Posts Tagged ‘Reading’

Reading

19 September 2017

Just recently I finished editing a novella for an author friend. While I was working on his book, I noticed several things about how I was reading it and did some thinking about the way I read.

I’ve always loved reading. The family story is that I was potty trained by being placed on the toilet and handed some books. If true, I’m sure they were suitable for my age.

In Junior High and High School, I quickly devoured every SF book in the school library, as well as other literature. SF, however, was my go to when looking for something to read. As to Westerns, I think I’ve read maybe six or seven in my lifetime. I’d also hit the base library (AF brat) and read just about everything SF they had. It was at this time that I also found Fantasy and began reading that genre as rabidly as I did SF. I was probably 14 when I read Lord of the Rings.

This love of reading almost got me into trouble in high school but thanks to a lovely English teacher, turned into a benefit instead. In the second week of a new school year, my English teacher caught me reading in the back of the classroom instead of paying attention. So, she sprung a pop quiz on us, based on the story she had been going over. The story was in the school textbook, and hadn’t been assigned to us as reading yet. I was one of the few to pass the quiz with a 100 grade, so she had me stop by after school. She then asked how I had done that and I explained I had already read the reader from cover to cover. After a few questions to verify I wasn’t just claiming that, we talked about moving me to her advanced reading program instead. The carrot for me was being able to read and the icing on the cake was learning how to speed read. By the end of the school year, I was pretty much reading one paperback a day on the bus to and from school and was reading at around 880 words per minute, tested.

Even now, I will read rather than watch TV. There has been a time or two when I’ve repeatedly told the family that there was a show on in 5 or 6 days that I wanted to watch, to make sure they were aware of my plans to watch it. Then that day I’d find a book and start reading. When the show came on, they tried to tell me and I told them I’d rather read this than watch that. That’s after reminding them for five straight days that I was going to watch this movie or whatever on Channel X at 7:30 PM. I’m sure there were some frustrated or dirty looks cast my way then!

I can read several books a day if I’m allowed to. That’s one reason I like ebooks: I only need to take my tablet with me and I have multiple entire series as well as stand-alone books readily to hand. Heck, I have an entire library with me. No risk of getting to book 2 in a trilogy and having to run around to find book 3. Or carry a stack of books on vacation. And yes, I still very much enjoy reading physical books, turning the pages and having that weight.

That’s my background. I’m a reader, born and bred.

So, to the point of this blog post. It turns out that I have different reading modes, at least four that I’m aware of. No surprise there as I think everybody does, actually. After thinking about how I read and the different “modes”, I find the differences intriguing.

If I’m reading for my own pleasure, I pretty much zone out everything but the words before me. I’m still aware to some small extent what’s going on around me; being deaf I tend to automatically be aware of my surroundings, at least to some extent, as a safety measure. And, yes, I do get irritated when my reading is interrupted.

Speaking of getting interrupted, my wife has this uncanny knack of always interrupting me when I’m in the middle of some battle scene, engrossing dialogue or other action. I logically know it’s not premeditated, but I can’t help wondering why she never seems to interrupt in the boring parts of the book.

Anyway…

The first mode is typically reading at full speed. Some books, especially non-fiction, I read the fastest. I’ve not tested in a long time, but I’m pretty sure I’m not reading at my original 880 WPM now, but more likely closer to 500 to 600 WPM. In this mode I will slow down at certain parts, such as detailed descriptions of interesting techniques or explanations. I also use this mode with heavily embellished fiction, such as where they describe what someone’s wearing down to the thread count or every leaf on every tree in the park the characters are in. Those sections, I read as fast as I can without actually skipping them entirely.

The second mode is reading at a slower rate, probably down around 300 to 400 WPM. This is reserved for books I’m really enjoying, books that I’m savoring. Even with these, I’ll sometimes speed up over what I consider unnecessary detail, as mentioned previously. This is probably where I read most SF and Fantasy, especially my favorite authors.

Those two modes above, I start at the first word of the book and read straight through to the end. I’m simply reading for enjoyment or education.

For mode three, I’ve noticed that when I do a preliminary edit, whether my own writing or someone else’s, I read at a much slower speed. It’s not so much that I’m reading as it is I’m looking for discrepancies. I’ll read a ways, then see something that doesn’t click, read it again, mark it up or verify the discrepancy then mark it up. In this state, I’m also marking up misspellings, typos, grammar that really stand out. Right now, I’m not necessarily looking for particular wordsmithing problems, I’m looking for issues in the story itself. I am, however, not willing to put up with glaring English errors, either. While in the previous two modes I would grimace and keep reading, momentarily irritated with the author for not doing his work, this time if it jumps out at me I won’t hesitate to write it up. On the whole, though, I’m almost reading like I do for fun. Just more deliberately, and with an eye out for glaring story line or grammatical errors. At this rate, it can take me a couple days to get through a book.

