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Source: (consider it) Thread: The Art of Reading (serious books)
Tukai
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Here is quote from a book written in 1873 (and therefore out of copyright!) that I think applies today. It's certainly true in science (my own field). Do you also find it pertinent?


“The art of reading is to skip judiciously. Whole libraries may be skipped these days, when we have the results of them in our modern culture without going over the ground again. And even of the books we decide to read, there are almost always large portions which do not concern us, and which we are sure to forget the day after we have read them. The art is to skip all that does not concern us, while missing nothing that we really need. No external guidance can teach us this; for nobody but ourselves can guess what the needs of our intellect may be.”

This comes from an author, who wrote mainly art criticism and philosophy, called Philip Gibert Hamerton, about whom I may say more if anyone's interested.

[ 18. December 2016, 05:18: Message edited by: Tukai ]

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balaam

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# 4543

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quote:
Originally posted by Tukai:
... book written in 1873 (and therefore out of copyright!) ...

Not necessarily. UK law (The ship is a UK site) has nothing to do with the date of publication but to when the author died. If the author died in 1946 or later his works are still copyright.

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Pangolin Guerre
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It depends what you mean by a "serious book". The strategy certainly doesn't apply to fiction in any way. Ideally, a novel is an organic whole. Reading "just the good bits" strikes as reading mercenarily for the purposes of seeming erudite at a cocktail party, and rather missing the point of a novel's existence.

As for selectively reading a piece of non-fiction, presumably for research rather than enjoyment, I can understand, for reasons of relevance and time constraints, that strategy. That said, you never know what nugget you've skipped that might be useful. When I was in university, as far as was possible, which wasn't always by a long shot, I tried to read the entire work. Sometimes it turned up something unexpectedly useful.

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Pangolin Guerre
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quote:
Originally posted by Pangolin Guerre:
It depends what you mean by a "serious book". The strategy certainly doesn't apply to fiction in any way. Ideally, a novel is an organic whole. Reading "just the good bits" strikes as reading mercenarily for the purposes of seeming erudite at a cocktail party, and rather missing the point of a novel's existence.

As for selectively reading a piece of non-fiction, presumably for research rather than enjoyment, I can understand, for reasons of relevance and time constraints, that strategy. That said, you never know what nugget you've skipped that might be useful. When I was in university, as far as was possible, which wasn't always by a long shot, I tried to read the entire work. Sometimes it turned up something unexpectedly useful.

That the quoted author would advocate this selectivity in a work of philosophy I find baffling. That one can do that, does not in itself recommend it. Something as fractured as, say Beyond Good and Evil, whose structure does permit dipping in, is read with greater profit, and greater sense of what FN was on about, by reading the whole thing. Just read the damn book.


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SvitlanaV2
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Regarding fiction, a novel may be good in parts; is it okay to skip the bits you don't like, such as long passages of description, or sex scenes?

Morever, one can read fiction as well as non-fiction for research purposes, in which case skipping some passages for speed and relevance is essential.

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Twilight

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quote:
Originally posted by Tukai:

“The art of reading is to skip judiciously. Whole libraries may be skipped these days, when we have the results of them in our modern culture without going over the ground again. And even of the books we decide to read, there are almost always large portions which do not concern us, and which we are sure to forget the day after we have read them. The art is to skip all that does not concern us, while missing nothing that we really need. No external guidance can teach us this; for nobody but ourselves can guess what the needs of our intellect may be.”


Well no, mostly. Fiction, as said, was never intended to be read skippingly, it's unfair to the author to skip descriptions in case they contain a bit of foreshadowing or an intended red herring. (I agree about the sex scenes though.) Even in non-fiction and research how can we know what we do or don't really need, if we don't read it? Leaving out what does not concern us, is the top of that slippery slope where we only read that which supports our bias. In fact, if we're reading to learn and to broaden our minds in some way we need not only to read every word but to read between the lines.

All that said, in truth, I skip a lot in non-fiction and don't read any fiction that seems the least bit boring after the first few pages. The exception being the books I read for my book club. No matter how much I dislike the thing, I want to be able to go to the monthly meeting and discuss with the group. So I skim. Never a good idea. They usually catch me out. One would be better off using the George Costanza book club method of renting the movie.

