

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2 thoughts on “Five Mistakes In Reading

  1. No law says you have to finish a book – for any reason. This is more so these days because so many author offer a boffo beginning to hook the reader then falter ’cause they go nothing left in the tank.

  2. Yeah, you’re right. Many’s the book that starts out well, but peters out before the end. Finishing what I start just happens to be a bad habit of mine, courtesy of my teachers from grade school on up. If I don’t finish something (I tell myself), “it’s because I never really started it”–a slick evasion of reality of which I’m particularly proud 🙂

    As for why books falter before the finish line, I think most of them lack planning (that is, plotting) in novels. Non-fiction books falter either because the evidence for the argument was too thin to start with, *or*, in the case of a really familiar subject, because the available source material was so vast that the author can’t absorb or synthesize it all. He or she gets tired at the very point when the publisher’s deadline has to be met.

    As always, thanks.

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