The final mode is a full on editing mode. This is the slowest mode of all for me. It’s also one of the more intensive reading modes, a point that surprised me. Here, I’m doing all that I do in the preliminary edit, but where there I only go back to check something, here I’m constantly going back a paragraph or page and re-reading from there. I’m constantly unconsciously asking myself questions: Did this flow properly? Could this really happen this way? Didn’t she sit down a couple paragraphs ago? Can a ship really do that? Would he really speak like that? Does this read like an insert by the author trying to explain something directly to the reader? Is this grammatically correct? Would the reader understand this reference? Is this spelled right? To vs too vs two and other such critters.

As an example of reading progress while editing, consider any consecutive pages of a book. I’ll read page 1 halfway, go back a couple of paragraphs, study a sentence or two, figure out what’s wrong with it that grabbed my attention, mark the correction, continue reading from that point. After several times doing this as I work my way down the page I’ll eventually finish that page and start on page 2. Then I go back to that last nagging paragraph on page 1 and resume from there. When I get that taken care of, I continue reading anew from that point. After a few paragraphs, I’ll go back to a previous paragraph and study it…why did that demand my attention now? I’ll even read ahead past some error to see if it’s explained or accounted for in the next several paragraphs. If not, I go back, make my comments, and resume reading there even though I’ve already read ahead. And so it goes for the whole book, constantly going back and forth by sentences, paragraphs, pages and chapters until eventually I reach the end of the book.

When I hit something that I think is wrong, I’ll look for the answer and try not only to comment on the error, but suggest a fix and provide helpful information to avoid that error in the future. I’ll spend several minutes on two sentences, trying to see what made me pause and see how to fix it. It might be voice, it might be tense, it might be grammar, or it might be English. Maybe it’s inconsistent based on a previous book or drawing or model. Perhaps it’s illogical, written that way to accomplish the author’s goals. Maybe it’s physically impossible. Something made me pause here, and I intend to discover what it was. By the time I have finished the book, I have probably read every page three or four times on this one pass from the first to the last words of the novel. This mode of reading can take me at least a couple of weeks, if not more, to read the same book that took me a mere couple of days in the preliminary edit.

I guess it’s to my advantage that I can “forget” most of what I’ve read last time when I re-read a book. I like re-reading a book and being able to enjoy it all over again. I always find something new, some new insight to the characters or some new appreciation for some action or dialogue that comes from knowing but not necessarily consciously remembering what’s going to happen later. This also comes handy when editing as it allows me to maintain a fresh perspective rather than having in the back of my mind that nagging that I’ve already checked this once. Since I never really forget what I’ve read, mention of something at odds with previous pages, stories or books related to what I’m editing tends to pop into mind when needed.

Well, there you have it. I don’t know if this is interesting or useful to anyone else, but it was fun writing up how I read.

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Western Movies and Books

13 November 2013

As does any genre, Westerns have their fans, from lukewarm to fanatic, or should I say rabid? At any rate, this is just my perspective on the genre and on my blog I’m expressing my own opinions.

Last weekend, I watched one of my favorite Westerns again. I’d mentioned it to my dad and describing it made me want to see it again. This time, though, I watched it with subtitles for the first time. My Name is Nobody is just plain silly and fun to watch. One of the interesting things about it is that the subtitles really aren’t necessary to enjoy the movie. Sure, they help fill in a few things, such as I thought Henry Fonda was a good guy, maybe a retired sheriff, and discovered instead he was a gunfighter. Little things like that. But they’re definitely not necessary to being able to follow the storyline, which is maybe why I like this movie so much.

This got me to thinking in general about Westerns.

There are very few Westerns I like. Try as i might, I can only come up with two titles. Most Westerns seem to be simple adaptions of the following algorithm:

     for * in $pointerToWesternBook do
          change $characterName
          change $horseName
          generate $randomNumber, 1, 6
          if $randomNumber > 3
               change $horseBreed
          else
               change $horseColor
          end if
          generate $randomNumber, 1, 6
          if $randomNumber > 5
               RideIntoSunset()
          end if
     end for
     print $newBook

I know that’s a gross simplification, but that’s just how most of the Westerns I checked out as a kid appeared to be. So for me, that’s how the majority of Westerns are written.

The two that I have really enjoyed reading are The Pony Soldiers by Edgar Rice Burroughs and Hanta Yo by Ruth Beebe Hill.

The Pony Soldiers is out of print and difficult to find. Searches for it will most likely point you to Apache Devil, also by Burroughs, but that is not the book I’m talking about. If you can find it, I recommend it. It’s a quick read.

Be warned, Hanta Yo is a big book and daunting at first glance. It’s well worth the read, IMHO, on several fronts: history, saga, and story flow, among others. Don’t be fooled by it’s physical appearance of being another War and Peace written on tissue-thin paper. It’s defintiely not like that at all and is far more readable. It also has a nice glossary in the back, at least my copy did, that helps with the various Sioux words used in the story.

As to Western movies, I honestly can’t think of anything other than the previously mentioned My Name is Nobody that I’ve ever wanted to watch again. It seems to me most recent “Westerns” such as Lone Ranger, Dead in Tombstone or the animated Rango are more movies set in the West than truly Westerns. They just don’t say “Western” to me like the old John Wayne movies, for example. Since the old John Wayne or Clint Eastwood movies don’t have the allure for me that My Name is Nobody has, I can’t help but wonder if that is because you don’t need the audio or if it means it’s the slapstick I enjoy and not the Western?

