Tag Archives: reading

Long Reads and the Stockholm Syndrome

Since read­ing one of the longest nov­els I have shied away from oth­er lengthy tomes des­pite thor­oughly enjoy­ing my 1000-page adven­ture. When con­sid­er­ing this choice, I frame my decision as defend­ing against a type of lit­er­ary post-pur­chase ration­al­isa­tion: after invest­ing such an enorm­ous amount of time in read­ing a book, will I be able to object­ively con­sider both its mer­its and imper­fec­tions? After 900 pages, are the quotes I’m high­light­ing really as pro­found as I think? I’m doubt­ful.

Appar­ently I’m not alone in this, as Mark O’Connell makes clear in a light-hearted essay ask­ing how much of the enjoy­ment we get from read­ing long nov­els can be attrib­uted to a lit­er­ary Stock­holm syn­drome?

You fin­ish the last page of a book like Gravity’s Rain­bow and—even if you’ve spent much of it in a state of bewil­der­ment or frus­tra­tion or irritation—you think to your­self, “that was monumental.” But it strikes me that this sense of monu­ment­al­ity, this grat­i­fied speech­less­ness that we tend to feel at such moments of clos­ure and vale­dic­tion, has at least as much to do with our own sense of achieve­ment in hav­ing read the thing as it does with a sense of the author’s achieve­ment in hav­ing writ­ten it. When you read the kind of nov­el that prom­ises to increase the strength of your upper-body as much as the height of your brow […] there’s an awe about the scale of the work which, rightly, informs your response to it but which, more prob­lem­at­ic­ally, is often dif­fi­cult to sep­ar­ate from an awe at the fact of your own sur­mount­ing of it. […]

And there is, con­nec­ted with this phe­nomen­on, what I think of as Long Nov­el Stock­holm syn­drome.

via The Browser

How to Internet: Reading

One of the first prob­lems you’re likely to run across as someone who’s now find­ing lots of inter­est­ing things on the inter­net is that you’re amass­ing more stuff you want to read than you’ve ever had before and it’s get­ting hard to track. If you’re like I was for about five years, this will likely take the form of hav­ing 80 tabs open per­sist­ently caus­ing your browser to be slow and your poten­tial for cata­stroph­ic data loss to be high.

There are three big obstacles to get­ting read­ing done on the inter­net. The first, and hard­est to fix tech­nic­ally, is your con­text. That is: if you’re used to just get­ting on the inter­net to offer con­stant par­tial atten­tion to your brows­ing while instant mes­saging, listen­ing to music, and watch­ing video clips, set­tling in to a multi-page essay will feel very dif­fi­cult. So too, if you fre­quently focus only on the inter­net, but click like mad and just skim everything, read­ing will feel broken to you.

There are two solu­tions to this prob­lem: change you situ­ation and change your mind. Fre­quently people who find them­selves unable to focus at the com­puter will find them­selves much more able to do so on a tab­let, e-read­er, or even phone because they have dif­fer­ent habits there. This is a subtle and auto­mat­ic way to change what you’re expect­ing on the inter­net without expend­ing the men­tal effort to actu­ally execute with the oth­er option, which is just to put some effort into calm­ing your mind and allow­ing your­self to focus. (Like most things I’ve writ­ten about this weeks, whole books could be writ­ten about this para­graph.)

The second obstacle is in some sense the most mundane, but if one is to judge by the amount it gets talked about, also the most frus­trat­ing. If you spend much time at all try­ing to read on the inter­net you’ll soon notice the fre­quency with which pub­lish­ers (espe­cially those com­ing from oth­er media) divide their con­tent to max­im­ize page views. A 1000 word art­icle split over ten pages is a good way to drive page views but ter­rible for read­er sat­is­fac­tion. There a num­ber of ways to un-pagin­ate an article—browser exten­sions, web ser­vices, and loc­al soft­ware all exist to do this pars­ing for you—but the most used is simply the print­er-friendly view that most such sites provide.

But that solu­tion gets us to the final not­able prob­lem, which is that many pages on the inter­net that house art­icles you want to read weren’t really built for read­ing. Prob­ably the most import­ant way in which they aren’t is that they have (visu­ally) loud ads and oth­er con­tent sur­round­ing them that pulls your eye and atten­tion away from read­ing. Anoth­er prob­lem is type set poorly, things like: type set too small or too large, type set in very wide columns so you con­stantly lose your place (espe­cially com­mon on print­er-friendly pages), and poor con­trast between the type and the back­ground. I believe that these prob­lem are today best solved with Read­able. What Read­able offers is a book­mark­let (a bit of Javas­cript dis­guised as a book­mark) that auto­mat­ic­ally changes any page on the inter­net to exactly the format­ting you’ve told it you want pages to have for read­ing. This concept first came from Read­ab­il­ity, but that has sub­sequently become a far more fea­ture-full and com­plex tool.