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Lamb Chopped
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If you're reading for pleasure (as most novels are read), skip anything you want to skip. There are no rules in that. Though to be sure you should avoid turning up at a book group and telling everybody you read every single word--but you'd never do that, right?

If it's for school or work, you'll have to do what they expect.

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Brenda Clough
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The author of a fiction assuredly put in everything that she felt was of importance. Only if she was forced to cut for reasons of length might you find omissions.
However! That assumes that the author is a wise writer, and knows what to put in and what to leave out. It is said that 90 percent of everything written for a novel does not appear in the finished work. There are books that are descriptions of battles, glued together with a thin batter of plot and character. Just like there are porn novels, endless sex and hardly anything else. And I am sure we have seen the historical novels that bog down in the descriptions of evening gowns or how a hypocaust works. These tend not to be good novels.

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SvitlanaV2
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quote:
Originally posted by Twilight:
Fiction, as said, was never intended to be read skippingly, it's unfair to the author to skip descriptions in case they contain a bit of foreshadowing or an intended red herring. (I agree about the sex scenes though.)


I feel we could be entering the territory of critical theory here, in which the right of the author to dictate our 'reading(s)' of the text is by no means taken for granted....

quote:

Even in non-fiction and research how can we know what we do or don't really need, if we don't read it?

This leads me to ask what we even mean by 'reading' a text, but again, that leads down the (blind?) alley of theory.

[ 19. December 2016, 00:02: Message edited by: SvitlanaV2 ]

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Tukai
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quote:
Originally posted by balaam:
quote:
Originally posted by Tukai:
... book written in 1873 (and therefore out of copyright!) ...

Not necessarily. UK law (The ship is a UK site) has nothing to do with the date of publication but to when the author died. If the author died in 1946 or later his works are still copyright.
According to Wikipedia, Hamerton died in 1894, so we're safe!

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Jane R
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Someone else had the same idea more recently. There's a whole series of these books - Bluffer's Guide to... all sorts of things, including classics, marketing, management, cycling...

They are humo(u)r, but if you don't know anything at all about a subject and want a quick introduction to it they can be surprisingly useful!

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Moo

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quote:
Originally posted by Lamb Chopped:
If you're reading for pleasure (as most novels are read), skip anything you want to skip. There are no rules in that.

I enjoy Dick Francis's detective stories, but I strongly dislike descriptions of violence. Many of his books contain such scenes. When I get to such a scene, I read the first sentence of each paragraph to find out whether the violence has ended.

My mother was blind near the end of her life and used to listen to talking books. She didn't like Dick Francis because with talking books it's almost impossible to skip.

Moo

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no prophet's flag is set so...

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quote:
Originally posted by Twilight:
Well no, mostly. Fiction, as said, was never intended to be read skippingly, it's unfair to the author to skip descriptions in case they contain a bit of foreshadowing or an intended red herring. (I agree about the sex scenes though.) Even in non-fiction and research how can we know what we do or don't really need, if we don't read it? Leaving out what does not concern us, is the top of that slippery slope where we only read that which supports our bias. In fact, if we're reading to learn and to broaden our minds in some way we need not only to read every word but to read between the lines.

All that said, in truth, I skip a lot in non-fiction and don't read any fiction that seems the least bit boring after the first few pages. The exception being the books I read for my book club. No matter how much I dislike the thing, I want to be able to go to the monthly meeting and discuss with the group. So I skim. Never a good idea. They usually catch me out. One would be better off using the George Costanza book club method of renting the movie.

Re sex: if the sex is about sex, then it is skippable. Certainly ofttimes it is. But when it is about something, symbolic, maybe not. Though I don't seem to read anything as good as the Song of Solomon these days, which makes pomegranates, those little pips, the sexiest fruit.
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Pangolin Guerre
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The thing about sex scenes in literature, is that I don't find them offensive, but almost always, even in the hands of an accomplished writer, risible. Go fig.
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Jane R
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The problem I have with explicit sex scenes - apart from the fact that they are almost impossible to write well, as Pangolin Guerre says - is that they put me in a double-bind situation. If I identify with one of the characters who's having sex, I feel like I'm being unfaithful to my husband. If I don't I feel like a voyeur. Either way, I prefer to skip past to the next bit of the 'real'* story. I don't mind characters in a story *having* sex with each other: I just don't want all the details.

