January 01, 2015

Horse 1812 - Read About Reading

On a fairly recent episode of QI, Stephen Fry asked the audience if they'd read George Orwell's book "1984". When they put their hands up and answered 'yes', the sirens went off and the audience lost ten points. Apparently if you ask most people if they have read it, they will answer in the affirmative even though they haven't actually done so. Even though this was a nerdy audience, when asked if they'd actually read the book, most people hadn't.
If I'd been in that audience, then I could answer 'yes' and be truthful. Mind you, I've also read "Animal Farm", "Keep The Aspidistra Flying", "On The Road To Wigan Pier", "Why I Write" and "The Lion And The Unicorn" by George Orwell as well.

I'm currently reading through Thomas Piketty's book "Capital In The Twenty First Century" and whilst I'm finding the text quite enjoyable, I've heard that many people didn't and the book according to Amazon, is the most downloaded but unfinished book of 2014.
I had a discussion with JJ after church not too long ago and learnt that he is currently on a read through of the Bible and is currently in the forests of dullness that is the book of Numbers. Let's be totally honest about this, the books of 1 & 2 Samuel or Nehemiah are more interesting as a narrative and there's nothing necessarily wrong with holding such an opinion. The first ten chapters of 1 Chronicles are nothing more than X begat Y begat Z et cetera et cetera et cetera...

Before this turns into a lament about how people don't read any more, I thought that it might be fun to look at the reverse question - not why people aren't reading but about why some people always seem to read more.

Admittedly I do a fair amount of reading on the train. In the days before tablet computers and even before iDevices and WalkPeople, people read an extraordinary amount. Australia before about 1990 was the world's biggest consumer of magazines; The Daily Telegraph in Sydney used to boast a circulation of 1.1 million which meant that even more than 1 in 4 people bought a copy. The most obvious reason I can think of for this is that Sydney is a city of only about 4 million people but it is eighty miles across and eighty miles north to south; the people who traverse this vast expanse of suburbia need to do something with their time. Sydney used to be a city full of readers; not so much any more as tablet computers become ubiquitous.

I've found that whilst on holiday though, I've done a fair amount of reading. Now I could go on to mention some overly romantic notion of how I like learning or something but the underlying motive here is entertainment, pure and simple. Like watching television you are pretty well much chained to the spot whilst reading and so that's not really relevant but unlike watching television, you aren't constrained by the rules of their time. A television or radio program or a film, is governed by the time that the producers have laid out but with a book you can dawdle, stop, come back, get a cup of tea or sit for hours turning pages.
I could also spout some sort of nonsense about how reading lets you draw pictures in your mind but I think that's pushing it a little too far. Granted, an author will use a turn of phrase or selected words to paint a picture but if a picture is worth a thousand words, television must write millions; so that just doesn't seem valid to me.

No, I think that a lot of fun in reading a book is derived from the fact that a book requires work. I think it's fair to say that if you've put the effort into reading something instead of just having a television show wash a bunch of images over you, that amount of effort results in a higher rate of engagement. There is probably more personal value in reading something for three months than watching a movie. I would suggest that that is why Harry Potter or The Lord Of The Rings series were so highly anticipated and attended; the same goes for The Hunger Games and the Twilight Saga. I haven't read most of these books but the people who have, would see the films as kind of a reward for something they'd already spent months reading. It probably also explains why Sherlock, Poirot, Father Brown, The Hunt For Red October or The Ten Commandments have a following.

People don't read because reading requires work. I like reading because of the reward that comes as a result of reading. I think that's the crux of all this but I don't know. I might have to read more on the subject.

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