I kind of doubt that last. If that were the case, then I would be able to name a whole bunch of kung fu movies I should like simply because of that. But that’s a post for another day.

How to read a book

5 December 2012

How to read a book

In my last post I mention what I want from fiction: escapism. Briefly, I described the reading experience I seek. Since then I’ve been thinking, usually involuntarily and at odd moments, about the reading experience.

Growing up, my favorite place was the library. I am a voracious reader, and especially love it when I can sit and read. I simply love to read and have since my youngest days. My parents potty trained me by parking me on the toilet and giving me books. In school, I almost always had my Reading textbooks finished in the first week or two. I would read a paperback on the bus. I would read during lunch at school. I was shy and reading gave me an escape.

In high school, I was caught reading a SF paperback in the back of the Reading class yet my grades in the class were up there. Happily, that teacher recognized my situation and after I showed by answering a quick quiz that I really had already read my Reading class book cover to cover, she invited me to join the speed reading class instead. Before the end of the school year, I was reading different books in the bus on the way to and from school.

At each school (I was an AF brat and we moved every 4 years) by the end of the first year I would have read all the SF in their library and also in the local library. Successive years I migrated to Historical, Fantasy and the Classics. In all my time reading, only three books have ever “defeated” me, by preventing me from being able to read them all the way through: War and Peace, The Satanic Verses, and a hefty physics tome I attempted when I was 11. War and Peace defeated me because it spent so much time describing the most miniscule detail about clothes, etc. that I got bored with it. With The Satanic Verses, the opening scene was simply so jumbled and incoherent that I could not get into the book at all. The physics book, well, I just wasn’t ready for it as I didn’t have the necessary math background to fully understand everything I was trying to read. I’d have to design that nuclear powered starship later.

I present that background so that you might see my “credentials” as a reader.

I respect that as I was going through school, Reading and eventually Literature classes were more focused on “understanding what the author was trying to say”. I appreciate the training I gained from those classes but see them as separate from reading. Those classes are more appropriately called “literature appreciation” classes, I think, as they teach you to appreciate the authorship and wordsmithing. Of course, in kindergarten and elementary school they teach you how to read the words and make sense of them. But once you have that down, it’s pretty much a focus on “what’s the author doing? Why is he saying this?”

I have several friends who say they enjoy reading, yet seem unable to discuss a book without discussing how they liked the author’s approach to this or that trope, or how well developed his philosophy is, or how the book is so representative of an idea, or how it so well tells the story of, for example, class struggle.

I have never belonged to a book club that meets to discuss books. Maybe that’s how they all talk and express their delight with the book. Yet, while I can just as easily discuss with them that type of analysis, I sometimes can’t help but wonder if they ever read for pleasure.

Or is it the case that no other author writes simply to tell a story?

The vast majority of my reading is, and obviously I speak only of fiction here, for the purpose of escapism or simple enjoyment of a good story. I don’t care and I don’t look to see what theme the author might be writing about. All I care is that it be a good story, I’m not out to analyze the book. To me, a book is simply the author’s way of telling me the story he or she wants to share. Good versus evil, personal crisis, class struggles…they’re all just world building foundations or backgrounds for the story. Nothing more, nothing less.

That reading approach of mine, just reading for the sheer pleasure of it, at times also makes it difficult for me to grok the furor around various books. To focus on just three, The Golden Compass trilogy, the Harry Potter books, Stranger in a Strange Land were all good reads, good stories. Sure, I can see parallels between entities in The Golden Compass if you want to draw them. Harry Potter introduced magic to a lot of young kids. Stranger in a Strange Land might have been an exploration of society and how we’re all linked together.

So what?

Each of those books, read just for enjoyment and a good tale, is just that: a story with which to kick back and escape reality for a bit. Maybe the author really was, no matter what they publicly state, presenting some hidden agenda. Let them. Kids, properly raised and taught to think, can tell the difference between reality and fiction despite what revered authoritarian figures might think. There are other books with just as close parallels between real entities, they give you a world pre-built if you base your stuff on them. If you want to scrutiny every word in a story for hidden meanings, hidden agendas, conspiracies, or whatever, in some ways I pity you. Understand, I’ll defend your right to read that way, but I can’t see how you can truly enjoy reading a story that way.

I realize much fiction of old was used to teach a lesson. In some ways, I acknowledge that is part of the responsibility of being an author. That’s what our legends and mythologies are for, in the end: to present a way of life that we should look up to and strive to emulate and to present those lessons in a way that captivates the listener or reader. They’re present those lessons without teaching to kids and people that might not sit still for a dry lesson. But they’re also meant to entertain, to fire our imaginations, to get us excited about the participants. That, to me, is the driving force to being an author.

We still need, appreciate, and want such heroes and heroines. We love stirring fights where right beats might and the hero wins out in the end. At least in the West. But we don’t need to dissect every story we want to read. Not every story we write has to have an ulterior agenda, hidden or otherwise.

Some stories are just that: stories to entertain. All of them can be simply read for escapism.