Finally, we need to tackle that tab over­load issue, because even as browsers get bet­ter at not los­ing such data they still do. And, as people get more and more power­ful and mobile phones and tab­lets, keep­ing everything on your desktop is ever less feas­ible. The best solu­tion I know of is to effect­ively out­source your tabs. Send all of them off to a book­mark­ing tool, be it deli­cious, Pin­board, nor­mal book­marks (with or without syncing), or a tool that’s pur­pose-built to handle all those art­icles you want to read.

Instapa­per is what I use, but it’s optim­ized for an Apple-cent­ric tech­nic­al envir­on­ment. It’s great if you want read art­icles off­line on an iPad or iPhone, but doesn’t have nat­ive cli­ents for any oth­er platform. Read­ab­il­ity, which was men­tioned earli­er, is a more plat­form-agnost­ic altern­at­ive (by vir­tue of a web app) which offers the nice perk that you auto­mat­ic­ally pass on a por­tion of your mem­ber­ship cost to the pub­lish­ers you most fre­quently use the ser­vice to read. (Though the fact the you’re pay­ing for mem­ber­ship is a non-trivi­al down­side.) Bey­ond those there are num­ber of oth­er ser­vices built for this pur­pose, the most prom­in­ent of which is Read it Later. I have no exper­i­ence or expert­ise at all with any of this last class.

I hope you now under­stand the import­ance of the triple threat of the print­er-friendly view, in-situ reformat­ter, and the read­ing-cent­ric book­mark­ing ser­vice. Far more import­antly, I hope you’ve found a solu­tion to your most frus­trat­ing struggle in actu­ally read­ing all that great web-con­tent you’re now find­ing.

How We Read

What we know about how we learn to read and how our abil­ity to read developed is fas­cin­at­ing, and in a review of a book that looks at exactly this — Stan­islas Dehaene’s Read­ing in the Brain — Jonah Lehr­er offers us a won­der­ful teas­er on exactly that: the hows of reading, from a neur­os­cience per­spect­ive.

The intro­duc­tion:

Right now, your mind is per­form­ing an aston­ish­ing feat. Photons are boun­cing off these black squiggles and lines – the let­ters in this sen­tence – and col­lid­ing with a thin wall of flesh at the back of your eye­ball. The photons con­tain just enough energy to activ­ate sens­ory neur­ons, each of which is respons­ible for a par­tic­u­lar plot of visu­al space on the page. The end res­ult is that, as you stare at the let­ters, they become more than mere marks on a page. You’ve begun to read.

See­ing the let­ters, of course, is just the start of the read­ing pro­cess. […] The real won­der is what hap­pens next. Although our eyes are focused on the let­ters, we quickly learn to ignore them. Instead, we per­ceive whole words, chunks of mean­ing. […] In fact, once we become pro­fi­cient at read­ing, the pre­cise shape of the let­ters – not to men­tion the arbit­rar­i­ness of the spelling – doesn’t even mat­ter, which is why we read word, WORD, and WoRd the same way.

Later in the review, Lehrer’s descrip­tion of what it is like to suf­fer from pure alex­ia reads like some­thing taken dir­ectly from Oliv­er Sacks’ essen­tial and eye-open­ing book The Man Who Mis­took His Wife for a Hat.

via Mind Hacks

Hypertext Comprehension and Delinkification

Decid­ing wheth­er to click on links while read­ing mater­i­al in hyper­text form gives rise to an addi­tion­al cog­nit­ive load and addi­tion­al dis­trac­tions, goes a the­ory cham­pioned by Steve Gill­mor and Nich­olas Carr.

In cer­tain cir­cum­stances this is an argu­ment for the “delink­i­fic­a­tion” of text, they sug­gest, as this will hope­fully bring about increased com­pre­hen­sion.

While I don’t totally agree, I find this ana­logy rather neat:

The link is, in a way, a tech­no­lo­gic­ally advanced form of a foot­note. It’s also, dis­trac­tion-wise, a more viol­ent form of a foot­note. Where a foot­note gives your brain a gentle nudge, the link gives it a yank. What’s good about a link – its propuls­ive force – is also what’s bad about it.

via @anibalmastobiza

Primary link: Nich­olas Car­r arguing for delink­i­fic­a­tion.
Sup­port link: Steve Gillmor’s Wiki­pe­dia entry.
Sup­port link: Nich­olas Carr’s Wiki­pe­dia entry.
By means of: Ani­bal Astobiza’s tweet.

Ways of Reading, Writing, Learning

A Work­ing Library’s Ways of Read­ing could be called the nine rules of read­ing, writ­ing, and learn­ing.

My favour­ite three:

Always read with a pen in hand. The pen should be used both to mark the text you want to remem­ber and to write from where the text leaves you. Think of the text as the start­ing point for your own words.

Read­ing and writ­ing are not dis­crete activ­it­ies; they occur on a con­tinuüm, with read­ing at one end, writ­ing at the oth­er. The best read­ers spend their time some­where in between.

A good read­er reads attent­ively, not only listen­ing to what the writer says, but also to how she says it. This is how a read­er learns to write.

via rober­to­greco