I tend to skip past fight scenes sometimes if they go on a bit. I have LARPing friends who like to read lovingly detailed blow-by-blow accounts of the heroes' battle with the monsters/supervillains/bureaucracy (delete as appropriate), but it doesn't do anything for me.

*placed in scare quotes because I have a friend who writes erotica for a living and who would argue that the sex scenes are the whole point of the story.

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Brenda Clough
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In erotica, or porn, they are. There is a term in the trade 'one-handed reading.'

Since amorous tastes vary so greatly, it is impossible to write a sex scene that nobody will ever find funny or offensive. And it is easy to write a truly bad one. There is an entire Bad-Sex Literary Award somewhere -- the Guardian posts excerpts.

However, since sex and love are so important to us as human beings, I find works that completely ignore them to be thin. Except in the case of works for children, and even then you can bury the theme in there, good and deep.

And, since for many centuries women were discouraged from both reading and writing fiction and are therefore under-represented both between the pages and on the shelf, I don't think that keeping an eye on the issue is inappropriate. The Bechdel Test is a fine way to think about it. It is a perfectly reasonable criticism, for instance, to point out that there are very few women in Lord of the Rings.

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Tukai
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Hamerton's remark in the OP about "serious reading" referred mainly to his interests in art criticism and philosophy (about both of which he wrote extensively) and I myself took the term to embrace other "academic" subjects, including science (where my own reading and writing centres). In much such writing today - though not in the 19th century of Hamerton - it is almost manadatory to include a summary or abstract. Indeed I tell research students that this summary is the most important part of the paper because at least 10 times as many people will read the summary as bother to wade through a whole book or article.

Therefore I note with some interest and surprise that this thread has so-far focussed on fiction reading, even if of "serious" fiction. But of course I have to concede that "serious" fiction is often one of the best ways to portray or discover how a certain society, past or present, ticks, and a bare summary would fail to convey that flavour.

Perhaps we could have a thread of shipmates overly efffusive or misleading summaries (blurbs) for famous fiction books!

Even so, in reading even major works of fiction I personally tend to skip over many details (e.g. of the battles in War and Peace or of long descriptions of a lady's dress or the decor of a room).

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Brenda Clough
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FWIW most of my reading these days is nonfiction. Alas! I have no time to read fiction for pleasure. The universe of nonfiction is even more vast than that of fiction.
Perhaps you could name a nonfiction work, and others could say if they have read it?

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Kelly Alves

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Since the subject keeps coming up in Purg, may I recommend David McCullough's ginormous biography of John Adams?

I picked up the book after enjoying HBO's six part miniseries biopic of JA, and discovering this book and Adams's own memoirs formed the primary research sources for the series. It's a daunting read, but an interesting look at a somewhat unlikely hero.

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One of the most enticing temptations the devil throws at us is encouraging us to behave precisely like the person we hate.--TomB

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Kelly Alves

Bunny with an axe
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Oh, and my goto thinking girl's beach book author is Randy Shiltz. I enthusiastically recommend both And the Band Played On (Shiltz's seminal record of the early years of AIDS research) and Conduct Unbecoming ( his report on the criminalization of homosexuality in the US armed forces, and the use of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy in harassing gay and female armed service personnel.)

[ 23. December 2016, 04:27: Message edited by: Kelly Alves ]

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One of the most enticing temptations the devil throws at us is encouraging us to behave precisely like the person we hate.--TomB

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Brenda Clough
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I am thinking (in 2017, when please God I will have time to read again) of seeking out the biography of Hamilton, upon which the musical was based.
In the meantime, I am sitting down to a volume of literary criticism about madness as it is used in late Victorian fiction. And then I will read about medieval and Renaissance Italy.

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Science fiction and fantasy writer

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